2.3: US Congress

Purpose of Legislature
1.Promote the “legislative virtues” (representation and deliberation)
2.legislatures are often designed to emphasize one virtue over the other (emphasize representation: UN General Assembly, Continental Congress; emphasize deliberation: British Parliament)

The legislature as a political institution: Non-democrative systems
-legislative bodies: Hitler had one who promoted whatever he wanted; in other systems they serve as consulting bodies

The legislature as a political institution: Parliamentary systems
e.g. British Parliament
-expect legislature to promote what prime minister proposes; keeps an eye on government (accountability); debate forum

The legislature as a political institution: Separated systems
e.g. US Government
-separation of powers
-legislates and deliberates

Constitutional Principles
1.The 1st Branch of Government (coequal to executive)
2.Bicameral legislature (House and Senate: can’t make laws without the other)
3.Dual Nature (both representative and deliberative institution)

Operational Principles
1.Procedurally oriented
2.Partisan (one party is majority, other is minority; no major democratic system without parties; Nebraska only state with non-partisan system)
3.Decentralized (House and Senate; subcommittees; parties)
4.Reliant on informal rules and norms

Complex rules and Elaborate procedures for decision making
-Complex rules
-Elaborate decision making procedures (multiple “veto points,” or places where you can stop bill from passing; most business conducted according to calendar built around election cycles)

How Bill Becomes a Law
-Bill is introduced->committee hearings->floor action
-if passed, sent to committee hearings and floor action of other house
–if passed without amendments, bill goes to Governor
—if not vetoed, most bills become law Jan. 1st of next year
–if passed with amendments, bill returns to original house
—if original house concurs, bill goes to Governor

House of Representatives
-larger (435 members)
-short term (2 years), all elected at same time
-rules place more restraint on process
-narrower constituency
-less media coverage
-power less evenly distributed
-less prestigious position
-more expeditious debate
-less reliant on staff
-more partisan

-smaller (100 members)
-longer term (6 years), staggered elections
-rules place fewer restraints on process
-broader constituency
-more media coverage
-power more evenly distributed
-more prestigious position
-less expeditious debate
-more reliant on staff
-less partisan

Decentralized power structure
1.Bicamaralism (power shared by the House and Senate, with certain exceptions)
2.Power distributed in several ways: majority and minority parties; committees and subcommittees; caucuses; individual members

Committee Systems
1.Standing committees (always there)
2.Select (or special) committees (limited life span)
3.Joint committees
4.Subcommittees are important

Standing Committee
the permanent committees of Congress that alone can approve legislation and send it to the floor of the House or Senate

Joint Committees
permanent committees of Congress made up of members from both houses

Special or Select Committees
committees of Congress created periodically to study particular problems or new areas of legislation

Party Organizations and leaders
-House Party organization: majority and minority parties; Speaker of the House=leader of majority party
-Senate Party Organization: majority and minority parties; weaker leadership

Leadership Resources of Congress
-House: schedule and procedure control; services for members; committee assignments
-Senate: information and favor trading
-Both: leaders rely on persuasion; “use carrots more than sticks”

In Congress, are informal organizations of individual congressional representatives with like interests or constituencies. Members work together to promote the interests of the groups they represent through legislation, policy, and pressure on government agencies.

Partisan Concerns Caucuses
Republican Study Committee; Blue Dog Coalition; New Democrat Coalition; Tea Party Caucus

Personal Interest Caucuses
Arts Caucuses; Congressional Bike Caucus; Congressional Scouting Caucus; Victory in Iraq Caucus; Congressional Ski and Snowboard Caucus

National Constituency Caucuses
Congressional Black Caucus; Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues; caucuses on relations with specific countries

Regional Constituency Caucuses
Congressional Border Caucus; Northeast-Midwest Congressional Coalition; Upper Mississippi Basin Task Force; Chesapeake Bay Watershed Task Force

State/District Concerns Caucuses
Congressional Rural Caucus; Community College Caucus; Congressional Automotive Congress; California Democratic Congressional Delegation

Industry Concerns Caucuses
House Aerospace Caucus; Passenger Rail Caucus; Congressional Gaming Caucus; Congressional Manufacturing Caucus; Cement Caucus; House Small Brewers Caucus

Government Accountability Office (GAO)
-“watchdog agency”
-reports to Congress on the efficiency and performance of federal programs
-task is to determine whether a program is achieving the objects Congress has prescribed

Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
-usually not partisan
-provides essential analysis of the economy and federal budget for Congress
-specifically, it provides an assessment of the inflationary impact of major bills, projects the five-year costs of proposed legislation, and forecasts economic trends
-gives Congress an independent base of economic and budgetary expertise to challenge the economic assumptions behind president’s budget

Congressional Research Service (CRS)
-serves the entire Congress (members, committees, and aides)
-on request, conducts legal research and policy analysis and digests and summarizes legislation
-was created to remedy the dearth for information at Congress’s disposal as compared to the information resources long available to the president

Library of Congress
technically an arm of Congress, but run as an independent national library

Committee staffs
-greatest amount of political power
-most organized on party lines
-committees are where legislature is written

Personal Staffs
serve member as VIP, legislator, and constituent servant

Members of Congress’s divided responsibility
represents and legislates; have to allocate their time

Focus of Members of Congress’s attention
legislative attention on issues that most affect their constituents

Voting in Congress
-logrolling: vote-trading between members; work with others to get things done
-Senatorial Courtesy: has to do with presidential nominations; presidents want to nominate judge in a state, asks senator from that district, if senator opposes other senators support that

Policy Outputs in Congress
kind of legislation Congress creates: has to balance local concerns and national interest

What about irresolvable conflicts between local and national concerns?
members have to make choices when these two interests conflict: must choose one or the other

How Members see themselves
-delegate:primarily serves constituents
-trustee: represents nation (often are defeated)
-politico: try to strike a balance

Unique Working Environment in Congress
-in some ways it is very partisan, in other ways very cooperative
-things move slowly in Congress, but members work furiously
-a lot goes on in public, but some is also off the record

-80% of Congressional business starts in executive branch (bills, nominations, budgets, treaties)
-20% initiated by Congress members

Professional Congress: Reelection goal
-usually seek to be reelected at least once
-Congress as the goal vs. Congress as a stepping stone

Professional Congress: full time/part time
-nowadays, in session year round with some vacations, but used to not be year round
-part-time: weekly schedules so they scan be out of Washington

Professional Congress: attention getting activities
-credit claiming
-position taking

Congress as Policy Maker: Small Changes
Congress most frequently adopts incremental policy changes

Congress as Policy Maker: Big Changes
-major, non-incremental changes require certain conditions and thus are less common
-sense of urgency that produces broad support for change (e.g. several New Deal programs, USA PATRIOT Act, 2009 financial bailout) OR broad bipartisan consensus supporting change (e.g. Civil Rights Act) PLUS presidential support; public support; favorable political environment

What matters in congressional policy making: who?
-presidential support/opposition is important
-powerful members (leaders, committee chairs) important

What matters in congressional policy making: what?
-Foreign policy: Congress tends to defer to president
-Domestic policy: Congress more willing to challenge president
-Congress tends to support policies that protect local interests

What matters in congressional policy making: when?
-Policy cycles matter (budget cycle, 2-yr cycles of Congress)
-Electoral Cycle (House, Senate, President)

What matters in congressional policy making: where?
-powers assigned to House or Senate matter
-the two houses are different and often at odds

What matters in congressional policy making: how?
-regular legislation requires simple majority in House, but Senate has a de-facto 60 vote majority rule in effect
-supermajorities required for veto override, treaty approval, constitutional amendment

What matters in congressional policy making: why?
-Crisis: blocks to action tend to fade
-Broad consensus: less resistance to change
-Partisan agenda: more resistance and need for compromise

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