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Congress

The Unit, In a PowerPoint.

Legislative branch of US Government Powers described in Article 1 of Constitution Given power to make laws Operates under checks and balances of other branches of government The power Congress has to make laws is limited by the Constitution 1st Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. It is under the power of the constitution due to constitutional sovereignty.

The Basics

Power of Congress
Congress is seen as a policy making body rather than a policy influencing body as other legislatures have been The dominance of the executive in proposing laws, such as in the UK, has led to this description. However in the US, this is not the case. Congress holds this power as it is independent of the executive due to the separation of powers, and thus cannot be controlled by it Congress is not totally dominated by party, with Congressmen working together to build legislation over party lines It holds its power by being representative of the US people The constitution hands it many powers, some explicitly and some implied

Bicameralism
Congress is Bicameral, made up of the bigger lower house that is the House of Representatives, and the smaller upper house which is the Senate. The HoR represents districts within states. There are 455 districts, and they are based on population. They therefore vary in size, depending on density. There are 535 members of Congress, and it is here that they work, 100 of them in the Senate, and 435 in the House of Representatives. They are reassessed every 10 years after the census. This re-districting is usually done by partisan state legislatures and is often controversial as it can result in gerrymandering The Senate represents the states. Because of the Connecticut Compromise, there is equal representation of the states in the Senate. The Senate was originally appointed by State Legislatures but after the 17th Amendment in 1913 the Senate was directly elected However, many see this as unfair as Wyoming (pop <500,000) has same representation as California (pop 37 million)

Different Terms of Office


HoR is elected for 2 year terms. Elections occur in Presidential Election years and at the mid terms in between them. This means that the HoR remains representative, but that the benefit in the short term is only considered, with the hanging idea of re-election. The HoR is therefore very parochial, with constituency issues dominating, representing the folks back home with most House members voting for their district Senators are elected for 6 year terms, but these elections are staggered, with a third of them up for election every two years. The senators are therefore more interested in the national interest, and act as national statesmen, above the fray of reelection battles.

Different Status and Prestige


The Senate is regarded as the more prestigious chamber of elder statesmen and nationally known figures. Many Representatives aspire to enter the Senate Most Presidents come from the Senate rather than the House, like former Senator Barack Obama.

The Constitutional Powers of the House and Senate


House Legislative Power. Can reject Presidential Veto. Votes if Electoral College is deadlocked. House votes for President. Oversight Power Senate Legislative Power. Can reject Presidential Veto. Votes if Electoral College is deadlocked. Senate votes for Vice President. Oversight Power

Power of the Purse over other government branches


Power to declare war Power to approve or reject constitutional amendments with a 2/3 majority Has a role in impeachment process. Draws up articles of impeachment. Money bills must originate from the House

Power of the Purse over other government branches


Power to declare war Power to approve or reject constitutional amendments with a 2/3 majority Has a role in impeachment process. Conducts impeachment trial. Confirms Presidential appointments with simple majority Ratification of Presidential treaties with a two thirds majority

Clearer: Exclusive Powers of House


Power to initiate money bills- came from when the House was the only elected house, and the founding fathers wanted the people to control their tax money Power of impeachment. Can impeach any federal official In case of electoral college deadlock, they vote for the president.

Clearer: Exclusive Powers of the Senate


Senate alone can approve Presidential appointments with simple majority Power to ratify treaties with a 2/3 majority Power to judge impeachment trials. If electoral college is deadlocked, they can elect the Vice-President

Examples
Electoral Deadlock: There has never been a deadlock on the electoral college in modern times. Impeachment: The House impeached Bill Clinton on two charges in 1998, rejecting two others that were put forward. They sent it over to the Senate for trial. Clinton was found not guilty on both charges by the Senate. Rejection of Presidential Appointments: The most notable appointments made by the President are those to the Supreme Court. Bush suffered humiliation when he had to remove his nomination of Harriet Miers after she was widely seen to be unqualified for the position. The last Supreme Court nomination to be rejected by a vote was Reagans nomination of Robert Bork. He was subject of a massive campaign against him, with television adverts involving Gregory Peck and huge inquisitions into his life such as the list of videos he had rented out. Eventually he was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Democrat dominated Senate as a whole. Rejection of Treaty: Clinton had his comprehensive test ban treaty rejected by the Senate in 1999.

Internal Workings of the Two Houses


The House is chaired by the Speaker, and operates in a very formal and procedural way due to its size of 435 members. The Senate, with 100 members, is chaired by the Vice President who can only vote in a tied vote. Less informal and rule bound. Has the principle of unlimited debate, meaning filibusters can occur.
Both Houses are involved in: Committees and Sub-Committees (Standing and Select Committees.) Pork Barrelling: trying to gain federal funding for local projects such as road building or military bases by adding small amendments to legislation. Log rolling: trading of votes for actions by others. Coalition building to gain a majority of votes Party and congressional caucuses.

Notes on Congress
Bills must be passed through both houses at the same time. Any differences at the end must be ironed out by a conference committee, but these are generally avoided thanks to greater communication between the houses. Bills, after having been passed by each house separately, must be signed by the president of the United States within 10 days of their submission, or they become law automatically, unless Congress is not in session. If vetoed by the president, a bill may become law only by its repassage by a two-thirds majority in each house. Dealings in Congress are noted in the Congressional Record

Congress and Legislation


Legislation can only be initiated by a member of Congress, but most today does mostly come from a Presidential agenda. The Presidents plans are set out in the State of the Union address in January, followed by the Presidential budget which must be passed by both houses. There is no guarantee that legislation or the budget will pass in the way the President wishes it to.

Why is Legislation so Hard to Pass?


House Standing committee Stage: Most bills dies here as they are pigeonholed by the chair, and taken of the committees agenda for the session. House subcommittee stage: Here the bill is examined in detail in hearings, with evidence taken form interested parties such as lobbyists and executive branch officials. Significant amendment occurs here, as well as pork barrelling. House Rules Committee: This committee decides how long each bill is allowed on the floor. Fail here, and its unlikely to pass Floor Debate: Your bill may reach this far, but in this debate on the whole floor it may fall victim to very constituent based interests in the House, due to the lack of party discipline. The bill follows a similar process in the Senate. It may fail on the floor here due to a filibuster, where a member talks a bill out of existence. Since 1975 you can end a filibuster with a cloture which requires 60 votes, which is hard to muster. Because the bill passes through each house at the same time, a conference committee is likely to be needed, where disputes are resolved. If this cannot be done after a number of attempts, the bill is sent to the start of the process or it dies. After reconciliation, it requires a simple majority vote in both houses, where it can still die!

Presidential Veto

As part of the checks and balances written into the US constitution, the President must sign all bills into law within 7 days, or it automatically becomes law The President can veto a bill and refuse to sign it into law. The President has 3 types of veto, but one has been ruled unconstitutional so is not used any more. A regular veto ends the bill unless Congress can gather 2/3 majorities in both houses to reverse it Before 1998 the President could use a line item veto and reject certain parts of a bill, but keep what he likes. This was deemed unconstitutional A President could use a pocket veto if nearing the end of a congressional term by ignoring the bill, and letting it expire as the term ends, if that is inside the 7 days before it automatically becomes law. Additionally, Presidents may undermine certain laws by issuing a Presidential Signing Statement that may criticise the law and undermine it.

The Separation of powers and numerous checks and balances make the process of law making difficult. In Britain, there are no such powers, with the Lords not causing much of an opposition, and very little chance of judicial involvement Built in tensions between the two houses and between Congress and president, as they are elected separately with few shared mandates, often lead to gridlock. In Britain, there is a degree of gridlock between the Commons and Lords, but thanks to the Parliament Act 1911 and 1949, the Commons can always clear a gridlock and pass something. The Prime Minister is part of the Legislature, so will not oppose it. The absence of strong party loyalty or effective party discipline of the sort seen in the UK, where there is strong loyalty. Clintons healthcare bill was defeated in 1994 with a Democrat held Congress. Obama similarly struggled with his healthcare reforms on the conservative wing of his party. Coalitions have to be built on each separate bill to get a majority. In Britain, this majority is pretty much guaranteed for governing British political parties. Congress blocks legislation on the Presidents agenda more effectively than it provides an agenda of its own. In the UK, the agendas are one and the same! Members of Congress pork barrel to provide projects in their area to get re-elected, but are less concerned about the national situation. While MPs may have certain areas their constituents want to improved (such as a new hospital or blocking a road) the MP maintains a very party and national based view.

Overview and Links to Britain

Congressional Committees
In Congress there are a number of large, powerful standing committees that operate with a huge number of congressional staff and resources devoted to them. For example the Congressional Budget Office offers a huge amount of economic information to the various financial committees in Congress. Woodrow Wilson described Congress in its committee rooms is Congress at work

Why are the Congressional Committees so Powerful?


They have key role in legislative process, reviewing all bills in their area, with powers to pigeon-hole, amend or block Their permanence and huge committee staffs mean that they develop policy specialisation and expertise, which balances that of the executive branch. They conduct public hearings and have extensive oversight powers over cabinet secretaries or agency heads, with power to subpoena witnesses. They have close links with the federal departments and agencies that they oversee an finance, and also with pressure groups. These links are called Iron triangles and can dominate areas of policy making. For example there is the military-industrial complex between the Pentagon, armed services committees and defence contractors. There are blue ribbon important committees, such as the committees dealing with taxation (Ways and Means) and spending (Appropriations or Senate Finance) and those with foreign policy influence, such as Senate foreign relations, judicial influences, such as the Senate Judicial Committee, and involved in blocking legislation such as the House Rules Committee.

Membership of Committees

Chosen by party committees Membership according to party strength in house Proportional to amount of members in House or Senate Appointment to committees is seen as prestigious as members can effectively pork barrel. Members want to be on committees related to their constituencies needs. Members claim credit in election campaigns for their work in committees Seniority Rule: Committee membership can be given to some of the most senior members in each house, and the committee chairman is usually the most senior member of that committee (but not necessarily of the house or Senate)
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The US Congress has a weak party system compared to the USA. While all members are elected with a party label (and even the two independents such as Bernie Sanders polls with the Democrats), they raise their campaign finance by themselves, which is not legally restricted. They also run highly personalised campaigns based upon their own beliefs, and therefore do not feel they owe their party a great deal in Congress Therefore there is little party cohesion in Congress.

The Party In Congress

Many members of Congress have their own ideological views on issues, and may belong to factions such as the Blue Dog Democrats or the Republican Main Street Partnership (Moderate Republicans) The USA has no equivalent of a manifesto or clear mandates, which may hamper progress toward party unification However, in 1994 mid term elections, House Republicans ran a de-facto manifesto of contract with America, which made a clear reform agenda of conservative policies such as a balanced budget that they were all committed to support, although there were few policies actually initiated. Also, in Congress, there does tend to be two sides in a vote, with Republicans blocking Democrat legislation.

Party Influence
Apart from Committee chairs, there are also majority and minority party leaders in each house who organise party business. There is also the House speaker, who is the leader of the party caucus and the link between the power centres in Congress. There are also whips, who try and achieve cohesion through persuasion and bargaining. However the whips lack power as there are no carrots of office or sticks of discipline to use for voting against their party. However, since contract with America, there have been some attempts made to encourage party unity via committee appointments. To an extent, legislative success depends upon the persuasion skills of party power brokers. The Johnson treatment was what LBJ applied to fellow Senators when majority leader in the 1950s. The support a President has from Congress does vary the success a party has. GWB had support from a Republican House Majority in 2001 and 2006, though Obama struggled after 2009 on healthcare policies despite having majorities.

The current House Speaker is John Boehner The President of the Senate is the Vice President, therefore Joe Biden, but they choose a President pro tempore, currently Patrick Leahy. This usually goes to the most senior member of the Senate, who delegates more junior members of the majority party to run the day to day business. Both are elected by their Houses. There are also the Majority and Minority leaders These are members of each house of Congress that represent the two parties, and act as the leader in that House. The deputy leaders are known as the Minority/Majority Whip, whose job it is to collect votes on important issues.

House Speaker and Majority/Minority Leaders

John Boehner House Speaker

Joe Biden Senate President

Patrick Leahy Senate President Pro Tempore

Pressure Group Influence


Large groups such as the NRP of the AARP (American Association of Retired People) try to secure the interests of their members by lobbying congress, funding campaigns and providing specialised advice to congressional campaigns. Congress takes heed of these big groups, as they represent millions of voters that they do not want to alienate. Members who particularly oppose Pressure Groups do not want to be centred upon by a negative campaign by them.

White House Influence


May be effective or not. Obama used his position as a former Senator and a Washington insider to use his Senate majority between 2009 and 2011. President Bush was only an ex-governor, so struggled in his last 2 lame duck years to get any agreement from Congress.

Congressional Caucus Influence


Congressional Caucuses are cross-party coalitions of members of Congress who share the same or similar ideology, ethnicity or regional interests. The black caucus is an all Democrat group for vote together and act together on issues concerning the black community. There is also a Hispanic caucus The Tea Party has had a caucus in the House and Senate since 2009.

Congressional Elections take place every 2 years, with the entire House of Representatives being re-elected and 1/3 of the Senate being elected ever two years on a rotational class system. In elections, Congressment emphasise commitment to constituency service rather than loyalty to party. There is a re-election rate of over 90% in the USA, and some safe seats being seen as becoming so safe that Congressmen are more worried about being deselected at a primary rather than losing the election. Reasons Incumbents are Re-elected: Huge resources at district or state level as well as in Washington. Also receive free posting, the franking privilege Their name and face recognition and visibility due to local media Ability to bring home the bacon in federal funding for the area. Campaign War Chests of funding from special interest groups wishing to gain access. Gerrymandering of districts by state legislatures that tend to be on the side of the incumbent.

Congressional Elections and the Incumbency Effect

However it is possible for challengers to beat incumbents, for example when there is an antiWashington kick the bums out mood, such as in 1994, 2008 and 2010 when Tea party influence was evident in many districts and states. A particularly unpopular member of Congress is targeted for defeat, usually because of an ethics scandal. A huge war chest to outspend the incumbent. This is rare, and only open seats provide a real challenge. Congress is hugely unpopular as whole, but they love their incumbents!

Members of Congress and Constituency Service.


Congress was initially made to represent the nation as a whole, but now members represent individual states or districts Reelection is based upon pork-barrelling, and members will vote against legislation benefitting another areas as it may use up funding for their pork barrelled project! Therefore there is a question of what a Congressman should represent, his district or state, or the nation as a whole?

Congress does not even look like an accurate representation of America in its makeup. It is white, male, middle class and middle aged. Congress is now more diverse than it was in the past, due to the changing role of women and PACs supporting women candidates such as Emilys List. Growing black and Hispanic activism and political involvement The impact of majority-minority districts, chose to gain greater representation for the minority population. 20 female Senators at the moment Nancy Pelosi was a very significant and notable female Only 8 African Americans have been a Senator. There are 2 currently. One of the 8 was Barack Obama 42 members of the House are African American (9.2%) compared to 13% of population 3 Hispanic Senators and 25 (5%ish) in the House compared to 14% of population

Social Background of members of Congress

Why is Congress Socially Unrepresentative?


Ordinary people do not seem to want to be representatives and are reluctant to put themselves forward even if they did Perceived need for high levels of education for a political career. Need for large war chests Perception politics is for the rich, with the dynasties of the Kennedys, Bushes and Clintons.