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The Limits of Party: Congress and Lawmaking in a Polarized Era, James M. Curry and Frances E. Lee

Reviewed by Laurel Harbridge-Yong

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Most accounts of contemporary congressional politics focus on partisan fighting and the breakdown of regular order. The resulting picture for those who want to see deliberation and consensus building, or for those who worry about the majority steamrolling policy over the minority, is quite dim. James M. Curry and Frances E. Lee’s masterful new book offers a more optimistic perspective. In The Limits of Party, they suggest that when it comes to lawmaking, bipartisanship remains common and has changed little over the past 30 years. Moreover, despite exhibiting more cohesion on roll call votes, majority parties are no more likely to enact their core agenda items into law, and the prospects for bipartisanship are similar under regular order and under violations of regular order. Although the process has changed, the outcome has not.

Curry and Lee’s evidence highlights the limits of prominent partisan and preference-based perspectives on legislating. The responsible parties perspective envisioned homogeneous parties enacting their agendas and facing public accountability for their actions. Although contemporary parties meet many of the underlying conditions in dominant partisan models (for example, conditional party government, cartel theory, strategic party government), Curry and Lee show

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