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Chapter 5

POLISCI 101 Chapter Notes - Chapter 5: Bureaucracy, United States House Committee On Rules, Franking

Political Science
Course Code
Raymond La Raja

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Chapter 5:
Congress: The First Branch
The US Congress is one of the few national representative bodies that actually possesses powers
of governance. It has vast authority over the two most important powers given to any
1) The power of force: control over the nation’s military force
2) The power of money: Congress can “lay and collect taxes”, deal with indebtedness and
bankruptcy, impose duties, borrow and coin money and generally control the nation’s purse
Congress may also “provide for the common defense and general welfare”, regulate interstate
commerce, undertake public works, acquire and control federal lands, promote science and the
arts and regulate the militia.
In terms of foreign policy, Congress has the power to declare war, deal with piracy, regulate
foreign commerce and raise and regulate the armed forces military instillations. The Senate has
the power to ratify treaties (by two-thirds vote) and to approve the appointment of ambassadors.
Capping these powers, Congress is charged to make laws “which shall be necessary and proper
for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution
in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof”.
It is difficult for a large representative assembly to formula, enact and implement laws. The
internal complexities of conducting business within Congressthe legislative processare
daunting. These difficulties are exacerbated by partisanship. For example, the framers of the
Constitution viewed bicameralism as a “salutary check on government”. Madison believed that
requiring two houses to agree on legislation would lessen the risk that ambitious politicians could
carry out schemes inconsistent with the public good. Bicameralism, however, can sometimes
thwart necessary legislative action, particularly if the two houses are controlled by different
political parties.
Congress is the most important representative institution in the American government. Each
member’s primary responsibility is to the district and to his constituency (the district making up
the area from which an official is elected), not to the congressional leadership, a party or even
Congress itself. Yet the task of representation is not simple. Views about what constitutes of fair
and effective representation differ, and constituents can make very different demands on their
representatives. Member of Congress must consider these diverse views and demands as they
represent their districts.

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Some legislators see themselves as having been elected to do the bidding of those who elected
them, and they act as delegates (a legislator who votes according to the preferences of his or her
constituency). Others see themselves as having been selected to do what they think is “right”,
and they act as trustees (a legislator who votes according to the preferences of his or her
constituency). Most legislators are a mix of these two types. All of them need to survive the next
election to pursue their chosen role.
Legislators not only represent others; they may be representative of others as well. The latter
point is especially important in terms of gender and race, where such representation is
significant. Legislators who are women or members of minority groups can serve and draw
support from those with whom they share an identity, both inside their formal constituency and
in the nation at large. In the process of drawing new district boundaries within states every 10
years following the decennial census of the population, descriptive representation for African
American and Hispanic minorities has been facilitated by creating some districts where racial or
ethnic minorities are a majority—so called “Majority-Minority” districts.
We think of our political representatives as our agents. Agency representation (the type of
representation in which representatives are held accountable to their constituents if they fail to
represent them properly. That is, constituents have the power to hire and fire their
representatives) means that there are frequent competitive elections. These constitute an
important means by which constituents hold their representatives account and keep them
responsive to constituency views and preferences.

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House and Senate: Differences in Representation:
The framers of the constitution provided for a bicameral legislature. The framers intended each
chamber to serve a different constituency.
Members of the HOR were to be “close to the people”, elected by the popular vote every two
years. Because they saw the House as the institution closest to the people, the framers gave it a
special power. All money bills (a bill concerned solely with taxation or government spending)
were required to originate in the House.
Members of the Senate were to be appointed by state legislatures for six-year terms, were to
represent the elite members of society, and were to be attuned more to the interests of property
owners than to those of the general population. Today, since the 17th amendment (1913)
provided for the direct popular election of senators, members of both chambers are elected
directly by the people. The 435 members of the House are elected from districts apportioned
among the states per population; the 100 members of the Senate are elected by state, with two
senators from each.
The House and Senate play different roles in the legislative process. In essence, the Senate is the
more deliberative bodythe forum in which all ideas can receive a thorough public airing. The
House is the more centralized and organized bodybetter equipped to play a role in the routine
governmental process.
In part, this difference stems from the different rules governing the two bodies. These rules give
HOR leaders more control over the legislative process and encourage HOR members to
specialize in certain legislative areas. The rules of the Senate give its leadership relatively little
power and discourage specialization.
Other formal and informal factors contribute to the differences between the two chambers.
Differences in the length of terms and requirements for holding office generate differences in
how members of each body develop their constituencies and exercise their powers of office. The
small size and relative homogeneity of their constituencies and the frequency with which they
must seek re-election make HOR members more attuned than senators to local interest groups
with specific legislative agendas (ex- farmers looking for higher subsidies, or labor unions
seeking easier organizing rules). This was the intent of the Constitution’s drafters—that the HOR
be the “people’s house” and that its members reflect public opinion in a timely manner.
Senators, in contrast, serve larger and more heterogenous constituencies. As a result, they are
better able than members of the House to be the agents for groups and interests organized on a
state or national basis. Moreover, with longer terms in office, senators have the ability to
consider new ideas or seeking to bring together new coalitions of interests, rather than simply
serving existing ones.
For much of the late 20th century, the House exhibited more intense partisanship and ideological
division than the Senate. Because of their diverse constituencies, senators were more inclined to
seek compromises than members of the House, who with their more homogenous districts felt
like they had to stick to their partisan and ideologies values.
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