Questions for Committees and Hearings

The readings for Wednesday's class include excerpts on committee hearings and conference committee proceedings. Most of the class discussion will focus on committee hearings in preparation for the simulated hearings on February 10 through 17; questions 1 through 7 below reflect that emphasis. However, we will also discuss conference committees, in preparation for the conference committee deliberations on March 1 through 3; please think about questions 8 and 9 in this regard.

1. On Wednesday, January 27, we discussed theoretical issues pertaining to legislatures in general and legislative committees in particular. See "Legislatures" pp. 322-39 (Shepsle and Bonchek). What does theory suggest about the formulation of legislative proposals and conduct of legislative hearings by congressional committees?

2. As Oleszek observes, before legislative hearings are held, the views of the administration and key interest groups are typically already publicly known, and committee members themselves often are committed to positions that are unlikely to change. If that is the case, what purposes, if any, are actually served by legislative hearings before congressional committees?

3. How is the hearing process different from a trial? What are the similarities?

4. What audiences could witnesses be expected to take into account in planning and presenting their testimony? How should witnesses select the "tone" for their testimony? The issues or themes that they will emphasize? The appropriate level of detail for their remarks?

5. What audiences could committee members be expected to take into account in their opening statements and questions? How might members think about the "tone" of their remarks and about their key themes?

6. What approaches might a member be expected to take with a witness who supports his position on legislation? With a witness who does not?

7. How can a witness prepare for hostile questions from a committee member or members? How can sympathetic committee members help offset the effects of hostile questioning?

8. What constituencies do members of a conference committee represent? How might members be expected to reconcile the demands of these various constituencies in conference committee negotiations?

9. What factors might affect the success or failure of a conference committee in reaching agreement?

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For corrections, comments, and questions, please e-mail John Setear.