ALERT: Dome Restoration Project Necessitates Rotunda Closure April 12 through April 28.
Click here for more information.

Reforming the House, Shifting Power, 1970s

The shocks and turmoil of the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal brought major government reforms. These changes forged much of the character that defines the House today.

Demands for greater openness in government meant fewer closed committee meetings. The House installed electronic voting systems in 1973, and in 1979 began televising its debates. Committees continued to do important work behind the scenes, but the televised proceedings became increasingly important.

The House also began choosing committee chairs through party caucuses rather than by seniority. This too shifted more power to party leaders and individual members, and away from committee leaders. These and other changes have helped the House to enter the 21st century a more open and responsive instrument of representative democracy.

They wanted to change the Congress of the United States; which they did.”
— Speaker “Tip” O’Neill on the new representatives he called “Watergate Babies"

  • Television cameras in an Energy Committee meeting, September 3, 2003

    During the 1970s, the move toward “sunshine in government” brought changes in House rules. Most committee proceedings were opened to the public and the media.

    AP/Wide World Photos

  • House debates became more familiar to the public with televised broadcasts, begun in 1979 after years of resistance by House leaders.

    House debates became more familiar to the public with televised broadcasts, begun in 1979 after years of resistance by House leaders.

    U.S. News and World Report Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • The electronic voting system, which was installed in 1973, dispensed with the long roll call vote that required calling 435 names.

    The electronic voting system, which was installed in 1973, dispensed with the long roll call vote that required calling 435 names.

    © Bettmann/CORBIS

  • Electronic Voting Machine, 1972

    Beginning in 1973, House members could vote “yea,” “nay,” or “present” electronically. Before then, the House used voice and paper ballot votes.

    Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives