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Hearings of the
Subcommittee on Rules and Organization of the House

Proposals Emanating from the Second Bipartisan Congressional Retreat


Date: Thursday, April 29, 1999

Time: 9:30 a.m.

Room: H-313, The Capitol


Panel I
  • Hon. Ray LaHood (R-IL), Co-Chairman - Retreat Planning Committee.
  • Hon. Tom Sawyer (D-OH), Co-Chairman - Retreat Planning Committee.
  • Hon. Amo Houghton (R-NY), Co-Chairman - Retreat Planning Committee.
  • Hon. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Co-Chairman - Retreat Planning Committee.

Panel II

  • Dr. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Professor and Dean, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.

Panel III

    • Hon. Bob Walker (R-PA), Former Congressman & President of the Wexler Group.
    • Dr. Barbara Sinclair, Hoffenberg Professor, Department of Political Science, UCLA.
    • Dr. Stanley Bach, Senior Specialist, Legislative Process Government Division, Congressional Research Service

      The Purpose of the Hearing

      The purpose of the hearing is to examine proposals for improving civility that emerged from the March retreat in Hershey. The Subcommittee will also review the March 1999 report on "Civility in the House of Representatives." The Subcommittee will study the feasibility of the retreat recommendations, provide some historical perspective regarding levels of civility in the House, review institutional factors engrained in the system that may affect civility, and discuss acceptable areas for bipartisan cooperation. The Subcommittee continues to review practicable options to develop a long-term process of improving civility, the overall work environment in the House, and general discourse in American society, both public and private.


      The second bipartisan retreat occurred in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on March 19-21, 1999. Organized by Representatives Ray LaHood (R-IL), Tom Sawyer (D-OH), Amo Houghton (R-NY) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), the purpose of the retreat was to develop better relationships among Members, reduce partisan rancor, and improve the productivity of the House. The retreat was designed, "to seek a greater degree of civility, mutual respect and, when possible, bipartisanship among Members of the House of Representatives in order to foster an environment in which vigorous debate and mutual respect can coexist."

      The retreat was paid for primarily from a grant to the Aspen Institute from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Funds from the Pew grant were also given to the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania to undertake a study by Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson on the level of civility in the House of Representatives. Dr. Jamieson's findings were published in a March 1999 report entitled "Civility in the House of Representatives," which was distributed to the participants of the Second Bipartisan Congressional Retreat. The report analyzes historical changes in the level of civility in the House and explains a number of internal and external factors that the author asserts contribute to increases in incivility.

      In March 1997, approximately 200 Members of the House of Representatives and their families attended the first Bipartisan Congressional Retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Following the 1997 retreat, the Rules Committee examined the findings generated at the retreat and held a hearing on April 17, 1997, and May 1, 1997, to review the first retreat and a number of issues raised by the Jamieson study entitled "Civility in the House of Representatives."

      During those two hearings, the Subcommittee on Rules and Organization of the House heard testimony from Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson on her 1997 report. Other witnesses included Mr. Donald Wolfensberger, former Chief of Staff of the House Rules Committee and Visiting Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars; Professor Stephen Frantzich, Chairman of the Department of Political Science at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of the book "The C-SPAN Revolution;" and Professor Eric Uslaner, professor of political science at the University of Maryland-College Park and author of the book, "The Decline of Comity in Congress."