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11. Congress. Video: The Big Picture What makes Congress the least popular branch of government?. 11. 11. Learning Objectives.

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Video the big picture what makes congress the least popular branch of government
Video: The Big PictureWhat makes Congress the least popular branch of government?



Learning Objectives

  • Characterize the backgrounds of members of Congress and assess their impact on the ability of members of Congress to represent average Americans


Identify the principal factors influencing the outcomes in congressional elections



Learning Objectives

  • Compare and contrast the House and Senate, and describe the roles of congressional leaders, committees, caucuses, and staff


Outline the path of bills to passage and explain the influences on congressional decision making



Learning Objectives

  • Assess Congress’s role as a representative body and the impact of representation on the scope of government


Video the basics
Video: The Basics


Representatives and senators
Representatives and Senators


  • Members

    • Not an easy job

    • Take much time, trouble, and money to get elected and re-elected

  • Why Aren’t There More Women in Congress?


Not a glamorous job, but there are perks


$174,000 annual salary

Generous retirement and health benefits

Constitutional requirements

House: 25, citizen for 7 years

Senate: 30, citizen for 9 years

Reside in state from which elected

435 Representatives; 100 senators


11.1 relatively wealthy backgrounds.

TABLE 11.1: Portrait of the 113th Congress: Some statistics

Members relatively wealthy backgrounds.


Most members of Congress can’t engage in descriptive representation, so they must employ substantive representation.

This simply means that they can’t represent their constituents by being from the same background and having the same problems, but they can represent them as advocates who understand their problems and concerns.


Why aren t there more women in congress
Why Aren relatively wealthy backgrounds.’t There More Women in Congress?

Fewer women running


Risk averse- less likely than men to run for office when they perceive that the odds of winning are low.


Must be more qualified


Congressional elections
Congressional Elections relatively wealthy backgrounds.


  • Who Wins Elections?

  • Advantages of Incumbency

  • Role of Party Identification

  • Defeating Incumbents

  • Open Seats

  • Stability and Change

Incumbents relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Over 90% win reelection in House

Senators do not have it as easy

Held more accountable b/c they are more visible

Incumbents perceive themselves as vulnerable

Hence so much fundraising and campaigning


Who Wins Elections?

11.2 relatively wealthy backgrounds.

FIGURE 11.1: Incumbency factor in congressional elections

Advantages of incumbency
Advantages of Incumbency relatively wealthy backgrounds.


Contact with constituents

Franking privilege- free to send mailings, emails, calls to constituents

Credit claiming

Casework (services to individual constituents)

Pork barrel projects (federal projects, grants, and contracts available to cities and institutions in a district)


Advantages of incumbency1
Advantages of Incumbency relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Position taking

But even though position taking is risky, sometimes members of Congress do take strong and public positions on certain issues when they believe they are certain how the majority of their constituents feel about the issue.

Weak opponents who lack experience

Campaign spending


Role of party identification
Role of Party Identification relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Parties and districts

Drawn for one-party dominance


The legislative process by which the majority party in each state legislature redraws congressional districts to ensure the maximum number of seats for its candidates


Defeating incumbents
Defeating Incumbents relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Challengers are naïve

But sometimes incumbents are vulnerable

Redistricting (Gerrymandering)

Public mood

Sometimes the public can express its dissatisfaction by defeating incumbents and changing the party in power in one or both houses


Open seats and stability and change
Open Seats and Stability and Change relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Vacant seat = no incumbent running

Most turnover occurs here

Stability from incumbency

Development of expertise

Term limits? (p. 365)


How congress is organized to make policy
How Congress is Organized to Make Policy relatively wealthy backgrounds.


  • American Bicameralism

  • Congressional Leadership

  • Committees and Subcommittees

  • Caucuses: Informal Organization of Congress

  • Congressional Staff

American bicameralism
American Bicameralism relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Bicameral legislature

Bills must pass both houses

Checks and balances

Result of Connecticut Compromise


More institutionalized and seniority-based

Rules Committee


Less centralized and less seniority-based



11.3 relatively wealthy backgrounds.

TABLE 11.2: House versus Senate: Some key differences

Congressional leadership
Congressional Leadership relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Leadership assignments chosen by party


Speaker of the House- John Boehner

Majority and minority leaders



Vice president

Majority leader, minority leader, whips


11.3 relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Congressional Leadership

Committees and subcommittees
Committees and Subcommittees relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Four types of committees

Standing committees (divided into subcommittees)

Joint committees

Conference committees

Select committees- specific purpose & limited time


11.3 relatively wealthy backgrounds.

TABLE: 11.3: Standing committees in the Senate and in the House

Committees and subcommittees1
Committees and Subcommittees relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Committees at work: Legislation

Legislative oversight

Once a bill becomes law, committees remain involved in assigning budgets and monitoring the work of the executive branch agency responsible for implementing the law.


Getting on a committee relatively wealthy backgrounds.

New members of Congress want to get on committees that will help them achieve three goals: reelection, influence in Congress, and the opportunity to make policy in areas they think are important or that are important to their constituents.


Committees and Subcommittees

Caucuses informal organization of congress
Caucuses: Informal Organization of Congress relatively wealthy backgrounds.

As important as formal structure

Dominated by caucuses (congressional interest groups)

Caucuses are formed by members who share a policy interest and work together to advance legislation they favor and oppose legislation that they don’t support.

500 caucuses today

Goal is to promote their interests

Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus


Congressional staff
Congressional Staff relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Personal staff


Legislative functions

Committee staff

2,000 staff members

Legislative oversight

Staff agencies

Congressional Research Service (CRS)

Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Congressional Budget Office (CBO)


Congressional process and decision making
Congressional Process and Decision Making relatively wealthy backgrounds.


  • Presidents and Congress: Partners and Protagonists

  • Party, Constituency, and Ideology

  • Lobbyists and Interest Groups

11.4 relatively wealthy backgrounds.

FIGURE 11.2: How a bill becomes a law

Presidents and congress partners and protagonists
Presidents and Congress: Partners and Protagonists relatively wealthy backgrounds.

President’s legislative agenda

Persuade Congress that their legislative agenda should be their priority

Popular presidents usually win their legislative battles with Congress

Yet Presidents lose or compromise enough that we can say Congress is quite independent


Party constituency and ideology
Party, Constituency, and Ideology relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Party has a great influence on members of Congress

Polarized politics

Parties more internally homogeneous- Republican legislators have become more conservative, and Democratic legislators more liberal

Less likelihood of compromise


11.4 relatively wealthy backgrounds.

FIGURE 11.3: Increasing polarization in Congress

Party constituency and ideology1
Party, Constituency, and Ideology relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Constituency opinion versus member ideology

Trustees versus instructed delegates

The trustee model of representation says that legislators are elected to use their best judgment. They have access to information that their constituents don’t have and they should act in their best interests.

The instructed delegate model of representation states that representatives must mirror the preferences of their constituents.


Lobbyists and interest groups
Lobbyists and Interest Groups relatively wealthy backgrounds.

D.C. is crawling with lobbyists

12,000 of them

Spent $3 billion in 2011

Former members of Congress

How lobbyists persuade

Provide policy information

Provide promises of money for members reelection campaigns

Ghostwrite legislation- so it conforms to the preferences of the industry or interest affected by it.

Status quo usually wins- Lobbyists are more successful lobbying against change than for it.

Disclosure requirements


Explore congress can congress get anything done
Explore Congress: Can Congress Get Anything Done? relatively wealthy backgrounds.


11.5 relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Understanding Congress

  • Congress and Democracy

  • Congress and the Scope of Government

Congress and democracy
Congress and Democracy relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Democracy depends upon successful representation

Congress isn’t demographically representative of the American people

Members are elites

Leadership chosen, not elected

Senate based on states, not population

Obstacles to good representation

Constituent service

Reelection campaigns

Representativeness versus Effectiveness


Congress and the scope of government
Congress and the Scope of Government relatively wealthy backgrounds.

Does size of government increase to please public?

Pork barrel spending increases the size and scope of government

Americans have contradictory preferences

Against large government, for individual programs


Video in the real world
Video: In the Real World relatively wealthy backgrounds.