The Paradox of Obstruction: Agenda Power Under Open Rules in the U.S. Senate

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2013

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Political Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Recent scholarship has suggested that, by dominating committees and procedurally constraining subsequent amendment activity, the U.S. Senate majority party is able to bias legislative outcomes in its favor. Yet, open rules, filibuster threats, and constituent pressures leave the majority party little capacity to exclude hostile amendments from the floor. Why, then, are major amendments so infrequent? And what advantage does this provide the majority party?

In this project, I suggest that amendment activity is ultimately constrained by the desire of senators to get legislation enacted. Senators will vote strategically to reject amendments whose substance they prefer, if their adoption threatens the passage of an underlying bill that they support.

As a result, once the majority party leadership has assembled a coalition sufficient for the passage of a bill, they are often able to rely on obstruction fears to commit floor majorities to reject the attachment of controversial unrelated proposals.

It is paradoxically therefore where the minority party is least capable of credibly threatening obstruction, such as on must-pass bills, that the majority party is also least able to control the scope and content of legislation.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Steven S Smith

Committee Members

Randall L Calvert, Gary J Miller, Matthew J Gabel, Ronald M Levin, Steven M Fazzari


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7XG9P4X

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