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The Legislative Branch

Politics in Action: Governing in Congress (Chapter 12)

Katelyn Botsford

on 31 August 2014

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Transcript of The Legislative Branch

Politics in Action: Governing in Congress
The Legislative Branch
The Case Against Congress
Some feel that Congress is not able to represent constituents while also make effective policy

Think about:
What elections have to do with Congress.
The separation between the state and federal governments with regard to Congress.
How large or small Congress is during key moments in American history.
Total of 535 members: 435 in the House of Representatives, 100 in the Senate (if you mess this up on the exam I will go to your respective colleges and mock you in front of your friends.)

Is Congress an elite group?
African Americans account for 13.1% of the U.S. population, but 8.2% of Congress
Hispanic Americans account for 16.7% of the U.S. population, but only 5.8% of Congress
Women account for 50.8% of the U.S. population, but only 18.7% of Congress
Descriptive representation: representing constituents by mirroring their personal, politically relevant characteristics

Substantive representation: representing the interests of groups
Make key decisions about important matters of public policy
$169,300 salary
State and Washington D.C. office
Franking privilege
central policy making branch
principal representative body
Some Deets
According to the U.S. Census Bureau
Do we hate Congress?
Who Wins Elections?
Incumbents: individuals who already hold office
in congressional elections incumbents usually win
1994 (middle of Clinton) GOP gained eight Senate seats and 53 House seats; 92% of incumbent senators and 89% of incumbent representatives won reelection=first GOP swing since 1954
more than 90% of incumbents seeking reelection win; many with more than 60% of the vote
Senators win reelection by narrower margins than Representatives
Senators are elected by the entire state, rather than a district.
Senators have less personal contact with constituents.
Senators receive more media coverage and are more likely to be held accountable.
Senators draw serious challengers in governors and mayors who want to move on up.
what does it mean to be "unsafe at any margin" (Thomas Mann)
voters should already know how their elected representatives vote on policies, but they don't - only 1/5 of Americans guessed correctly when asked how their elected officials voted for key issues
voters could be voting based on the president's "coattails" but in recent elections candidates won Congressional elections by larger margins than the presidents so it doesn't add up
The advantages of incumbency:
So what actually accounts for the success of incumbents?
Credit Claiming
Position Taking:
visibility between elections-contact with constituents
most members spend time in their home districts, not in D.C.
members use the franking privilege
technology has brought franking into the digital age-phones with recorded messages, emails, websites, twitter, Facebook
enhancing standing with constituents through service to individuals and the district
Fenno and Fiorina- image/casework and service/success
Casework: activities of members of Congress that help constituents as individuals; cutting through bureaucratic red tape to get people what they think they have a right to get
Pork Barrel: list of federal projects, grants, and contracts available to cities, businesses, colleges, and institutions available in a congressional district-this used to be appropriated, now it is "earmarked" for specific districts
taking a position on an issue when they vote and when they respond to constituents' questions
incumbents usually face weak opponents who lack experience, organizational and financial backing
it costs a lot to run a campaign
funds come from PACs, who often make contributions after elections are over
PACs give most of their money to incumbents who will likely win reelection
PACs are no longer limited in expenditures
money is not always a guarantee - Linda McMahon, Ned Lamont, James Talent, Rick Santorum, Jon Corzine
Party ID
most members of Congress represent constituencies in which their party is the clear majority and people with a party ID will vote for those candidates
90% of voters who identify with a party will vote for House candidates of that party
Gerrymandering-redrawing congressional districts based on party, demographic, or ideological trends

So, why do people challenge?
incumbents may deal with scandal, corruption or negative publicity making them vulnerable
reapportionment may also impact seats- districts that are redrawn could create a battle between two incumbent representatives
when an incumbent is not running for reelection the seat is considered "open"
with open seats there is an increased chance of competition
some people have proposed term limits for Congressmen- do you?
Organization of Congress
bicameral legislature: a legislature divided into two houses; the U.S. Congress and every state legislature except Nebraska has a bicameral legislature
The House: 4x larger than the Senate, more centralized, stronger leadership, more party loyalty and party-line voting
House Rules Committee - unique to the House, reviews all bills except revenue, budget, and appropriations bills, coming from a House committee before it goes to the House; HRC is responsive to the leadership (Speaker appoints committee members)
must initiate revenue bills; influential on the budget
passes articles of impeachment (brings charges)
smaller constituencies
less prestigious than Senate
senior members have more power
limited debate
party leadership is more effective and unifying
The Senate: less centralized with weaker leadership
gives "advice and consent"
approves treaties and appointments
tries impeached officials
larger constituencies
more prestigious
more influential regarding foreign affairs
unlimited debate - filibuster: strategy whereby opponents of a piece of legislation try to talk it to death; 60 present, voting members can stop a filibuster
Congressional Leadership
Speaker of the House-only legislative office mandated by the Constitution, chosen by the majority party
majority leader-chosen by the majority party (so it's the same as the Speaker) and schedules bills and rounds up votes
minority leader-leader of the minority party
whips-party leaders who work with the majority or minority leaders to count votes, gather support, and figure out who isn't pulling their weight
Vice President is the president of the Senate (his only Constitutionally defined duty)
also has majority/minority leaders and whips
Hunt v. Cromartie - 2001, NC legislature drew district around black population; the Court stated that redistricting for political reasons did not violate the Federal Civil Rights Law banning race-based gerrymandering; the gerrymandered district was permitted
Karcher v. Daggett - 1982, Democrats in control of the NJ legislature redistricted; the populations of the districts were the same but they were drawn to maximize Democratic power; the Court held that the districts were unconstitutional because they "were not the result of a good-faith effort to achieve population equality"
Shaw v. Reno - 1992, U.S. AG rejected NC district plan because it created only one black majority district; NC submitted a second plan, with two black majority districts (the second the width of a highway); the Court found that NC had created a racially gerrymandered district which violated the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause
Vieth v. Jubelirer - After the 2000 census reduced the size of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation by two members, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a plan that clearly benefited Republican candidates. The Court was asked to determine whether or not there had been a violation of the 14th Amendment; in a split decision that had no majority opinion, the Court decided not to intervene in this case because no appropriate judicial solution could be found.
Committees & Subcommittees
Most of the real work in Congress takes place in Committees (see page 379 for a list of Senate and House Committees)
Standing committees - handle bills in specific policy areas; these are permanent committees; single house
Joint committees - a few policy areas need a pow-wow with both houses
Conference committees - created when the Senate and House pass different versions of the same bill; get appointed by the party leadership but contain members of each house to iron out the differences and create a compromise
Select committees - temporary or permanent, focus on one area (Y2K, intelligence)
committees include members of both parties but a majority come from the majority party
Legislation & Oversight
Congress's monitoring of the bureaucracy and its administration of policy, performed through hearings
A new bill that the Speaker sends to a committee will go into a subcommittee for hearings
This provides an opportunity to refine policies and respond to new problems
Committees may provide recommendations; for example 1973 the House Judiciary Committee recommended impeachment of Nixon; 1987 Oliver North testimony of the Iran-Contra Affair; and who could forget Alberto Gonzalez

Committee Chairs - the most important influences of the congressional agenda; schedule hearings, hire staff, appoint subcommittees, manage committee bills brought before the full house (not the TV show)

Seniority System - rule for picking committee chairs until the 1970s (the member who had served the longest on a given committee and whose party controlled the chamber became the chair); now both parties have members vote on committee chairs (which still may have nothing to do with competence) although the seniority system is still important especially in the Senate; terms of three consecutive two-year tenures became the norm for the House and Senate
Committee Staff - organize hearings, research legislative options, draft committee reports on bills, write legislation, and basically do all the stuff Congressmen should probably do for themselves
Staff Agencies - Congressional Research Service administered by the LOC (provides information and studies, tracks progress of bills, prepares summaries of bills); Government Accountability Office which reviews activities of the Executive Branch; Congressional Budget Office which analyzes the president's budget and projects the economic costs/gains
Congressional Staff!
A group of members of Congress sharing some interest or characteristic - can you guess what interest or characteristic most caucuses include? I betcha you could!
Some include the Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Caucus for Women's Issues, Climate Caucus, Zero Capital Gains Tax Caucus, Physics Caucus, Kidney Caucus, and Horse Caucus
Personal Staff - personal assistants to individual members of Congress; spend time on casework providing services to constituents
How a bill becomes a law!
Here's another way of looking at it...
bill - a proposed law drafted in legal language
Full transcript