- Article I of constitution
- All legislative power
- Tends to follow a presidential agenda
- Congress is located in Capitol building in Washington D.C.
- Most powerful leg. in the world
- 'Congress shall make no law as befits the framers' desire for limited gov't'
- Policy-making rather than policy-influencing
- WHY IS IT SO POWERFUL:
- It is independent
- Not dominated by party - contrast to UK
- Representative assembly - voice of the people
- many enumerate and implied powers
- two diff. but equally powerful houses - contrast to UK (Commons>Lords)
- House represents the districts - 435
- California (53 districts), South Dakota (1)
- Can gain districts in re-districting (also can be used for Gerrymandering)
- Senate represents the states (2 per state) - 100
- Represent the states - because of Connecticut Compromise 1787 - equal representation of the states
- 17th Amendment - Senators directly elected by the ppl. 1913
- more democratic legitimacy to role
- representation has been criticised - e.g. Wyoming (<500,000 pop) and California (37 mil ppl) have same representation
Terms of office
- Reps - 2 year terms. Need to concentrate on 'folks back home' as up for election so often
- Highly responsive to wishes of the people
- Most house members 'vote etheir district'
- Senators 6 yr terms, 1/3 up for re-election every 2 yrs. gradual change in members
Is the Senate more prestigious than the House?
- Less senators - more well-known
- Serve longer terms
- Higher wages - Senator - $2.7 mil, Rep (D) = $1.4mil, Rep (R) = $1mil. 50% of all Congressmen are millionaires
- If you are a Senator - more likely to be Pres. "Washington Insider" - e.g. Obama
- More bargaining power
- Unlimited debate power - filibustering
Constitutional powers of House and Senate
- Leg. power - can override pres. veto
- Role if the Electoral College is deadlocked
- Power of the purse
- Power to declare war - last time 1941
- Power to propose/pass const. amend. w/ 2/3 maj.
- Impeachment process - e.g. Clinton found not guilty at impeachment in '98 + Nixon resigned before indefinite impeachment in 1974 over Watergate
- House has the power to set financial agenda
- Advice + consent - Nixon: "always seemed the Senate gave a lot more advice than consent"
- Confirmation - e.g. rejection of Robert Bork in 1987
- Ratification - has rejected several negotiated treaties, e.g. Versailles in 1919 and SALT II in '79
Internal workings of houses
- House chaired by Speaker - John Boehner (R)
- Rules and limits on debate
- Senate chaired by VP Joe Biden (D)
- Informal and less rule-bound, trad. of unlimited debate - filibustering
- BOTH MEMBERS ARE INVOLVED IN:
- Committees/subcommittees, both ad-hoc and permanent
- pork barrelling 'brining home the bacon' (adding riders)
- ('log-rolling' (vote trading)
- Coalition building - gaining maj. of votes
- Caucuses e.g. Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Tea Party Caucus (2009)
- Obstacle course
- Often seen as negative - 'block', 'pigeon-hole', 'veto'
- Only less than 10% of bills passed
- Failure often unrelated to merits - e.g. Civil Rights in 1950s, vulnerable to defeat if controversial or opposed by powerful special interests
- Can be so sign. amend. here - become unrecognisable
- However, bills can pass easily if big event - e.g. Patriot Act 2001 - after 9/11
- Initiated by mem. of Congress
- Most leg. originates from pres. agenda - outlined in pres' State of the Union Address in Jan
- 'The president proposes, Congress disposes'
- If the houses have dif. party maj.s can be no guarantee in how leg. will be reacted to, e.g. 2006 and 2010 w/ poor pres-congress relations
- WHY SO DIFFICULT:
- First - House standing committee stage - can be pigeon-holed here by chair
- House subcommittee stage - examined in detail - lobbyist interest or exec. branch official interest - can be sign. amend. - pork+riders bill can fail at this stage
- House Rules Committee - seen as gate-keeping "traffic-cop of Congress' - if time on floor is not given to bill - bill dies
- Floor debate - log rolling here maybe, relatively little party discipline - may fail here
- To Senate - may fail due to filibustering (longest fili. 24hrs Strom Thurmond 1957) Fili can be ended w/ 3/5 supermaj. (60 votes) after 2013 - Democrat's wishes (Repubs. angry)
- Different bill sent back - need to reach a consensus - if not bill dies
- Back to both chambers for final vote - if not - bill dies
- President - can veto, no line-item veto after 1998(Clinton), pocket veto (ignore), or sign. Can fail in veto - through congressional override 2/3 maj. in both houses - Clinton only had 2 of his 36 vetos overridden
- "Little fiefdoms" - Fenno + "major obstacles"
- deal with 11,000 bills each year
- Increase in them is a result of Nixon scandal
- About 200 Committees/sub-committees
- Woodrow Wilson - "Congress in its commitee rooms is Congress at work" - 1884
- WHY SO POWERFUL?
- Can pigeon-hole, amend, block leg.
- Permanence, expertise
- Conduct public hearings, extensive oversight
- Close links w/ fed. departs.
- Iron triangles (congress, interest groups and bureaucracy)
- 'blue ribbon' committees are imp.
- E.g. Taxation (Ways and Means), spending (Appropriations or Senate Rinance) + House Rules Committee blocking leg.
- HOW IS MEMBERSHIP DECIDED?
- party committees - membership is according to party strength
How important is the role of party in Congress
- UK - Disraeli "Damn your principles and stick to your party"
- US - Would be - "Damn your party and stick to your district"
- Rare independents (but one - Bernie Sanders from Vermont) - many people are not voted as representing their party, but for themselves - no aid from party
- 'Independent political entrepreneurs'
- Congress memebrs have their own ideological views - can be seen in the past in cons Democrats - Blue Dog Democrats and moderate Republicans - "Rockefeller Republicans" or RINOs (Repub. in name only)
- PARTY INFLUENCE
- Some degree of party unity but not to the levels found in UK Parl.
- Whips who try and achieve party cohesion whip in House = Kevin McCarthy, Senate = Richard Durbin
- No carrots to offer or sticks to threaten with - so limited whips
- Leg. success can depend on persuasion skills of party power brokers e.g. 'Johnson Treatment'
- Most votes are bipartisan, and there are 'shifting coaltions' Many Blue Dog Democrats today, hardly any Rockefeller Repubs. e.g. Susan Collins
Growing party cohesion/partisanship in Congress
- Evidence of growing party cohesion since Reagan
- Since capture of the House in 2010 under the influence of the Tea Party, Repubs. have become more conservative and very cohesive in voting against Obama - espec. on tax cuts and spending+reducing the deficit
- "Broken Congress" - transition between two parties who are 'tweedledee and tweedledum' - Anthony Bennett
- Democrats more ideologically cohesive and lib as a result of Nancy Pelosi
ROLES IN CONGRESS:
House maj. leader - Eric Cantor (R)
House min. leader - Nancy Pelosi (D)
Senate maj. leader - Harry Reid (D)
Senate min. leader - Mitch McConnell (R)
President pro Tempore of Senate - Patrick Leahy
- PRESSURE GROUPS:
- + lobbyists seek access to members of Congress and become active on issues affecting them
- e.g. NRA (National Rifle Association) or AARP (American Association of Retired Association)
- Don't want to get on the bad site of these groups
- WHITE HOUSE:
- Can be used to persuade others - esp. Chief of Staff
- Pres. like Obama "Washington Insiders" can use their knowledge of Congress to aid this
- Yet if there are external factors that cause problems with this there is nothing to be done, e.g. Obama after Repub. take over of the House in 2011
- CONGRESSIONAL CAUCUSES:
- E.g. Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Tea Party Caucus (2009)
- Vote and act together
Representation/ Re-Election of incumbents
- Usually a very high re-election rate -
- House - av. 93%, 2012 - 91%
- Senate - av. 85%, 2012 - 91%
- Robert Byrd longest serving Senator 51 yrs
- WHY ARE THEY RE-ELECTED?
- Have huge resources
- Already well-known - high visibility rates
- Brought home the bacon well
- Hug campaign war chests from special interests
- HOWEVER - CAN STILL BE BEAT:
- 2010 Tea Party influence, or if they are unpopular or if a huge war chest has been used to defeat the incumbent
Split districts from 32% in 1980 to 5% in 2012
- Trustees for the whole nation, not as mere delegates of their constituents
- Should not appear too concerned with providing benefits to home state/district
- Re-Election is the 'true test of democracy'
- Burke - narrow constituency interests is not doing what a representative assembly should be doing
- SOCIAL BACKGROUND:
- it is more diverse now than in the past
- Changing the role of women generally - growth of political action committees
- (PACs) supporting women - e.g. Emily's List
- Currently a number of 102 women in Congress from 16 in 1980
- White people heavily over-rep. in Congress - 96% of Senate = white
- No one under the age of 40 in the Senate
- An openly homosexual Repub. has never been elected into Congress, first openly homosexual person to win a non-incumbent election = Tammy Baldwin (D)
- WHY ARE THEY NOT:
- 'Ordinary people' scared of running, or not enough money, not a political dynasty e.g. Bushes
More comments or facts
- Congress 9% approval rating, made worse by Congressmen making comments such as "we're not going to be disrespected" Marlin Stutzman
- Expressed power - lay and collect taxes, implied - use tax revenue for welfare and punish tax evaders
- Select committees - ad hoc particular interest
- Conference - snr members to resolve issue
- Joint - Joint interest
- Standing - permanent