For years, writes Don Wolfensberger at The Hill, a conservative coalition forged compromise in the House.
But that model was understandably challenged by a large cohort of new, liberal Democrats elected in 1974 (“the Watergate Babies”) who had been schooled in the need for “a more responsible two-party system.” John Lawrence’s book, “The Class of 1974,” is subtitled, “Congress After Watergate and the Roots of Partisanship.” Out went the seniority system for elevating the longest tenured committee members (usually southerners) to committee chairmanships, and in came committee appointments and policy decision-making through secret Democratic caucuses (“King Caucus”). Another hallmark was more transparency in committees and on the floor.
By 1979, however, the new openness had critics, even among liberals, who thought far too much time was being taken in prolonged floor debates and amendments. A group of some 40 members wrote to the Speaker and urged fewer open-amendment rules from the Rules Committee and more restrictive or structured rules in which only specified amendments were allowed.
That move triggered a reaction from minority Republicans who viewed it as a suppression of democratic process and member rights. It was a trend that would only accelerate, even when Republicans finally gained majority control of the chamber in 1995. The House partisan accelerator was activated, setting the two parties on an inexorable collision course.