In reviewing for the third midterm examination, you should make sure that you are
familiar with the following concerningAmerican political institutions....
1. The history, powers, structures, rules, and procedures of the U.S. Congress.
How a bill becomes a law, and why most do not. The role of committees,
leaders, and the executive branch in the lawmaking process. Congress's
strengths and weaknesses in the policy-making process. How and why Congress
utilizes committee systems and has a relatively large staff.
Public dislikes and thinks Congress is insufficient, corrupt, foolish and self
interested. Citizens like their own members of Congress but large majorities are re-
elected so the change they're looking for doesn't happen. Congress is unique
amongst world legislatures; relatively few other legislatures actually have an
impact on law, most rubber-stamp decisions made elsewhere. Congress is not a
place for great speeches; encourages cooperation, togetherness, and compromise,
law making, slow but significant.
MCs and senators are most powerful and independent because of three
reasons: independent elections and separation of powers, institutionalization and
development of resources, and careerism and experience.
Independent elections: The founders believed in SOP. President does
not equal prime minister, Congress does not have to support government (no votes
of no confidence where majority loses vote). Candidates are chosen in primaries,
not picked by their party. Congressional elections are local- local politicians with
largely independent campaigns. Every other election is in midterms so you can't
rely on president's coattails. MCs are very popular vis-a-vis the president: consider
1988 last time the presidential election was a landslide. Bush SR won 55% of the
popular vote and 80% of electoral vote but out polled 13% of districts, difficult to
claim mandate with members of congress.
Institutionalization: Congress has developed institutional resources
over its 200+ years to insulate and enhance powers, in particular committees and
staffs. Committees are well developed. Originally the committee of whole
considered the bill, one at a time, then ad hoc committees of detail worked on
specifics. There was no great need for efficiency because the federal government
did little. By 1820s, long standing committees had been developed. There was
ongoing membership and jurisdiction and they were necessary because there were new demands of the government. Committees are going to match growing
expertise of presidency: iron law of emulation: congress always tries to match
presidency's powers. There are a few advantages: greater workload because there
are multiple issues at once; more in house experience, gain experience in issues;
iron law of emulation.Advantages for MCs: specialization in areas of interest;
greater electoral security and insulation. Staff is key and large. Congressional staff
has numbers of over 20,000. MCs and senators have personal staffs who are hired
and fired by member and are loyal to MC. MC can have 18 FTEs, and up to 4
PTEs. Senators have 13-71, mean is 34. Staff is source for future MCs. Staffs are
important because of their expertise, independence of parties, president, and
bureaucracy, capacity to respond to constituents through press secretaries, district
offices, and helping with re-election. They ultimately have the ability to act
independently. Info is key.
Careerism: Develops over time. In the early years, there were very
short careers lived in congress because DC was swampy backwater (James Sterling
Young's Wash Community). There was little happening at the national level. John
Jay was the first chief justice and he resigned after 4 cases to run for governor of
NY.Things have obviously really changed. The republican virtue of rotation in
office: common to see 40-50% of turnover; 1843: 73% turnover in House; Lincoln
pledged to serve only 1 term. This gradually changes. DC develops as a city from
sleepy town to international capital. There was more activity nationally (helped
rebuild Europe) & civil war in 1860s,American empire 1890s. Revolt against
speaker Joseph Czar Cannon in 1910: stripped speaker of power to name
committee chair, MCs become chairs based on seniority*, more incentive to stay in
office.Air conditioning in 1920s. Long careers lead to more expertise, more
concentration on lawmaking and less on posturing. NB membership change comes
from retirements, not electoral defeats.
The features that make congress strong are also the ones that feed our
frustration. Electoral independence from president makes coordination difficult.
We elect MCs locally but expect them to act nationally, and protect local but take
care of national. Strong committee system: most interest has the most power,
fragmented and difficult to coordinate. Congress is a multipurpose institution, does
more than lawmaking; oversees bureaucracy, shares exec powers with president,
especially senate- treaties, confirmations. Ombudsman services for constituents:
cut through bureaucratic red tape, help you get re-elected. Congress is a talent pool
and stepping stone. Recent presidents were members of congress and cabinet
secretaries tend to come from congress. Also a public education forum.And
legitimizer of law: procedure matters just as much as outcome.
How a bill becomes a law: Introduced in House/Senate, Committee action in
either House/Senate, Referred to subcommittee, Reported by full committee, Rules committee action, Floor action in House/Senate and vote on passage,
House/Senate, Conference action when bill is sent to other chamber to work out
differences, Back to House/Senate, President. Most bills die in committee because
they're only brought up to get attention for a member, or if the bill isn't reported
favorably then that kills it as well. Committees review bills with their expertise and
evaluate it. Leaders like the Speaker have extreme power over setting the rule or
how they will be considered. Executive branch can veto it or sign it into law.
Congress can override vetoes however it's really hard to get policies to pass with
such a divided government.
2. The history, powers, and limitations of the U.S. presidency, and the
structure of the executive branch. What do we expect of the president and
why? How and why have these expectations changed over time? Why does
Neustadt argue that presidential power is the power to persuade? How can
the president exercise some control over the other factors in the executive
The presidency now is nothing like it was in 1790. Congress and
courts had clear antecedents in Britain, the president did not. Part prime minister
and part monarch. Presidency is founders most profound contribution to
government structure. No other institution like it (sui generis). Most countries have
parliamentary systems with prime ministers. Only 16 worldwide have similar
structure to president. Only in US is office stable, long standing and neither tyrant
or patsy. Simultaneously very powerful and constrained. He is head of government
and head of state.
President is powerful yet constrained. President is focal institution of
government in a system of separated powers. Broad constitution grant of authority:
article 2 is virtual elastic clause; executive power is vested in president (what is
executive power? only enumerated or fundamental and larger?); take care that the
laws be faithfully executed- considerable latitude, signing statements: what the
prez will enforce and what he won't. President has considerable extra constitutional
power: commander in chief of worlds largest military- 1.5 mil active, 833,000
reserved, 40% of worlds military spending; commander of nuclear arsenal;
unparalleled media access; chief executive of 3 mil person bureaucracy; focal point
of public. But we have a system of separate institutions sharing powers. President's
leadership is difficult unless he has cooperation from many. Virtually no power can
be exercised unilaterally. This is most obvious with respect to congress. President
proposes, congress disposes. Only MCs and Senators can introduce bills. President
nominates and the senate confirms. President is commander in chief but congress
declares war. President can veto, but congress can override with 2/3 vote in each
chamber. Congress controls money and impeaches. President nominates judges but federal judges serve for a period of good behavior. Judicial review. Judges can
confound presidents into/after nominating them: Earl Warren (brown v joe)
nominated by Ike, Harry? Blademon? (roe v wade) nominated by Nixon; John
Roberts by Bush. President must struggle in and with his own branch. Most are
non-partisan, professional civil servants that serve at the pleasure of the President.
Federal system limits presidential control. Many issues people care most about are
state or local in nature. Therefore, responsibility is vast but power is tenuous.
Power to persuade-NB. President is head of state and of government. We unite
offices that most countries separate. Head of state is largely symbolizes office:
embodies values, traditions, essence ofAmerica.Above politics it is a unifying
symbol, monarchy in great britain, albert einstein was proposed as 1st israeli
president. Head of government is a practical office: not above politics, must focus
on very practical considerations, must cut deals and make compromises. It's not
about unifying, it's about winning. Combing these two makes for an odd office:
both above politics and very political, accounts for symbolic nature of many
campaigns, complicates government.Aggrandizement (accumulation of greater
responsibility) due to institutional advantages, individuals drawn to office, and
Institutional advantages: Centralized office, essentially one person-
greater celerity, higher media profile. Main legislative power is veto: fewer than
540 overridden. Traditionally preeminent in foreign affairs: has grown since
America has internationalized; since 1960s only 540 of foreign commitments
formalized by treaty; most by executive agreement. President is the only nationally
elected official. Strong leaders: office is not for shrinking violets or unambitious;
draws people with tremendous personal energy, charisma, egos, agenda.
Historical circumstance: during crisis, president's have expanded the
office: "rally around the flag effect"; office never really shrinks back to original
size: successors draw on precedents set by predecessors.
History overview: history of driven men expanding institution. Some
of the founders anticipated this: Alex Hamilton said energy in the exec is a leading
characteristic in the definition of good government.
Expectations of president have grown so much over time because of other
presidents.And we expect them to do much more than their authority allows. SEE
Neustadt argues the presidency is power to persuade because Persuasion and
bargaining are the means that presidents use to influence policy. Not only do
presidents need to bargain to influence other branches of government (particularly
Congress), but presidents also must bargain to influence the executive branch
itself; cabinet secretaries, agency heads, and individual bureaucrats all have
leverage that they can use against the president, requiring presidents to persuade even the executive branch, not merely command it.
President has power to say no, has executive privilege, impoundment of
funds, and signing statements.
3. The history, powers, limitations, structures, and procedures of the federal
courts. Why do we have a Supreme Court? Why is it considered a political
institution? What major cases have defined the Supreme Court's powers and
limitations? In what ways is the Supreme Court a powerful institution? In
what ways is it a limited institution?
Supreme court is important because of higher law notion of constitution. The
constitution is a social contract that needs interpretation: drafted in general terms,
so are laws, many words have ambiguous meanings. Courts have assumed that
role: natural, much less political- somewhat removed from politics, federal judges
serve for a term of good behavior.
Separation of powers: Considerable independence from other branches.
Difficult to remove judges: requires impeachment (2/3 majority in house and
senate), no retention elections (MO plan). Difficult to punish judges: salaries
cannot be reduced under tenure; capable of protecting themselves under judicial
Organization: Supreme court: uniquely established by constitution.All
others established by congress under grant of authority inArt 3 section 3.
Federal district courts: 94 total, 89 in 50 states, 5 in territories:
at least one in every state, about 675 district court judges. First federal courts to
hear most cases involving federal issues: trial courts: roughly half have juries, hear
testimony, consider facts (MATTER OF FACT). 250,000-300,000 cases a year,
approx 5000 trials.
Circuit courts of appeal: 13 total: 11 multi states; federal
circuits- certain agency decisions; dc circuit. Hear cases on appeal from district
courts. 400000 requests per year, hear about 5000 cases.
Supreme court: Two types of jurisdiction: Original- quite limited; outline in
constitution, largely dead letter;;Appellate: defined by congress; great discretion;
writ of certiorari = (make more certain, when SC asks for all cases documents to be
sent up for consideration), 4 justices