11. Congress. Video: The Big Picture What makes Congress the least popular branch of government?. 11. http://media.pearsoncmg.com/ph/hss/SSA_SHARED_MEDIA_1/polisci/presidency/Edwards_Ch11_Congress_Seg1_v2.html. 11. Learning Objectives.
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Identify the principal factors influencing the outcomes in congressional elections
Outline the path of bills to passage and explain the influences on congressional decision making
Not a glamorous job, but there are perks
$174,000 annual salary
Generous retirement and health benefits
House: 25, citizen for 7 years
Senate: 30, citizen for 9 years
Reside in state from which elected
435 Representatives; 100 senators
TABLE 11.1: Portrait of the 113th Congress: Some statistics
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.
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
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?
FIGURE 11.1: Incumbency factor in congressional elections
Contact with constituents
Franking privilege- free to send mailings, emails, calls to constituents
Casework (services to individual constituents)
Pork barrel projects (federal projects, grants, and contracts available to cities and institutions in a district)
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
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
Challengers are naïve
But sometimes incumbents are vulnerable
Sometimes the public can express its dissatisfaction by defeating incumbents and changing the party in power in one or both houses
Vacant seat = no incumbent running
Most turnover occurs here
Stability from incumbency
Development of expertise
Term limits? (p. 365)
Bills must pass both houses
Checks and balances
Result of Connecticut Compromise
More institutionalized and seniority-based
Less centralized and less seniority-based
TABLE 11.2: House versus Senate: Some key differences
Leadership assignments chosen by party
Speaker of the House- John Boehner
Majority and minority leaders
Majority leader, minority leader, whips
Four types of committees
Standing committees (divided into subcommittees)
Select committees- specific purpose & limited time
TABLE: 11.3: Standing committees in the Senate and in the House
Committees at work: Legislation
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.
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
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
2,000 staff members
Congressional Research Service (CRS)
Government Accountability Office (GAO)
Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
FIGURE 11.2: How a bill becomes a law
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 has a great influence on members of Congress
Parties more internally homogeneous- Republican legislators have become more conservative, and Democratic legislators more liberal
Less likelihood of compromise
FIGURE 11.3: Increasing polarization in Congress
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.
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.
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
Representativeness versus Effectiveness
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