- It's legislative powers are outlines in Article 1.
- It tends to now follow the presidential agenda
- Checks and balances limit its power as does the 1st amendment
- Policy making rather than policy influenceing like the UK
- It's powerful because:
- Its independent from the exucutive (can't be controled by it)
- Not dominated by parties
- It's a representative assembly of the USA
- Exclusive powers:
- House: Initiate money bills, impeachement, elect president and VP if EC is deadlocked
- Senate: Confirms appointments, ratify treaties, try cases of impeachment.
- Concurrent powers:
- Pass legislation, override the presidents veto, initiate constitutional amendments, declare war, confirm a newly appointed VP.
- Bicameralism: Congress has 2 chambers (House & Senate) with different terms of office and powers as additional checks and balances therefore they must work together.
- Membership: Underrepresentation of many groups e.g. Women and Africans Americans (1st woman in Senate in 1982, 1st black person in 1993, 1st hispanic in 2005.)
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- House of representatives:
- They represent districts within states (435 districts) which are apportioned according to population e.g. California has 53 and South Dakota has 1. This can change via redistricting.
- Redistricting is done by partisan state legislatures so can be controversial because of Gerrymandering (altering the boundaries for party advantage)
- Elected for 2 years terms and so are highly responsive to the 'folks back home'
- They have the power to 'originate all money bills' e.g. tax through powerful 'ways and means'
- They represent districts within states (435 districts) which are apportioned according to population e.g. California has 53 and South Dakota has 1. This can change via redistricting.
- 2 Senators per state and after 17th amendment they were directly elected by the people which increases legitamacy.
- May be unfair as Wyoming has pop. 500 000 and California has 37 million but they have the same number of Senators.
- Elected for 6 years (staggered with a third every 2 years) to be more like national statesmen with long term views.
- Its more prestigious.
- They can confirm presidential appointments and ratify treaties.
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Is the Senate more prestigious than the house?
- Senators represent the entire state and serve longer terms.
- They are one of 100 and so are also more likely to chair committees.
- They have greater name recognition and many House members often try for election there
- Senators have significant exclusive powers.
- It's seen as a recruiting pool for presidents and VPs.
- Both houses have equal power when passing legislation (key function)
- Both houses must approve the initiation of constitutional amendments
- Members of both houses recieve equal salaries.
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- The House speaker:
- Elected by the entire house at the begining of year. They act as presiding officer, interpret and enforce House rules, refer blls to standing committees, appoint select committees and conference committee chairs. next in line to the presidency after the VP.
- Majority and Minority leaders:
- Elected every 2 years, they act as 'directors of operations', hold press meetings to talk about their party's policy agenda, act as a liason to the white house.
- Committee system:
- Policy specialist, Senate have about 18 members, house has 40-50. It is a microcosm of the House/ Senate. Examples: Agriculture, Budget, Foreign relations/affairs. The Hosue science & tech. has subcommittees e.g. Energy & Environment, tech & innovation etc.
- Conduct committee stage bills in the legislative proccess by holding a 'hearing' with witnesses.
- Conduct investigations into the said policy area.
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- Impeachment: Formal accusation from the House which draws up the Articles of the Impeachment and Senate try to convict with a 2/3 majority
- Advice and consent powers: Confirmation power of the Senate which gives it power it power over the presidents choices of executive branch members e.g. Supreme Court
- Pork barelling: member of Congress try to gain funding for their constituents by attaching 'earmarks' on legislation. May be a waste e.g. Alaska's 'bridge to no where'.
- Presidential veto: Congress may significantly alter a bill and if it goes against the president's agenda then they can reject the bill.
- Congressional override: Congress can override a presdiential veto (not a pocket veto) with a 2/3 majority in both houses.
- Pocket veto: The president lets the bill run out of time (past the legislative session) so doesn't sign it.
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- Legislative process
- 1st reading-> committee stage -> time tabling -> 2nd reading -> 3rd reading -> Conference committee -> Presidential action
- It goes through both houses at once
- In 2007-8 3% of laws were actually enacted.
- Veto points:
- House standing committee (piegon holded by the chair)
- House subcommittee stage (its examined in detail significantly amended and is where pork barrelling occurs)
- House rules committee (decides if the bill gets floor time)
- Floor debate (log rolling/ exchanging votes occurs)
- Filibusters in the Senate ('talk the bill into defeat'. Can be ended with a 2/3 majority vote)
- If the bill can't be reconciled with the conference committee it will die.
- The president can then veto it.
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- Congressional oversight
- Done through powerful standing committees with a huge number of staff and resources e.g. congressional budget committee.
- It's said that floors are for debating and the committees are for working
- They're powerful because of:
- Specialisation and expertise
- Public hearings have the power to subpoena people
- Iron triangles
- Bule ribbon committees e.g. Ways and means (tax), Appropriation and finance (spending), Senate foreign relations
- The memebrship is chosen y party committess and is according to party strength
- The chairs are very powerful and come from the majority.
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- Political party influence on voting:
- There is more of a 'damn your party and stick to your district' stance rather than in the UK where it's more 'damn your pricniples and stick to your paty'
- Congress has a weak party system and members are relatively independent because:
- Of the way they're elected ie. few party labels, self campaigning & funding
- Factions within the party may have different views e.g. Blue Dog Democrats
- No manifestos or clear mansate however the Republicans 'Contract for America' acted as a defacto manifesto.
- Since the mid 90s there has been increased partisanship in Congress e.g. 1995 Republicans 'contract with America' has House 73% and Senate 69% of 'party votes'. The highest since the 20s.
- Parties have few 'sticks' or 'carrots' to encourage party voting i.e. not threat of de-selection or 'promotion' like in the UK.
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- Party influence
- Majority and minority leaders i both houses organise party business and the House speaker (who is a leader of the party caucus and the link between power centres in congress)
- Some whips cana chieve party cohesion in votes through persuassion but this is limited. The 'Contract of America' increased party control through allocation of committee assignments.
- The president can influence congress depending on how pursuasive they are i.e. Bush 2001-06
- Party coalitions are stronger.
- Growing party cohesion
- Tom DeLay- 'The Hammer' who 'nailed down' legilsation (Bush after 2001)
- Members will generally vote with their paty unless there are significant constituency pressures.
- Pressure groups can gain influence by helping to fund campaigns and giving specialised advice to congressional committees.
- Congressional caucuses bring together people with similar ideologies within the party
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- Constituents influence on voting:
- Members act as trustees.
- They must lvie in their state and often live in specific districts. House members are even more aware of the 'folks back home' as they get elected every 2 years.
- They recieve calls, letters, emails et.c from constituents to see what they want.
- They hold surguries, make visitis around states and appear on local TV and radio to get publicity.
- Congress and Constituency service
- Orginally representative were designed to be trustees rather than delegates
- Now most spend time on constituencies rather than national service e.g. things like medicare, Vetrans programmes et.c which they can claim credit for and secure their re-election
- Pork barrelling (...)
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- Why are incumbents re-elected?
- Huge resources i.e. staff, free mailing/franking privilege
- Name and face recognition
- Oppurtunities to 'bring home the bacon' so they can claim credit
- Funds from special interest groups
- Gerrymandering to make their seat more 'safe'
- Challengers must prove they can be of greater service which is difficult as they most likely will have no proof/ track record.
- Anti-washington mood within a country e.g. 1994 and 2008
- Unpopular member is targeted (normally due to a scandal)
- The challenger can raise larger funds
- 2001 poll states 10% of citizens approved of Congress but most keep their representatives.
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Congress- compared to the UK
- US Congress:
- Both houses are directly elected by fixed terms.
- Both houses have equal power
- Standing committees are very important
- Congressional oversight of the executive branch is almost exclusively done in committees
- Almost always made of 2 major parties
- Party isn't the only factor that influecnes voting.
- Uk Parliament:
- Only the Commons is elected for a max. of 5 years.
- Members of the executive are also in the legislative
- Commons has greater power
- Oversight is done by both chambers but may be limited due to party control
- Parliament contains many 3rd parties (and indenedents in the Lords)
- Party is usually the main influence on voting
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- Neustabt's view: 'Seperate system of shared powers' the power of the president is the 'power to pursuade'with the legislative to reach consensus. The president's office was one of inherent weakness with no guarantee their power could be exercised. Leadership was only possible under a great leader with experience such as FDR.
- Judicial independce: There should be a strict seperation between the judicary and the other branches. Judges operate free from any political control over their behaviour. They can't be removed for any political judgement they make, only by impeachment for unlawful conduct by the house and senate
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- Formal Enumerate powers of the President:
- Chief executive- coordination of the executive, responsible for implementing the policy agenda and powers of patronage and pardon
- Commander in chief- leader of the armed forces
- Chief Diplomat- Power to make treaties but there has been growing use of 'executive agreements' to avoid Senate ratification
- Implied roles and powers:
- Chief legislator- state of union address to propse legislation. Use pocket veto.
- World leader- International staus, 'war on terror'
- Party leader - Not elected but accepted as so. Can't always guarantee party loyalty e.g. Clinton and Obama's health care defeats.
- Head of State- Performs ceremonial as well as political functions.
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- Factors which increase presidential power:
- The president can act quickly and respong to crisies e.g. terrorist attacks.
- They are the only nationally elected politician
- However the balance of power can change:
- Presidential dominance during times of economic or foreign policy crisis e.g. Cold war, Great Depressiona dn 9/11
- Congressional reassertion when said crisis is over
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- Imperial presidency:
- Truman to Nixon (40s -70s)
- Increasing dominance of the president over Congress
- Abuse of power leads to actions such as the Vietnam was and executive abuses such as the watergate scandal.
- Imperilled Presidency:
- After the Watergate Scandal
- Congress reasserted its constitutional powers and restricted the exercise of executive powers by:
- Increaseing congressional resources e.g. Congressional Budget Office
- Passing acts such as the 1972 Case act to restrict executive agreements with states
- Rejecting several of Nixons (and others) appointees to the Supreme Court
- Increased threat of impeachment e.g. Clinton
- New imperial presidency:
- After 9/11 congress decreased checks and balances on the executive e.g. passage of the patriot act, Guantanamo Bay, Homeland security Department, Iraq and increased Executive orders.
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- Defeat the presidents legislative proposals
- Excercuse full oversight over his actions
- Refuse to fund proposals e.g. 2013 budget
- Rufuse appointments, treaties and declarations of war
- Override his veto
- Supreme Court
- Power of judicial review can declare the presidents actions as unconstitutional e.g. Truman's seizure of the steel mills during the Korean War.
- Public opinion and Mass media
- If approval rating are low publicity will be bad creating a possible lame duck perios i.e. at the end of 2 terms when re-election isn't needed.
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- Two presidencies/ bifurcated presisdency:
- The president is strong is foreign policy (where congress defers to the president) but weak with domestic policy (where there is little consensus)
- Achieving policy goals:
- Power of persuasion
- Use of Congressional Liason Office
- Inviting members to the White House and Camp David
- Campaigning for re-election fo important members
- Using the mesia to gain public support on proposals. Using 'Bully pulpit'
- Success depends on:
- 'Honeymoon' or 'lame duck' periods
- Whether it's their 1st or 2nd term
- How high their approval ratings are e.g. Bush's were 26% at the end of his 2nd term but 90% after 9/11
- Electoral coat tails i.e. owns both houses like Obama in 2008
- Strong Mandate e.g. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000
- Insider vs Outsider
- Events such as 9/11
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- Federal bureaucracy:
- The unelected administrative part of the executive which is made up of departments, agencies and commissions that carry out day-to-day policy.
- The Cabinet:
- Advisory group selected by the president to aid him making decisions.
- There is no shaddow cabinet.
- All appointments must be confirmed by the Senate.
- No constitutional status so there is no collective responsibility like in the UK.
- Implement the presidents agenda in their area
- Attend meetings to provide advice (normally bilateral rather than full cabinet meetings)
- Members can come from anywhere with any political afflitiation but can't be a part of either of the other 2 branches.
- May be untrusted due to percieved iron triangles.
- EXOP: (Executive Office of President)
- Top staf agencies in the White House that give the president help and advice e.g. White House Office.
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- Vice President:
- Stated in the 25th Amendment (1967)
- Speaker of the Senate
- Votes in the event of a tie in the Senate
- Counts and announces electoral college votes
- Takes over the presidency in the event of death or resignation of the president. They're a 'heart beat away from the presidency'.
- It's argued their 5th role is stepping in for the president if they declare themselves 'disabled' e.g. Reagan and Bush (x2)
- Can aid a presidents election by giving a balanced ticket
- Increased importance:
- As the role of the president grew the VP was a source of help begining with Einsenhower- Nixon (1953-61)
- Alot of VP go on to run for/ beomce the president i.e. 7 out of 11 have run and 4 have won since 1953
- Many have played a key role in legislative liason with congress e.g. Cheney was a former member of the House (inside) and Bidens 36 year Senate experience.
- Become the party worker, electioneer and fun raiser.
- May be a major spokesperson for the administration
- Helps a outsider presidents e.g. Cheney with Bush
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Executive Branch- Compared to the UK
- Elected by national election
- The constitution grants them many important powers
- The presdident's cabinet is relatively unimportant and can be drawn from anywhere
- EXOP is large and fairly influencial to help with the chief executive role
- Must rely mainly on the 'powere to pursuade'
- Prime Minister
- Comes to office through an internal party election and their party being the largest single party in the commons
- It has many formal powers
- The cabinet operates with 'collective responsibility'
- No equivilant of EXOP or the west wing
- Whips control party members
- Recently there has been a move towards 'predidentialised' office of PM
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- Strict Constructinist: A justice who interprets the constitution in a strict and literal way. (Normally theyre conservative)
- Judicial restraint: A jsutice should defer to legislative and executive branches which as politically accountable and put stree on precedent established in previous court decisions.
- Loose Constructionist: Interprets the constitutional less literally and puts jusicial interpretation and opinions within their judgements.
- Judicial Activism: Using judicial interpretations and opinions to interpet the vagueness of the constitution in modern times.
- Judicial review: The power of the supreme court to declare acts of congress, or actions of the executive, unconstitutional, amking them void.
- Due process: Refers to the principle of limited govt- substansive: The substance of law must not be arbitrary or unconstitutional.
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- Freedom of Speech (1st amendment)
- Buckley v Valeo Supreme Court declared part of the 'Federal Election Campaign act' unconstitutuonal as it infringed on the 'freedom of speech'
- McConnel v Federal Election Commission- McCain- Feingold act was rejected as banning soft money stifled 'freedom of speech'.
- Freedom to 'bear arms'
- United States v Lopez - the Supreme court declared (5-4) the 1990 Gun-Free School Zones act to be unconstitutional
- Freedome from unreasonable searches:
- United States v Drayton (2002) the Court said people could be questioned on buses as they are on the street.
- What do these decisions show?:
- WHat would things like 'liberty' and 'cruel and unusual punishment' mean today?
- The ocurt is politically contentuous as it often makes decision on cases whihc split the 2 main parties e.g. abortion, same sex marriag etc.
- Gives the courts quasi- legislative power i.e. in the UK parliament is sovereign and decides laws but in the UK the Supreme Court decides upon many issues.
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- Supreme Court and presidential power:
- The supreme court can declare the actions of any one in/ the executive actions unconstitutional e.g. Nixons staff bugged the Democratic National Committee leading to the watergate scandal. The court decided (8-0) executive privelege didn't apply to demand for the watergate tapes
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- Checks by Congress:
- The Senate has the power to confirm and reject appointments to the Supreme Court
- Congress has the power to decide how many justices sit on the court i.e. they can increase the number of nominees a president could get e.g. rejected FDR;s attempt to increase the number from 9 to 15.
- Congress can impeach justices
- Congress can initiate constitutional amendments that could negate a decision by the court.
- Checks by the president:
- The president has the power to nominate justices and can change the makeup of the court i.e. how liberal or conservative it is,
- The president can back or openly critise a decision e.g. Einsenhower backed the Brown v Board case in 1957 and used his power to send in troops to the high school to enforce it.
- Other checks:
- The supreme court has no power of initiation e.g. the view is the War Powers Act is unconstitutional but no case has ever been brought to them so they can declare it so.
- The court has no enforcement power.
- The court is often mindful of public opinion
- The court can amend itself
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- The president nominates justices and the Senate confirms. This may be highly politicised and controversial because:
- The president may want to reinforce their political position or want to leave a lagacy on the court.
- To gain support from key groups e.g. Johnson appointed the 1st Black justice (Thurgood Marshall) and Reagan with the 1st female justices (Sandra Day O'Connor). Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayer was linked to her Hispanic roots.
- Republicans nominate 'conservative' justives and Democrats nominate 'liberals'
- Particularly important when 'swing' justices leave.
- Controversial appointments:
- 1987 the Senate rejected Reagan's nominee, Robert Bork as he had highly conservative judicial views which were unacceptable to the Democrat Senate.
- George H.W. Bush in 1991, Clarence Thomas scraped through committee hearings after the lowest American Bar Association rating ever and was only confirmed 52:48.
- G.W. Bush intial nomination of Harriet Miers was withdrawn as her lack of experience meant confirmation was unlikely.
- There is evidence to show increase partisanship from the Senate which is likely because of the recognition of increased importance of many of the courts judgements and their political standing
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- The president can only appoint when a vacancy arises e.g. Reagan had 3, Bush Sr & Jr has 2 each and Clinton had 2.
- The president can't remove justices or influence their judgements
- No guarantees that jsutices will do what the president wants e.g. Eisenhower refered to Warren as the 'biggest damn fool mistake I ever made'
- The current court has 5 Republican nominated justices and 4 Democrats but many jsutices change when they're in court so aren't reliable.
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- Warren Court:
- Was lead by Earl Warren (1953-69) and was a liberal, activist court.
- Brown v Board of Education of Topeka (1954). The court rule (9-0) that the 'seperate but equal' ruling in the Plessy v Fergurson case was unconstitutional. This began the dismantling of racial segregation in the US and galvanised the civil rights movement.
- Miranda v Arizona lead to 'Miranda' rights to criminal suspects who are arrested.
- Nixon pledged to put new 'law and order'' justices into the court in retaliation to the Warren Court.
- Burger Court
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Protecting the poeples rights
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Supreme Court- compared to the UK
- Operates within a federal system (federal and state courts)
- 3 tiers; trial, appeal and supreme courts
- Appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate
- Appointments are for life and subject to impeachment
- Can declare acts of congress to be unconstitutional
- The federal courts play a large role in protecting citizens rights
- Triportite system i.e. different systems across the UK
- Different courts for criminal and civil law
- Law Lords were the highest judges before the supreme court's creation in 2005
- Candidates are selected via the Judicial Appointments Commission
- Normal retirement age of 70
- Judicial review can only interpret the meanings of acts of parliament and review members of the executive.
- European courts of Justice and Human rights play and important roles in our system.
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