Congress: Balancing National Goals and Local Interests
Ask class to consider this headline for a moment. Is Congress a balancing act?
Remember – American Government is a combination of
Institutions + Values + Policy = Government
The Founders regarded Congress as Preeminent branch, granted it the power to make LAW
Two major points: Congress has a dual nature – it is a lawmaking institution for the nation and a
representative assembly for states and districts. Congressional elections Termed: Local events with
Congress, unlike the President, only occasionally takes the lead on broad national issues; it is
organized to handle policies of relatively narrow scope. Such policies are usually worked out by small
sets of legislators, bureaucrats, and interest groups
3 Major Policymaking functions of Congress:
- Enact Legislation—Yet Congress role in legislation depends on type of policy involved.
Divided into chambers and committees dealing with various policy.
- Represent various interests—Must be sensitive to state or district they represent and
depend on for reelection. National interests usually come second to local concerns.
- Oversight—the supervision and investigation of the way the bureaucracy implements
legislatively mandated programs
LAWMAKING, REPRESENTATION, & OVERSIGHT
I. Congress as a Career
a. Once elected, Congressional members tend to make job into a career
b. They are likely to be reelected. Called Incumbent
i. Can use office to publicize themselves, pursue a service strategy of responding
to needs of individual constituents, and secure pork-barrel projects for states or
ii. The House does this more than the Senate
c. Main reason for incumbents is many congressional districts are heavily Dem or Rep
i. No more than 75 of the 435 elections for a House seat every 2 years is
competitive (that the weaker party has realistic chance of victory) ii. FICUS for Congress?
d. Advantages of INCUMBENCY
i. Incumbent promotes reelection prospects by catering to their CONSTITUENCY
ii. TALK ABOUT GRAYSON’S 2010 Midterm Election CAMPAIGN
iii. Constitutency is the people residing in the incumbent’s state or district.
iv. Members should pay attention to constituency opinions when choosing
positions on legislation – and they work to get their share of FEDERAL spending
projects – such projects terms PORK or Pork-barrel spending
v. Federally funded projects such as new hospitals, research center or highway
vi. Congressional staffers spend most time not on legislative matters but on
constituency service and public relations – efforts that can pay off on Election
vii. DRAWBACKS: improper conduct/scandal, troublesome issues, variation in
turnout, strong challengers, for some, redistricting
viii. Turnout in midterm elections is lower – pattern
e. Campaign Fundraising::
i. Incumbents have advantage in raising campaign funds
ii. Elections are expensive due to high cost of TV advertising, polling, other modern
campaign techniques. $1 million + competitive election
iii. Senate races: even higher – several million to tens of millions
iv. House incumbent races depend on individual contributions of $100 or less, 60
percent of all funds received obtained thru fundraising events, websites, and
i. Every 10 years after each population census, the 435 seats in House are
reallocated among the states in proportion to their POPULATION
ii. Process is called Reapportionment.
iii. States with gain in population may acquire additional House seats, decrease
may lose seats
iv. States must redraw their district boundaries after each census to account for
population shifts within state during previous 10 years
1. Responsibility for redrawing House election districts—a process called
redistricting—rests with the respective state legislatures.
2. The party that controls the legislature in a state places enough of its
party’s voters in its incumbents’ districts to ensure their reelection
Who are the winners in Congressional Elections?
Members of Congress tend to be disproportionately white, male, highly educated, and
are employed in professional settings – most common is ATTORNEY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqa_bhwA-1E
Parties and Party Leadership
Two chambers – organized largely along party lines.
POLITICAL PARTIES are STRONGESET FORCE in Congress
Start of each 2-year congress term, party members in each meet to elect their Party Leaders—
the individuals who will lead their party’s efforts in the chamber. Party members also meet
periodically in closed session, called party caucus, to plan stategy, develop issues, resolve policy
1. Party Unity in Congress
a. Source of unity and division
b. Partisan divide has intensified since mid-80s
i. In past, congressional Republicans divided most evenly between party’s
conservative & progressive wings and congressional Dems consisted of a
liberal northern wing and conservative southern wing.
ii. Today, large majority of congressional Reps are conservative and large
majority of congressional Dems are liberal. Little overlap in ideologies
iii. Party Unity—members of a party band together on legislation and stand
against the opposite party due to great POLARITY btw
2. Party Leadership
a. Party leaders chosen for demonstrated leadership ability and effectiveness in
working with other members.
b. Power of party leaders in Congress depends to a considerable extent on their ability
to gain the trust of party members and to forge positions that brige their policy
c. Speaker presides over HOUSE LEADERS and elected by vote of members