Congress Revision Notes

All of my revision notes from last year. I know there's plenty there to help you along - hope they help!

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Congress: The House of Representatives & The Senate
Basic Questions ­ Page 180 in Book
1. What is the structure of Congress?
2. What is the makeup of Congress?
3. What powers does Congress possess?
4. How do the House and Senate compare in terms of power and prestige?
5. What leadership is there in Congress?
6. What do congressional committees do? How important are they?
7. How are laws made?
8. What determines the way members of Congress vote?
9. How effective is Congress's oversight of the executive branch?
10. What is the public view of Congress?
o Capitol Hill
o Bicameral (two chambers)
Senate ­ all states are equal (2 each)
House of Representatives ­ done on population
o Legislature (lawmaking body)
o Act as a checking or scrutinising body on the other two branches of
o Public opinion is quite negative towards Congress
Oversight of the Executive
o Watchdog
Congressional Standing Committees ­ better informed,
funded and used than ones in the UK (e.g. Senator Patrick
Leahy, D:Vermont)
Congressional Committees wield plenty of power (e.g. John
Divided government makes for a good Watchdog
Congress is a separate institution from the Presidency
Less likely to be coerced/`under the thumb'
Less party discipline
o Lapdog
United government leads to rubberstamping policy
Bush's foreign policy regarding Iraq war
Democrats rubberstamped Obama's controversial
economic plans after criticising Republicans for doing
the same thing to Bush
Congress is a separate institution
Lack of immediate scrutiny á lá PMQs
Executive gets to work independently
o Also

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Can be more about political pointscoring than effective
o Answer
Congress can be either a watchdog or a lapdog depending
largely on whether government is united or divided. When
government is divided, Congress tends to use its powers of
scrutiny to as full an extent as possible, via Congressional
Committees, delaying or rejecting appointments, and public
criticism.…read more

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Senator figures
63 Average age
75 Hold advanced degree
25 Been in military
54 Lawyer
16 From academia
24 Roman Catholics
13 Jewish
James Madison stated that a Representative needs to be wise
and intelligent, with a love of justice and the people, rather than
be the same skin colour as the people they are representing
However, the electorate doesn't tend to agree
o Conclusion: Congress membership does not properly represent
America. Discuss.…read more

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Elect VicePresident if electoral college is deadlocked
Concurrent powers
Pass legislation
Override the President's veto (twothirds majority from
both required)
Initiate constitutional amendments
Declare war
Confirm a newly appointed VicePresident
o Which house is more powerful?
Leadership in Congress
House speaker
o House speaker ­ John Boehner
o Elected by entire House membership at the start of each Congress
(every two years) ­ hence, speaker is usually from majority party
o Style: Newt Gingrich and Jim Wright were highly partisan (part of their
o…read more

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Congressional committees
o "Congress in session is Congress on public exhibition, while
Congress in its committee rooms is Congress at work" ­Woodrow
Wilson, 1885
o The committee system: a conglomeration of many types of
committees which perform legislative and investigative functions ­ it
is only in committee rooms that members of the executive branch can
be directly questioned
Standing committees
o Permanent, policyspecialist committees ­ most of which are divided
into subcommittees
o Senate standing committees: usually comprise around 18 members
o House standing committees:…read more

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Select committees ­ can be known as `special' or `investigative'
committees almost always ad hoc (set up for a specific issue) set up when
standing committees don't cover the policy area that needs investigating
Committee chair ­ the chairs of standing committees seniority rule states
that the chair of the standing committee will be the member of the majority
party with the longest continuous service on that committee
House Minority & Standing House Rules Committee
Speaker Majority Committees Committee Chairs
Elected by Elected by…read more

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Jobs/government posts
Constitutional threats (no new schools for you!)
o Personal beliefs/ideology
o Constituents and opinions thereof
o Political party
Rise in partisan politics since the 90s
Not important
Conservative Democrats, Liberal Republicans
Parties have no carrots or sticks
Groups within parties (such as the Blue Dog Democrats
­ fiscally conservative Democrats mostly from the
o Constituents
Not important
o The administration
Not important
o Pressure groups
Often fund Congressmen (or prospective
Congressmen) and in return gain…read more

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Controversial topics will influence you to vote with
Not important
`Pork barrel politics' ­ something for constituents
Models of Representation
Trustee model ­ act in the common good and national interest (don't have to
do what the people want e.g.…read more

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Committees can have the final chance to influence which version of the bill is
passed on to the President makes it a potentially very powerful role in the legislative
However, there are arguments against the importance of committees in the
legislative process as well. First of all, the House Rules Committee does not have
complete control of timetabling.…read more

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Furthermore, Congress can be very effective at oversight when there is divided
government ­ i.e. the party controlling the executive is not the party with the most
hold in one or both chambers of Congress. Unsurprisingly, divided government is
more effective at exercising oversight over the executive than united government ­ a
Democrat Congress is far more likely to investigate a Republican Presidency than a
Democrat Presidency which can be useful for oversight.…read more


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