Congress Outline

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Political Science
POS 2041
Meredith Legg

Congress: Balancing National Goals and Local Interests Pause 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 national consequences 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 districts ii. The House does this more than the Senate c. Main reason for incumbents is many congressional districts are heavily Dem or Rep (gerrymandered) 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 Day 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 direct-mail solicitation f. Redistricting 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 3. GERRYMANDERING 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 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 differences 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 views c. Speaker presides over HOUSE LEADERS and elected by vote of members d. Sp
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