American Government Chapter 10 The Congress
Set-up and Functions of Congress • 2 houses, 535 members (Census adjusted how many per district, not overall number) • Senators serve 6 years, Reps serve 2 years • Functions: • Lawmaking (proposing and passing bills) • Logrolling (offering to support another bill in return for support for your bill) • Earmarks/Pork: setting aside funds for local projects that stimulate that economy • Representation (you represent the interests of both your constituents and the nation) • What should representatives do when local interests clash with national ones? • Representatives also perform casework, working directly for the needs of citizens (i.e. simple things like locating a missing Social Security check to larger issues like taking a stand against a regulation) • AKA ombudsperson
More Functions • Oversight- the process by which Congress follows up on laws it has already passed • Examples of oversight are investigations into FEMA after Katrina or the 9/11 Commission • Agenda-setting: determining which public policy issues will be foremost in debate (educating the public is another function of Congress) • Conflict resolution- lots of different groups and viewpoints end up at Congress, which means that the decision they reach should resemble a compromise of the many varying points or at least provide a forum for the various points
Powers of Congress • Enumerated powers: powers specifically granted to the national government by the Constitution. • Examples: tax (most important domestic power), borrow money, regulate interstate commerce, print money, establish post offices, declare war (most important foreign policy power), etc. • Remember the Elastic Clause!
Differences between House and Senate • House has 435 members, plus reps from US territories…Senate only has 100 (How do you think this impacts business in the 2 houses?) • House has to have a Rules Committee that imposes strict regulations on how bills can be debated, amended, and considered by the House, debate also must be more limited than in the Senate where filibusters can occur (the use of unlimited debate as a tactic to block the passage of a bill) • Members of the House are elected by local constituents, Senators represent a whole state • Length of term • Prestige?
Who can be a Congressman/woman? • In theory, mostly any citizen! • But in reality, members of Congress are older on average than most Americans • Also disproportionately white, male, and trained in high-status occupations (i.e. well educated) • Also make more money (2008 salary was $169, 300) and have greater wealth overall (more than 1/3 are millionaires) See table 10-2 on p. 348 • The houses are becoming more diverse though- more women, more minorities (how might this change policy-making in the future?)
Congressional Elections • Elections are conducted by the states but they must conform to the rules laid out in the Constitution • Elections every two years (midterm) • Campaigns are more expensive now than in the past (6.5 million for a senate win, 1.2 million for a House win) • Most candidates win their nomination through a direct primary (people belonging to one party select the candidates who will run on that party’s ticket in the next election) • These voters are called party identifiers • Coattail effect: a strong presidential candidate, like Barack Obama, will increase the likelihood of other candidates of that party winning their office • Incumbents are more likely to win elections (candidates who have already won the office and merely want to keep it) • They have proof of the kind of work they do, can present themselves as informed and experienced, and can show off their voting records
Reapportionment • The allocation of seats in the House to each state after each census • Redistricting: the redrawing of the boundaries of the congressional districts within each state • Before 1964, reapportionment and redistricting were abused- some districts had two, even three times as many voters as other districts (diluting the influence of more populated areas) (some positively too, where minorities become a majority, see figure 10-2 on p. 354) there are challenges to racial gerrymandering though • Gerrymandering: drawing boundaries of a district for the purpose of obtaining a partisan advantage • It still happens! In Michigan, 6 Democratic incumbents were pushed into only 3 congressional seats • The districts were redrawn after lastyear’s census
Congressional Committees • Most of the “work” of Congress is done in committees and subcommittees • Thousands of bills are introduced each session and committees are a way for specialized teams to concentrate on just one area at a time • These committees are thus very powerful, they are deferred to as the experts and they largely control what happens to a bill related to their area
Types of Committees • Standing committees: a permanent committee in the House or Senate that considers bills within a certain subject area • Examples: Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works, Science and Technology, Veteran’s Affairs • Seats on these committees are highly sought after • Select committee: a temporary committee designed to investigate a public problem, such as child nutrition • Joint Committee: a committee formed by members of both Houses of Congress • Conference Committee: when bills are passed in both chambers of Congress but have differences between them that need to be worked out • Who gets seats on these committees? The seniority system is used so that more established members can exercise their preference in the selection process • Also members with safe seats (more than 55% of the vote) who are more likely to have a longer time in office are chosen
Formal Leadership • House: Speaker of the House (John Boehner (R)) • Official leader of the majority party in the House • Nominated by their own party • Preside over meetings of the House • Appoint members to certain committees • Schedule which legislation will be on the floor • Deciding points of order and interpreting the rules • Referring bills to committees • Usually only vote to break a tie
Leadership Cnt. • Majority Leader: selected by a caucus in order to foster cohesion and to act as a spokesperson for the majority party • Minority leader (Nancy Pelosi) • Whip: assistant to the majority and minority leaders, pass information to party members and ensure that members show up and vote on important issues, and even exert pressure on uncertain members to side with the party line
Leadership in the Senate • Less formal and organized than the House because of its size • Senate Majority Leader: chief spokesperson of the majority party in the Senate, directs the legislative program and party strategy • Senate Minority Leader: commands the minority’s opposition to the policies of the majority party and directs the minority’s strategy and program • Both positions are elected by caucus • Also have whips (less complex though because there are fewer members to keep track of) • President of the Senate is the VP of the USA (Biden) • Note: we are currently in the 111th Congress
How members vote • Can members vote however they want? Yes, but they won’t be in office very long • Democrats typically vote Democratically and Republicans typically vote Republican (party line) • You can of course, cross party line, but the whips will hound you, you may anger your constituents and you may lose respect and opportunities from your peers (i.e. Joe Lieberman)
How a Bill Becomes a Law • Each law begins as a Bill • Must be introduced in one of the houses • Bills regarding money must start in the HoR • The bill is then referred to a committee for study, discussion, hearings, and rewrites • Scheduled for debate on the floor • Voted on • After it has been passed in each house of Congress, a conference committee writes a compromise bill which must be approved by both chambers • Then it is sent to the president to sign or veto • If s/he signs it, it becomes a law • If s/he vetoes it, then the Congress can override the veto or give up for the time being
Government Budget • Congress forces the executive branch to set a budget to regain some control over the nation’s spending • Our government operates on a fiscal year cycle (Oct. 1st through Sept. 30th) • Spring review: all agencies must review their programs, activities, and goals and submit their requests for funding for the next fiscal year • Fall review: having received all the requests for funding, the Office of Management and Budget reviews them, makes changes, and submits its recommendations to the president • It is then submitted to Congress, who authorizes and appropriates funds for the various agencies • Almost every year, more funds are requested than are available for use (this is why we have a growing deficit)
Discussion • What are some advantages to having one party control the House, the Senate, and the presidency? Disadvantages? • District of Columbia- should it be allowed a vote? • A lot of people complain about wasteful government practices…can you see waste in Congress? Do you have any suggestions for greater efficiency?