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How Congress Works

May 18, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Business, Finance
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Chapter Thirteen Congress

The Evolution of Congress • The intent of the Framers: – To oppose the concentration of power in a single institution – To balance large and small states • Bicameralism

• They expected Congress to be the dominant institution

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Objective for Congress Chapter • The purpose of this chapter is to describe the roles and organization of Congress. After reading and reviewing the material in this chapter, the student should be able to do each of the following: • Explain the differences between a congress and a parliament and delineate the role that the Framers expected the United States Congress to play.

• Pinpoint the significant eras in the evolution of Congress. • Describe the characteristics of members of Congress and outline the process for electing members of Congress. • Identify the functions that party affiliation plays in the organization of Congress. • Describe the formal process by which a bill becomes a law. • Identify the factors that help to explain why a member of Congress votes as he or she does. Copyright © Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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Organization of the House • Historically, power struggles have occurred between members and leadership • 1994 brought changes: – Committee chairs hold positions for only 6 years

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Organization of the House • Reduced the number of committees and subcommittees • The Speaker dominated the selection of committee chairs • The Speaker set the agenda (Contract with America) and sustained high Republican discipline in 1995

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Evolution of the Senate • The Senate escaped many of the tensions encountered by the House • The major struggle in the Senate was about how its members should be chosen; 17th amendment (1913) • The filibuster is another major issue: restricted by Rule 22 (1917), which allows a vote of cloture

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Table 11.4: Party Polarization in Congressional Voting, 1953-2000 (percentage of all votes)

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THEME A: WHO GETS TO CONGRESS

Who is in Congress? • The House has become less male and less white • Membership in Congress became a career • Incumbents still have a great electoral advantage • But in 1994, voters opposed incumbents due to budget deficits, various policies, legislative-executive bickering, and scandal

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Table 13.1: Blacks, Hispanics, and Women in Congress, 1971-2002

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Theme A Discussion Questions

1. Members of Congress tend to have a particular demographic profile—most members are middle-aged, male, white, welleducated attorneys. Is this a matter of concern? Does the preponderance of a particular demographic and professional group compromise the quality of representation provided by the U.S. Congress? In 1992, feminist organizations encouraged women to vote for women congressional candidates by noting that every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had confirmed Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, had just this profile. How important is descriptive representation? (Note that immediately following the 1992 election, two women were appointed to this committee—Dianne Feinstein, a white Democrat from California; and Carol Moseley-Braun, an African-American Democrat from Illinois. Moseley-Braun was defeated in her bid for re-election in 1998, but Feinstein continues to serve on the Judiciary Committee.) Copyright © Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. 13 | 10

2. Why have Senate races been more competitive historically than House races? What factors would constrain the incumbency advantage of senators? If senators have a six-year term to prepare for reelection and House members have only a two-year term, shouldn’t senators experience greater success in their campaigns? 3. What factors combined to make House races more competitive in the 1990s? Which of these developments has surfaced in your local elections? On the basis of the electoral outcomes since 2000, which party do you expect will control the legislative and executive branches in the future? 4. Should the number of terms served by members of Congress be limited, as they are for the president? If not, what justification exists for imposing a term requirement on the president but not on Congress? Wouldn’t corruption be less likely if members of Congress were regularly rotated in office?

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THEME B: DOES CONGRESS REPRESENT CONSTITUENTS’ OPINIONS?

The Incumbency Advantage • Media coverage is higher for incumbents • Incumbents have greater name recognition due to franking, travel to the district, news coverage • Members secure policies and programs for voters

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Figure 11.1: Changing Percentage of FirstTerm Members in Congress

• Sources: Data for 90th through 103rd Congresses are from Congressional Quarterly Weekly Reports. Data for 69th through 89th Congresses are adapted from Copyright © Houghton Mifflin All rights reserved. 13 | 13 Nelson W.Company. Polsby, "The Institutionalization of the U.S.

Figure 13.2: Percentage of Incumbents Reelected to Congress

Harold W. Stanley and Richard G. Niemi, Vital Statistics on American Politics, 1999-2000 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2000), table 1-18; 2004 updated by Marc Siegal.

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Table 11.2: Incumbents in Congress Reelected by 60 Percent or More

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Member Behavior • Representational view: members vote to please their constituents, in order to secure re-election • Organizational view: where constituency interests are not vitally at stake, members primarily respond to cues from colleagues • Attitudinal view: the member’s ideology determines her/his vote

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Theme B Discussion Questions • Which of the theories listed above do you believe is practiced by most members of Congress during campaign season? Would you expect the longer term of Senators (6 years) compared to Representatives (2 years) to result in their practicing a different theory of representation? • Which of the three theories listed above do you endorse as a citizen? Which would you endorse as a member of Congress? Explain why your perspective did or did not change, depending on your political role. • Suppose you want your representative in Congress to vote for the policies you prefer—the representational theory of congressional voting. How could you make this happen? • What is party unity voting? If representatives vote with their party, does that necessarily mean they are less likely to be representing constituents’ attitudes? Copyright © Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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THEME C: CONGRESSIONAL ORGANIZATION AND PROCEDURES

Party Structure in the Senate • President pro tempore presides; this is the member with most seniority in majority party (a largely honorific office) • Leaders are the majority leader and the minority leader, elected by their respective party members

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Party Structure in the Senate • Party whips: keep leaders informed, round up votes, count noses • Each party has a policy committee: schedules Senate business, prioritizes bills • Committee assignments are handled by a group of Senators, each for their own party

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Party Structure in the House • Speaker of the House is leader of majority party and presides over House • Majority leader and minority leader: leaders on the floor • Party whips keep leaders informed and round up votes • Committee assignments and legislative schedule are set by each party

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Congressional Caucuses • Caucus: an association of members of Congress created to advocate a political ideology or a regional or economic interest • Intra-party caucuses: members share a similar ideology • Personal interest caucuses: members share an interest in an issue • Constituency caucuses: established to represent groups, regions or both

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Table 11.5: Congressional Caucuses

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Committees • Committees are the most important organizational feature of Congress • Consider bills or legislative proposals • Maintain oversight of executive agencies • Conduct investigations

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Types of Committees • Standing committees: basically permanent bodies with specified legislative responsibilities • Select committees: groups appointed for a limited purpose and limited duration

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Types of Committees • Joint committees: those on which both representatives and senators serve • Conference committee: a joint committee appointed to resolve differences in Senate and House versions of the same piece of legislation before final passage

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Committee Practices • The number of committees has varied; significant cuts in number of House committees in 1995, and in the number of House and Senate subcommittees • Majority party has majority of seats on the committees and names the chair

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Congressional Staff • Constituency service is a major task of members’ staff • Legislative functions of staff include devising proposals, negotiating agreements, organizing hearings, and meeting with lobbyists and administrators • Members’ staff consider themselves advocates of their employers

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Figure 13.4: The Growth in Staffs of Members and Committees in Congress, 1930-2000

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How a Bill Becomes a Law • Bill must be introduced by a member of Congress • Bill is referred to a committee for consideration by either Speaker or presiding officer of the Senate • Revenue bills must originate in the House • Most bills die in committee

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How a Bill Becomes a Law • After hearings and mark-up sessions, the committee reports a bill out to the House or Senate • Bill must be placed on a calendar to come for a vote before either house • House Rules Committee sets the rules for consideration

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How a Bill Becomes a Law • Bills are debated on the floor of the House or Senate • If there are major differences in the bill as passed by the House and Senate, a conference committee is appointed • The bill goes to the president

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How a Bill Becomes Law • The president may sign it • If the president vetoes it, it returns to house of origin • Both houses must support the bill, with a two-thirds vote, in order to override the president’s veto

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How Things Work: How a Bill Becomes Law

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Questions re: Bill becoming a Law • Look at the chart “How a Bill Becomes Law” in the text, and list the hurdles a bill must surmount if it is to become law. Is the legislative process too inefficient? • There are two especially significant facts about the legislative process. First, almost all legislation is considered in subcommittees composed of from six to ten members. Second, much legislation enacted into law passes with few changes in the way the bill is reported from committee. To be successful, therefore, wouldn’t interest groups have to influence only a few members of Congress? Does Congress so strongly support the work of its committees? Copyright © Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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• Consider each of the following features of Congress (including some that no longer apply), and discuss the policy implications of each. Does each (a) lead to more or less logical and coherent policies? (b) lead to more or less representation of various local and parochial interests? (c) make it easier or harder to pass legislation? • Party voting in Congress • A powerful Speaker of the House • A highly specialized committee structure

• Committee reforms that have taken power away from chairs • Ideological caucuses • Open meetings of committees • Large staffs, including those of Congressional members, committees, and staff agencies • Powerful support for the president in Congress • The filibuster • The closed rule

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THEME D: ETHICS AND CONGRESS

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Theme D Discussion Questions • Congressional scandals are classified as financial, sexual, and political. Which do you consider more or less serious? Why? What information should be provided in media coverage of candidates and officeholders? Is it more important that the voters learn about politicians’ characters or issue stances? • Numerous congressional members have established their own PACs, which are known as leadership PACs. Although these political action committees are kept to the same limitations placed on other PACs, the leadership PACs are sometimes viewed as contributing to the abuse of power. Why? What advantages can a congressional member gain by establishing a leadership PAC? Should the formation of leadership PACs be discouraged?

• More than one author has noted how difficult it is for Congress to police its own members for ethics violations. Why? As a congressional member, would you be willing to serve on the ethics committee of your chamber? Note that these committee rosters now list the same number of Democratic and Republican members. Why? Copyright © Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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Post 9-11 Congress • 9-11 Commission recommended Congress make fundamental changes in how it oversees agencies involved in intelligencegathering and counter-terrorism • Congress passed some of those proposals after some opposition in both parties

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