James M. Curry and Frances E. Lee, "The Limits of Party: Congress and Lawmaking in a Polarized Era" (U Chicago Press, 2020)


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To many observers, Congress has become a deeply partisan institution where ideologically-distinct political parties do little more than engage in legislative trench warfare. A zero-sum, winner-take-all approach to congressional politics has replaced the bipartisan comity ofpast eras. If the parties cannot get everything they want in national policymaking, then they prefer gridlock and stalemate to compromise. Or, at least, that is the conventional wisdom.

In The Limits of Party: Congress and Lawmaking in a Polarized Era (U Chicago Press, 2020), James M. Curry and Frances E. Lee challenge this conventional wisdom. By constructing legislative histories of congressional majority parties’attempts to enact their policy agendas in every congress since the 1980s and by drawing on interviews with Washington insiders, the authors analyze the successes and failures of congressional parties to enact their legislative agendas. Their conclusions will surprise many congressional observers: Even in our time of intense party polarization, bipartisanship remains the key to legislative success on Capitol Hill.

Frances E. Lee is Professor of Politics and Public Affairs in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. James Curry is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Political Science at the University of Utah. Their book, The Limits of Party, won the American Political Science Association's Gladys M. Kammerer Award for the best book in the field of US national policy.

Host Ursula Hackett is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her Cambridge University Press book America's Voucher Politics: How Elites Learned to Hide the State won the 2021 Education Politics and Policy Best Book Award from the American Political Science Association. Her writing guide Brilliant Essays is published by Macmillan Study Skills. She tweets @UrsulaBHackett.

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