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Congress and the Scope of Government

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Nicholas Antonucci

on 23 April 2017

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Transcript of Congress and the Scope of Government

Congress and the Scope of Government
The more policies Congress works on, the more ways it can serve their constituencies.
The more programs that get created, the bigger the government gets.
Contradiction in public opinion:
Everybody wants government programs cut, just not their programs.
Understanding Congress
Understanding Congress
Congress and Democracy
Representation versus Effectiveness
Supporters claim that Congress:
is a forum in which many interests compete for policy
is decentralized, so there is no oligarchy to prevent comprehensive action
Critics argue that Congress:
is responsive to so many interests that policy is uncoordinated, fragmented, and decentralized
is so representative that it is incapable of taking decisive action to deal with difficult problems
Congress and Democracy
Leadership and committee assignments are not representative
Congress does try to respond to what the people want, but some argue it could do a better job.
Members of Congress are responsive to the people, if the people make clear what they want.

Understanding Congress
Lobbyists and Interest Groups
There are 35,000 registered lobbyists trying to influence Congress—the bigger the issue, the more lobbyists will be working on it.
Lobbyists try to influence legislators’ votes.
Lobbyists can be ignored, shunned and even regulated by Congress.
Ultimately, it is a combination of lobbyists and others that influence legislators’ votes.
The Congressional Process
Presidents and Congress: Partners and Protagonists
Presidents attempt to persuade Congress that what they want is what Congress wants.
Presidents have many resources to influence Congress.
The Congressional Process
Bill: a proposed law
Anyone can draft a bill, but only members of Congress can introduce them.
More rules in the House than in the Senate
Party leaders play a vital role in steering bills through both houses, but less so in the Senate
Countless influences on the legislative process
The Congressional Process
How Congress is Organized to Make Policy
Congressional Staff
Personal staff: They work for the member, mainly providing constituent service, but help with legislation too.
Committee staff: organize hearings, research and write legislation, target of lobbyists
Staff Agencies: CRS, GAO, CBO provide specific information to Congress
: The Informal Organization of Congress
a group of members of Congress sharing some interest or characteristic

About 300 caucuses
Caucuses pressure for committee meetings and hearings and for votes on bills.
Caucuses can be more effective than lobbyists.
How Congress is Organized to Make Policy
Getting on a Committee
Members want committee assignments that will help them get reelected, gain influence, and make policy.
New members express their committee preferences to the party leaders.
Those who have supported their party’s leadership are favored in the selection process.
Parties try to grant committee preferences.
How Congress is Organized
to Make Policy
How Congress is Organized
to Make Policy

Congressional Elections
The Role of Party Identification
Most members represent the majority party in their district, and most who identify with a party reliably vote for its candidates

Defeating Incumbents
One tarnished by scandal or corruption becomes vulnerable to a challenger
Redistricting may weaken the incumbency advantage
Major political tidal wave may defeat incumbents
The Advantages of Incumbents
Advertising: The goal is to be visible to your constituents
Credit Claiming: Service to constituents Casework: specifically helping constituents get what they think they have a right to have

Congressional Elections
Our Representatives and Senators
Salary of $174,000 with retirement benefits
Office space in D.C. and in their home district with staff and travel allowances and franking privileges


Party, Constituency, and Ideology
Party Influence:
Party leaders cannot force party members to vote a particular way, but many do vote along party lines.
Constituency versus Ideology
Prime determinant of member’s vote on most issues is ideology
On most issues that are not salient, legislators may ignore constituency opinion.
But on controversial issues, members are wise to heed constituent opinion.
The Congressional Process
How Congress is Organized to Make Policy
Getting Ahead on the Committee
Committee chair
: important influences the congressional agenda
Dominant role in scheduling hearings, hiring staff, appointing subcommittees, and managing committee bills when they are brought before the full house
Most chairs selected according to seniority system.
Members who have served on the committee the longest and whose party controlled Congress become chair
The Committees at Work:Legislation and Oversight
Committees work on the 11,000 bills every session
Some hold hearings and “mark up” meetings
Legislative oversight
Monitoring of the bureaucracy and its administration of policy through committee hearings
As publicity value of receiving credit for controlling spending has increased, so too has oversight grown
Oversight usually takes place after a catastrophe
How Congress is Organized
to Make Policy
Open Seats
= Greater likelihood of competition
Most turnover occurs in open seats

Stability and Change
Incumbents provide stability in Congress

Change in Congress occurs less frequently through elections
Are term limits an answer?
Congressional Elections
The Advantages of Incumbents
Position Taking:
Portray themselves as hard working, dedicated individuals
Occasionally take a partisan stand on an issue

Weak Opponents:
Inexperienced in politics

Campaign Spending:
Challengers need to raise large sums to defeat an incumbent
PACs give most of their money to incumbents
Does PAC money “buy” votes in Congress?

Congressional Elections
Who Wins Elections?
Incumbents: Those already holding office.
Congressional Elections
American Bicameralism
The Senate
100 members, 6-year terms of office
Gives “advice & consent,” more influential on foreign affairs
Unlimited debates (filibuster)
The House
435 members, 2-year terms of office
Initiates all revenue bills, more influential on budget
House Rules Committee
Limited debates
How Congress is
Organized to Make Policy
Congressional Leadership
The House
Led by Speaker of the House—elected by House members
Presides over House
Major role in committee assignments and legislation
Assisted by majority leader and whips
The Senate
Formally led by Vice President
Really lead by Majority Leader—chosen by party members
Assisted by whips
Must work with Minority leader
How Congress is Organized
to Make Policy
The Congressional Process

Pork Barrel: federal projects, grants, etc. made available in a CD or state.
Committees and Subcommittees
Standing committees
: subject matter committees that handle bills in different policy areas
Joint committees
: a few subject-matter areas—membership drawn from House and Senate
Conference committees
: resolve differences in House and Senate bills
Select committees
: created for a specific purpose, such as the Watergate investigation
How Congress is Organized to Make Policy
March 21, 2017
Full transcript