New Working Paper: Constructive and Destructive Legislative Review – The Government-Opposition Divide in Legislative Oversight

By Lion Behrens, Dominic Nyhuis and Thomas Gschwend

Opposition activity in legislative review constitutes a puzzle. Although scrutinizing government bills is costly and hardly ever successful for opposition parties in parliamentary systems, most amendments are proposed from opposition benches with few resources. We focus on the substance of legislative review and introduce the concepts of constructive and destructive review to address opposition and coalition party behavior in legislative oversight. From collective cabinet responsibility, we derive that coalition partners are bound by informal rules that limit them to labor-intensive redrafting of bill portions (constructive review). Contrary, opposition parties frequently take a low-cost approach proposing to delete unfavored bill passages (destructive review). We confirm our argument analyzing a newly compiled data set of hypothetical bills from a German legislature (2006–2018) that would have resulted if all amendment proposals had been successful. These results improve our understanding of opposition strategies in legislative review and control mechanisms within coalition governments.

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