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AP Government Chapter 12 Congress Notes
Rob Bonifacioon 14 May 2013
Transcript of AP Government Chapter 12 Congress Notes
The framers of the Constitution conceived Congress as the center of policymaking in America.
Although the prominence of Congress has fluctuated over time, in recent years Congress has been the true center of power in Washington.
Congress' tasks become more difficult each year. The movement of legislation through the congressional labyrinth has never been more complicated, and just finding time to debate the issues has become increasingly difficult.
Some critics charge Congress with being the source of government expansion. The Representatives and Senators
Despite public perceptions to the contrary, hard work is perhaps the most prominent characteristic of a member of Congress' job.
The typical representative is a member of about six committees and subcommittees; a senator is a member of about ten.
Members are often scheduled to be in two places at the same time. There are also attractions to the job.
The most important is power. Members of Congress make key decisions about important matters of public policy.
Members of Congress receive substantial salary and "perks". The Members
There are 535 members of Congress - 100 in the Senate (two from each state) and 435 in the House of Representatives.
The Constitution specifies only that members of the House must be at least 25 years old, American citizens for seven years, and must be residents of the states from which they are elected. Senators must be at least 30 years old, American citizens for nine years, and must be residents of the states from which they are elected.
Members come mostly from occupations with high status and usually have substantial incomes. Law and business are the dominant prior occupations, with other elite occupations also well represented. Representation of Minorities
Less than 10 percent of voting members of the House are African American (compared with about 13 percent of the total population), and most of them are elected from overwhelmingly African American constituencies.
There are 23 Hispanics in the House and three in the Senate.
Women are the most underrepresented demographic in Congress; more than half the population is female, but only 16 senators and 71 voting representatives are female. Although members of Congress obviously cannot claim descriptive representation (representing their constituents by mirroring their personal, politically relevant characteristics), they may engage in substantive representation (representing the interests of groups).
Although women have proven themselves able to compete with men for seats in Congress, women are underrepresented. Fewer women than men become major party nominees, for office as women report they are less ambitious to run for office and more sensitive than men to their perceptions of the odds of winning. CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS
Incumbents are those already holding office. The most important fact about congressional elections is that incumbents usually win.
Even in a year of great political upheaval such as 1994, in which the Republicans gained eight seats in the Senate and 53 seats in the House, 92 percent of incumbent representatives won their bids for reelection.
National issues came to the forefront similarly in 2006, allowing Democrats to regain the majority of both houses, but few incumbents lost their seats. House of Representatives
Not only do more than 90 percent of the incumbents seeking reelection to the House of Representatives win, but most of them win with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Even when challengers' positions on the issues are closer to the voters' positions, incumbents still tend to win.
Thus, the most important resource to ensure an opponent's defeat is simply to be an incumbent. Senate
Even though senators have a better-than-equal chance of reelection, senators typically win by narrower margins than House members.
One reason for the greater competition in the Senate is that the entire state is almost always more diverse than a congressional district and thus provides more of a base for opposition to an incumbent.
Senators have less personal contact with their constituents and receive more coverage in the media than representatives do (and are therefore more likely to be held accountable on controversial issues).
Senators tend to draw more visible challengers who are already known to voters and who have substantial financial backing. Despite their success at reelection, incumbents have a strong feeling of vulnerability; thus, they have been raising and spending more campaign funds, sending more mail to their constituents, traveling more to their states and districts, and staffing more local offices than ever before. The Advantages of Incumbents
Voters are not very aware of how their senators and representatives actually vote.
Stories of presidential coattails (the theory that other candidates could ride into office by clinging to presidential coattails) do not seem to hold up in practice.
Members of Congress do not gain or lose very much from fluctuations of the economy.
Members of Congress engage in three primary activities that increase the probability of their reelections: advertising, credit claiming, and position taking.
Most congressional advertising takes place between elections and takes the form of contact with constituents: members concentrate on staying visible, and trips to the home district (or state) are frequent. New technologies are supplementing traditional contacts with sophisticated database management, e-mails, automated phone calls, etc.
Credit claiming involves personal and district service. There are two ways members of Congress can service the constituency: casework and the pork barrel
Casework is helping constituents as individuals, such as cutting through bureaucratic red tape.
The pork barrel refers to expenditures on federal projects, grants, and contracts for cities, businesses, colleges, and institutions. Because credit claiming is so important to reelection, members of Congress rarely pass up the opportunity to increase federal spending in their state or district.
In recent years, more funds have been "earmarked," or dedicated to a specific district (about 12,000 earmarks in 2007, amounting to $17 billion).
Members of Congress must also engage in position taking on matters of public policy when they vote on issues and when they respond to constituents' questions about where they stand on issues. The positions they take may make a difference in the outcome of an election, especially if the issues are on matters salient to voters and their stands are out of line with those of a majority of their constituents (especially in the Senate, where issues are likely to play a greater role than in House elections). Weak Opponents
Incumbents are likely to face weak opponents.
Seeing the advantages of incumbency, potentially effective opponents often do not want to risk challenging members of the House. Campaign Spending
It costs a great deal of money to elect a Congress. ($2 billion in the 2005-2006 election cycle.)
Challengers have to raise large sums if they hope to defeat an incumbent. However, challengers are usually substantially outspent by incumbents (2 to 1 in 2006).
One-fourth of the funds raised by candidates for Congress comes from political action committees (PACs).
PACs seek access to policymakers. Thus, they give most of their money to incumbents who are already heavily favored to win. Critics of PACs are covinced that PACs are not trying to elect but to buy influence.
Spending a lot of money in a campaign is no guarantee of success. The Role of Party Identification
Although party loyalty at the voting booth is not as strong as it was a generation ago, it is still a good predictor of voting behavior.
Most members of Congress represent constituencies in which their party is in the majority. Defeating Incumbents
An incumbent tarnished by scandal or corruption becomes vulnerable. Voters do take out their anger at the polls.
Congressional membership is reapportioned after each federal census, and incumbents may be redistricted out of their familiar base of support (Kaptur and Kucinich in 2012). The majority party in the state legislature is more likely to move two of the opposition party's representatives into the same district than two of its own. Open Seats
When an incumbent is not running for reelection and the seat is open, there is greater likelihood of competition.
Most of the turnover in the membership of Congress results from vacated seats. Stability and Change
As a result of incumbents usually winning reelection, there is some stability in the membership of Congress. This provides the opportunity for representatives and senators to gain some expertise in dealing with complex questions of public policy. It also insulates them from political change and makes it more difficult for citizens "to send a message to Washington" with their votes.
Some reformers have proposed term limitations laws for senators and representatives.
Would you be in favor of term limits for members of Congress? Why or why not? HOW CONGRESS IS ORGANIZED TO MAKE POLICY
Making policy is the toughest of all legislative roles. Congress is a collection of generalists trying to make policy on specialized topics. The complexity of today's issues requires more specialization. Congress tries to cope with these demands through its elaborate committee system. American Bicameralism
A bicameral legislature is one divided into two house. The U.S. Congress and every American state legislature except Nebraska's are bicameral. Each state is guaranteed two senators in the U.S Congress, with representation in the House of Representatives based on population. The framers of the Constitution thought the Senate would protect elite interests. They gave the House (which they expected to be closest to the masses) the power of initiating all revenue bills and of impeaching officials; they gave the Senate the responsibility for ratifying all treaties, for confirming important presidential nominations, and for trying impeached officials. The House and Senate each set their own agenda. Both use committees to narrow down the thousands of bills introduced. House of Representatives
The House is much larger and more institutionalized than the senate.
Party loyalty to leadership and party-line voting are more common than in the Senate.
Debate can be ended by a simple majority vote. House of Representative con't.
One institution unique to the House is the House Rules Committee, which reviews most bills coming from a House committee before they go to the full House. Each bill is given a "rule," which schedules the bill on the calender, allots time for debate, and sometimes even specifies what kind of amendments may be offered. Members are appointed by the Speaker of the House. Senate
The Senate is less disciplined and less centralized than the House. Today's senators are more equal in power than representatives are.
Party leaders do for Senate scheduling what the Rules Committee does in the House. Senate con't.
The filibuster permits unlimited debate on a bill. In practice, this sometimes means that opponents of a bill may try to "talk it to death." At the present time, 60 members present and voting can halt a filibuster by invoking cloture (closure) on debate. Congressional Leadership
Much of the leadership in Congress is really party leadership. Those who have the real power in the congressional hierarchy are those whose party put them there.
Power is no longer in the hands of a few key members of Congress who are insulated from the public. Instead, power is widely dispersed, requiring leaders to appeal broadly for support. Congressional Leadership
Much of the leadership in Congress is really party leadership. Those who have the real power in the congressional hierarchy are those whose party put them there.
Power is no longer in the hands of a few key members of Congress who are insulated from the public. Instead, power is widely dispersed, requiring leaders to appeal broadly for support. House Leadership
The Speaker of the House is second (after the vice president) in the line to succeed a president who resigns, dies in office, or is impeached. Speaker of the House con't.
At one time, the Speaker had almost autocratic powers. Many of the powers were removed from the Speaker's control in 1910 and given to committees; some of the powers were later restored.
Formal powers of the Speaker today include: presides over the House when it is in session; plays a major role in making committee assignments; appoints or plays a key role in appointing the party's legislative leaders and party leadership staff; exercises substantial control over which bills get assigned to which committees.
The Speaker also has a great deal of informal power both inside and outside Congress. Speaker of the House con't.
The Speaker's principal partisan ally is the majority leader. The majority leader is responsible for rounding up votes on party legislation and for scheduling bills in the House. The party whips work with the majority leader to round up votes and to report the views and complaints of the party rank-and-file back to the leadership. The minority party is also organized (with a minority leader and whips), and is prepared to take over key posts if it should win a majority in the House. Speaker of the House: John Boehner (R) Ohio
House Majority Leader: Eric Cantor (R) Virginia
House Majority Whip: Kevin McCarthy (R) California
House Minority Leader: Nancy Pelosi (D) California
House Minority Whip: Steny Hoyer (D) Maryland Senate Leadership
The Constitution names the vice president as president of the Senate. Vice presidents typically have little power or influence in the Senate, except in the rare case when their vote can break a tie. The Senate majority leader - aided by the the majority whips - is the position of real power and authority in the Senate. He rounds up votes, schedules the floor action, and influences committee assignments. Senate Majority Leader: Harry Reid (D) Nevada
Senate Majority Whip: Richard Durbin (D) Illinois Senate Minority Leader: Mitch McConnell (R) Kentucky
Senate Minority Whip: John Cornyn (R) Texas Congressional Leadership in Perspective
The structure of Congress is so complex that it seems remarkable that legislation gets passed at all. Its bicameral division means that bills have two sets of committee hurdles to clear. Recent reforms have decentralized power, so the job of leading Congress is more difficult than ever.
Congressional leaders are not in the strong positions they occupied in the past. Leaders are elected by their fellow party members and must remain responsive to them.
Party leadership - at least in the House - has been more effective in recent years. The Committees and Subcommittees
Most of the real work of Congress goes on in committees.
Committees dominate congressional policymaking.
They regularly hold hearings to investigate problems and possible wrongdoing, and to investigate the executive branch.
They control the congressional agenda and guide legislation from its introduction to its send-off for the president's signature. The Committees and Subcommittees con't.
Committees can be grouped into four types: standing committees (by far the most important), joint committees, conference committees, and select committees. Standing Committees
Standing committees are permanent subject-matter committees, formed to handle bills in different policy areas. Each chamber has its own committees and subcommittees. In the 103rd Congress, the typical representative served on two committees and four subcommittees, while senators averaged three committees and seven subcommittees each. Joint Committees
Joint committees are study committees that exist in a few policy areas, with membership drawn from both the Senate and the House Conference Committees
Conference committees are formed to work out the differences when different versions of a bill are passed by the two houses. Membership is drawn from both houses. Select Committees
Select committees are temporary committees appointed for a specific ("select") purpose, such as the Senate select committee that looked into Watergate. The Committees at Work: Legislation and Oversight
More than 9,000 bills are submitted by members every two years, which must be sifted through and narrowed down by the committee process. Every bill goes to a standing committee; usually only bills receiving a favorable committee report are considered by the whole House or Senate. Committees at Work con't.
New bills sent to a committee typically go directly to subcommittee, which can hold hearings on the bill. The most important output of committees and subcommittees is the "marked up" (revised and rewritten) bill, submitted to the full House or Senate for consideration. Committees at Work con't
Members of the committee will usually serve as "floor managers" of the bill when the bill leaves committee, helping party leaders secure votes for the legislation. They will also be cue-givers to whom other members turn for advice. When two chambers pass different versions of the same bill, some committee members will be appointed to the conference committee. Legislative Oversight
Legislative oversight - the process of monitoring the bureaucracy and its administration of policy - is one of the checks Congress can exercise on the executive branch.
Oversight is handled primarily through hearings. Members of committees constantly monitor how a bill is implemented. The process enables Congress to exert pressure on executive agencies, or even to cut their budgets in order to secure compliance with congressional wishes. Legislative Oversight con't.
Typically, the majority party will determine whether or not to hold hearings, since it controls the majority of committee seats and the majority of votes on the floor.
Congressional oversight occasionally captures public attention, such as congressional investigations into the Watergate scandal and the 1987 Iran-Contra affair. Legislative Oversight con't.
Congress keeps tabs on more routine activities of the executive branch through its committee staff members, who have specialized expertise in the fields and agencies that their committees oversee (and who maintain an extensive network of formal and informal contacts with the bureaucracy).