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Congress. Chapter 13 Thanks to: Chris Przespo. General Overview. Congress has always been and still is considered America's first branch of government due to its many powers.

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Chapter 13

Thanks to: Chris Przespo

general overview
General Overview
  • Congress has always been and still is considered America's first branch of government due to its many powers.
  • However, Congress is often called the "broken" branch of government and needs to be fixed. Congress often seems to be the mistrusted branch of government and will usually have lower approval ratings than the president. Why?
  • Congress is enormous with the 435 representatives, 100 Senators, and then take into account the staff for each.
  • Congress is slow, but designed to be that way. For the most part, Congress has been designed by compromises to achieve a balance of power
  •  "The United States is the only democratic government that has a legislative branch."- Daniel Patrick Moynihan
parliament vs congress
Parliament vs. Congress
  • The loyalties of members in both bodies are different. Members of Parliament are selected by national party leaders to be put on the ballot and choose the leader of the country. Congressmen have to be selected by the people to even appear on the ballot. 
  • Unlike Parliament, Congress is completely independent of the executive office. Therefore, Congressmen are more likely and more willing to take an opposite position of the president.
  • Parliament serves more as a body for debate, Congress is a legislating body.  
evolution of the house
Evolution of the House
  • The House has gone through periods of strong leadership and then weak leadership. We currently are in a period where individual members retain some control, but leadership has returned.
  • The Speaker at times has wielded impressive power, including the power to name committee chairmen who are loyal to the Speaker.
  • These changes will always continue to occur in the House. The House can not be a powerful force unless is run by a strong but small group of people. But, individual members can not have much power without making it difficult for the House to operate. If this happens, the House will lose its power as a whole body.
evolution of the senate
Evolution of the Senate
  • The Senate has not faced the same type of struggle as the House.
  • The most drastic change was the 17th Amendment that required Senators be elected by a direct election, not by state legislatures.
  • Despite this change, the memebership did not change much. Many of the same members of the "Millionaire Club" won re-election.
  • The filibuster has lately become an important political tool. A filibuster is a group of speeches meant to delay legislative action. The cloture rule originally stipulated that debate could be limited if 2/3 of the senators voted to do so. It has been revised to be 3/5. All of this can be found in the Senate's Rule 22.
composition of congress
Composition of Congress
  • Members of Congress could usually be described as a white and Protestant lawyer.
  • The House has become less white and less male quicker than the Senate. The Senate since 1992 has seen more African Americans and women.
  • African Americans and Hispanics have held positions of influence in the House. In 1994, seven committees were chaired by African Americans or Hispanics.
  • The lack of women in those positions can be attributed to the fact that the districts represented by those African Americans and Hispanics are "safe" districts, which helps boost their seniority.
  • Congress has slowly become filled with incumbents. Considering that in 1869, more than half of the members of the House were in their first term.
  • Congress has become a career, back in the 1800s, Congress was not as important since many important decisions were made by the states.
  • Term limits have been proposed but have faltered.
  • Incumbents are protected by "safe" districts. The Senate is similar, but incumbents do not usually win with greater margains than members of the House.
  • Name recognition and taking claim for grant money also help incumbents.
  • However, when the nation struggles, incumbents are portrayed as career polticians and part of the problem.
party composition of congress
Party Composition of Congress
  • Democrats tend to be the party in control of Congress.
  • Friendly electoral maps help to maintain this dominance, but also Democrats also have been in the majority as advantages of incumbency increased.
  • However, as incumbency was viewed negatively, Democrats suffered and Republicans took back seats.
  • Despite their dominance of the House, Democrats often were divided. Many Southern Democrats voted with Republicans and formed a conservative coalition.
  • This coalition has fallen apart since these Southern Democrats were replaced by Republicans.
  • This has made Congress seem so ideologically partisan. Democrats are liberals and Republicans are conservatives.
do members represent their constituents
Do Members Represent their Constituents?
  • Representational view- Voting based on constituent opinions. This view has some merit on issues of civil rights and social welfare.
  • Organizational view- Voting is based on how other members vote. Mostly, it is based on party, but state and district location also are important.
  • Attitudinal View- Voting based on the ideology of a member. This view has merit on issues like foreign policy, where members of Congress have consistent liberal or conservative views.
  • What do you think?
ideology and partisan divide
Ideology and Partisan Divide
  • Congress has become increasingly divided along ideological and partisan grounds.
  • Democrats are much more liberal than the voter and Republicans are much more conservative.
  • This divide has eliminated civility. Many members from opposite parties do not personally like their opponents.
  • Many questions over ethics have been raised and presidential nominations turn into ugly, messy affairs.
  • The media likes to capitalize and publicize these battles.
  • There no longer seems to be any politeness between the two parties and the after hours socialization no longer exists.
  • This atmosphere is not one where compromise can flourish.
party structure in the senate
Party Structure in the Senate
  • The majority party elects a majority leader. The majority leader sets the Senate schedule. He also mcan assist in favorable committee assignments.
  • The minority party elects a minority leader.
  • Both parties elect a whip. The whip lets the party leader know what the members are thinking and also ensures that party members vote favorably on certain issues.
  • Each party has a Policy Committee that helps the leader schedule business and help choose which bills are to be given attention.
  • The Democrats have a Steering Committee and the Republicans have a Committee on Committees. These both assign Senators to serve on Senate committees.
  • This structure is not as powerful as the House.
party structure in the house
Party Structure in the House
  • The highest position is the Speaker of the House. The majority party elects someone to serve this position.
  • There also are majority and minority leaders as well as whips that serve similar functions as those in the Senate.
  • Chariman of the Caucus for the Democrats and Chairman of the Conference for the GOP preside over meetings of the representatives.
  • Republicans and Democrats also have the same committees in the House to make committee assignments and to guide policy.
  • Both parties have campaign committees which advise and fund Congressional campaigns.
  • This structure seems to function much more strongly than in the Senate.
party unity and polarization
Party Unity and Polarization
  • When the majority of one party opposes the majority of another.
  • This can measure the effectiveness of party leadership.
  • Still common, but not as common as in the early 1900s.
  • The public is not as partisan, so why is Congress?
  • Safe districts and the protection it offers members can be one explanation.
  • Many members of Congress have ideological convictions that they refuse to compromise on.
  • It can easily be stated that knowing a person's party affiliation reveals a lot about their voting record.
  • A group of Congressmen that are bound by a similar race, ethnicity, religion, or ideology.
  • From the 1970s until 1995 or so, caucuses were on the rise. Around 1995, the Republicans made it more difficult to run caucuses.
  • Six different types: Intraparty, personal interest, national constiuency concerns, regional constiunecy concerns, state constiuency concerns, and industry concerns.
  • Caucuses are starting to rival the party as a source of leadership.
  • These are the most important parts of Congress. The leaders of committees wield significant power.
  • Standing committees- Permanent committees that have a specific purpose. Most important committees.
  • Select committees- Temporary committee appointed for a specific purpose and will only last for a few Congresses.
  • Joint committees- Committes made up of members of both the House and Senate.
  • Conference committees- Committees made up of members of both houses that are to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill.
  • Committee leadership positions used to be awarded by loyalty, then seniority, and now are elected by secret ballot.
  • Chairman positions also have term limits and some loose restrictions on how many a Congressmen can serve on.
  • Congress has become massive now that the average representative has 17 assistants.
  • Staff are necessary to keep Congressmen informed of what's going on with all of their committee assignments.
  • Congressmen often interact between staff, not in person.
  • Congressional Research Service- Provides Congress with information and provides arugments for and against policy.
  • General Accounting Office- Serves as the audit agency and also a watchdog of government agencies.
  • Office of Technology Assessment- Investigates and reports on programs that use significant amounts of technology.
  • Congressional Budget Office- Provides cost estimates and gives an assessment of the economic effect of legislation, policies, and programs.
how a bill becomes a law
How a Bill Becomes a Law
  • This is a long and slow process. Most bills die before ever becoming law.
  • First a bill is introduced.
  • The bill is then sent to a committee.Here the bill will be marked up or can even die if the committee does not act.
  • After that, the full committee votes and gives its recommendation with a report.
  • The bill then is put on the calendar or can not be given a date at all.
  • Finally the bill moves to the floor for a vote, if approved it moves to the other body and the other body votes.
  • Any major differences between the two versions are reconciled in a conference committee.
  • Public Bill- A bill dealing with matters of general concern.
  • Private Bill- A bill that deals with specific, local matters.
  • Simple Resolution- An opinion setting rules for the body's operation.
  • Concurrent Resolution- Settles housekeeping and procedural matters in both houses.
  • Joint resolution- Same as a law, requires Congressional and presidential approval.
  • Bills often die in committee.
  • Committees hold hearings and debate over bills.
  • Bills used to be referred to multiple committees. Now they are referred to second committees only after the first committee is finished. This is called sequential referral.
  • Discharge petition can be used to get a bill out of committee. Must have 218 signatures.
  • Even after getting through the committee and being put on a calendar the bill still may die.
  • The Rules Committee in the House can place certain restriction on how the bill can be considered.
  • In the Senate, it is much easier to get a bill to the floor since only a majority is required to do so.
  • Floor debate in the House can be carried on by the the Committee of the Whole.
  • The Committee of the Whole can not pass the bill, only amend.
  • Riders are not allowed in the House.
  • The Senate is a little different, there is unlimited time for debate.
  • Amendments can be pet bills and riders.
  • The debate in the Senate is unlimited.
  • Filibuster and cloture rule apply.
  • The filibuster can be avoided by double tracking.
  • This means shelving the issue in order to get to other business.
  • Voting procedures are quite simple.
  • There is a voice vote.
  • Roll-call vote. A teller vote also is used where the members go to two tellers and cast their vote.
  • Division vote is where members are counted by standing.
  • The roll-call and teller votes record how members voted.
powers and perks
Powers and Perks
  • Franking privileges are widely used.
  • Pork-barreling is also widespread.
  • Pork is an effective way to get support and to please constiuents.
  • To eliminate pork would to be eliminate Congress.
post 9 11
Post 9/11
  • What would happen if many members of Congress were killed?
  • Legislation has been proposed, but nothing major has been passed.