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Ashley Klein

Chapter 12
I. The Representatives and Senators
The Job
The typical representative is a member of six committees and subcommittees; a
senator is a member of about ten.
The Members of Congress
There are 100 members of the Senate and 435 members of the House of
Representatives. Most members are from high-status and -income occupations.
African Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented, but the most
underrepresented group is women. Members cannot claim descriptive
representation, but in substantive representation, for the interest of groups.
II. Congressional Elections
Who Wins Elections?
Incumbents are individuals who already hold office. About 90 % of incumbents
usually win. Senators typically win by narrower margins than House incumbents do
because an entire state is more diverse than a congressional district, senators have
less personal contact with their constituencies, senators receive more media
coverage, and senators draw more visible challengers. Incumbents often feel quite
vulnerable, therefore tend to raise and spend large amounts of money.
The Advantages of Incumbents
Incumbents use advertising to gain visibility and get themselves known in their
constituencies. Second, congresspersons engage in credit claiming, which involves
personal and district service. Casework is helping constituents as individuals. Pork
barrel is the mighty list of federal projects, grants, and contracts available to cities,
businesses, colleges, and institutions. Third, congresspersons engage in position
taking on matters of public policy and positions they take may affect the outcome of
an election. Another advantage for incumbents is that they are likely to face weak
opponents since effective opponents are often unlikely to risk challenging an
The Role of Party Identification
At the base of every electoral coalition are the members of the candidate’s party in
the constituency. Party loyalty is still a good predictor of voting behavior.
Defeating Incumbents
Incumbents almost have to beat themselves through scandal or corruption.
Incumbents may be redistricted out of their familiar turf, which hurts their reelection
chances. Major political tidal waves may also defeat incumbents.
Money in Congressional Elections
When an incumbent is not running for reelection and the seat is open, there is a
greater chance of competition. It costs a great deal more money to elect a Congress
than to elect a president. Most of the money spent in congressional elections comes
from individuals, but a significant amount comes from political action committees,
PACs seek access to policymakers. They give most of their money to incumbents,
who are likely to win anyway. Some organized interests circumvent the limitations on
contributions and create or contribute to several PACs. This increases their leverage
with those to whom they contribute.
Spending a lot of money in a campaign is no guarantee of success. Money is
important for challengers because the more they spend, the more votes they receive.
Money buys them name recognition and a chance to be heard. Challengers usually
are outspent by incumbents. In open seats, the candidate who spends the most
usually wins.
Stability and Change
Because incumbents usually win reelection, there is some stability in the membership
of Congress that allows them to gain some expertise but may insulate them from
political change. Reformers have proposed term limitations for representatives and
III. How Congress is Organized to Make Policy
American Bicameralism
A bicameral legislature is a legislature divided into two houses. The U.S. Congress is
bicameral. Each state is guaranteed two senators, and the population of the state
determines its number of representatives. No bill can be passed unless both the
House and Senate agree on it. The House is more institutionalized, more centralized,
more hierarchical, and less anarchic than the Senate.
The Senate has responsibility for ratifying treaties, confirming presidential
nominations, and trying impeached officials. The Senate is just as liberal as the
House. The real difference between the bodies lies in the Senate’s organization and
decentralized power. The Senate is less disciplined and centralized. Senators are
more equal in power. Unique to the Senate is the filibuster that permits unlimited
debate on a bill. Sixty members present and voting can halt a filibuster by voting for
cloture on debate.
Congressional Leadership
Most of the leadership in Congress is party leadership. The Speaker of the House is
the only legislative office mandated by the Constitution. The Speaker is a senior
member of the party. The Speaker is second in line to succeed the president. The
Speaker presides over the House, plays a major role in committee assignments,
appoints the party’s legislative leaders, and controls which bills are assigned to which
committees. The Speaker also has a great deal of informal clout. The majority leader
is responsible for scheduling bills in the House and rounds up votes on behalf of the
party’s position on legislation. The party’s whips assist the majority leader. The
minority party is organized in a similar manner.
The vice president of the United States serves as president of the Senate, but usually
slights his/her senatorial chores. The Senate majority leader and whips corral votes,
schedule floor action, and influence committee assignments.
Congressional leaders are not in strong positions to move their troops because of the
decentralized nature of Congress. Leaders cannot punish those who do not support
the party’s stand. Party leadership has been more effective in recent years. There
has been more policy agreement within the party and more party unity in voting on
the floor.
The Committees and Subcommittees
Most of the real work of Congress goes on in committees. Committees control the
congressional agenda and guide legislation. Standing committees are formed to
handle bills in different policy areas. Joint committees draw membership from both
houses. Conference committees are formed when the Senate and House pass a
particular bill in different forms. Select committees are appointed for a specific
Every bill goes to a committee. Only bills getting a favorable committee report are
considered by the whole House or Senate. Bills go to subcommittees, which can hold
hearings. The most important output of a committee is the “marked up” bill
submitted to the whole House or Senate for debate. Members of the committee
manage the floor debate. Committees are also involved in legislative oversight, the
process of monitoring the bureaucracy and its administration of policy. Oversight is
handled through hearings. Oversight gives Congress the power to pressure agencies
and to cut their budgets in order to secure compliance with congressional whims.
Committee staff members can keep track of the implementation of public policy.
Congress substantially increased its oversight activities in the 1970s and 1980s in
reaction to the growth of national government and tight budgets.
Members seek committees that will help them achieve reelection, influence in
Congress, and the opportunity to make policy in areas they think are important.
Those who have supported the leadership are favored in committee selection, but
generally the parties try to grant members’ requests for committee assignments
whenever possible.
Committee chairs are the most important influencers of the committee agenda. Until
the 1970s committee chairs were chosen on the basis of seniority. Today seniority
remains the general rule, but with exceptions. Reforms have somewhat reduced the
clout of the chairs from that of a generation ago.
Caucuses: The Informal Organization of Congress
A caucus is an informal grouping of members of Congress who share some interest or
characteristic organized to promote their shared interests. Caucuses press for
committees to hold hearings, they push particular legislation, and they pull together
votes on bills they favor.
Congressional Staff
Most staff members work in the personal offices of individual members. They spend
most of their time providing services to constituencies. Other staff helps members
with legislative functions. Senators are particularly dependent on their staff.
Committees also have staff who organize hearings, research, draft reports, write
legislation, and keep tabs on the activities of the executive branch. There are three
important staff agencies that aid Congress in its work. These include the
Congressional Research Service, the General Accounting Office, and the
Congressional Budget Office.
IV. The Congressional Process
A. Intro
Most bills are quietly killed off early in the legislative process. In both chambers,
party leaders involve themselves in the legislative process on major legislation earlier
and more deeply, using special procedures to aid the passage of legislation.
Presidents and Congress: Partners and Protagonists
The president is often called the chief legislator because they help create the
congressional agenda. Presidents have their own legislative agenda and try to
persuade Congress that their agenda should be adopted. The president must usually
win at least ten times to hope for final passage. The most effective leader is the less
heroic facilitator who works at the margins of coalition-building to recognize and
exploit opportunities presented by a favorable configuration of political forces.
Party, Constituency, and Ideology
Parties are most cohesive when Congress is electing its official leaders. Differences
between the parties are sharpest on questions of social welfare and economic policy..
Recently the parties have been a growing source of money for congressional
Lobbyists and Interest Groups
Groups interested in influencing Congress hire lobbyists. Lobbyists spend a
considerable amount to influence legislation. Lobbyists provide legislators with
crucial information and often assurances of financial aid in the next campaign.
Members of Congress can frustrate lobbyists and regulate them. A 1995 law requires
anyone hired to lobby Congress to report what issues they are seeking to influence,
how much they spend, and the identities of their clients. The law also restricts gifts,
meals, and expense-paid travel that public officials may accept from lobbyists.
Despite these restrictions, groups and lobbying continues to thrive.
V. Understanding Congress
Congress and Democracy
Success of democratic government depends on the quality of representation. Some
aspects of Congress are very unrepresentative. Members are an elite and they
choose their own leaders. Congress does try to listen to the American people.
Linkage institutions do link voters to policymakers. However, legislators find it hard to
know what constituents want. Members of Congress are responsive to the people, if
the people make it clear what they want.
Reforming Congress
Reformers have tried to promote a more open, democratic Congress. Reforms in the
1960s and 1970s democratized Congress. The reforms spread powers around,
reduced the dominance of senior members, and reduced the proliferation of
subcommittees. The growth of informal caucuses tended to decentralize power in
Congress. Reforms passed in 1995 weakened subcommittees and limited the time
served by committee chairs, but at the moment, both the Speaker and the
committee chairs are stronger than they were in the 1980s. Critics charge that
Congress is responsive to so many interests that policy is as uncoordinated,
fragmented, and decentralized as Congress itself. Decentralization reduces the
chances of an oligarchy able to prevent the legislature from taking comprehensive

Congress vocabulary-
Parliamentary system – A system of government in which the legislature selects the prime minister or
Presidential ticket – The joint listing of the presidential and vice presidential candidates on the same ballot
as required by the Twelfth Amendment.
Treaty – A formal, public agreement between the United States and one or more nations that must be
approved by two thirds of the Senate.
Executive agreement – A formal agreement between the U.S. president and the leaders of other nations
that does not require Senate approval.
Congressional-executive agreement – A formal agreement between a U.S. president and the leaders of
other nations that acquires approval by both houses of Congress.
Veto – A formal decision to reject the bill passed by Congress.
Pocket veto – A formal decision to reject a bill passed by Congress after it adjourns – if Congress adjourns
during the ten days that the president is allowed in order to sign or veto law, the president can reject the law
by taking no action at all.
Take care clause – The constitutional requirement (in Article II, Section 3) that presidents take care that
the laws are faithfully executed, even if they disagree with the purpose of those laws.
Inherent powers – Powers that grow out of the very existence of government.
State of the Union Address – The president’s annual statement to Congress and the nation.
Impeachment – Formal accusation against a president or other public official, the first step in removal
from office.
Executive privilege – The right to keep executive communications confidential, especially if they relate to
National Security.
Executive orders – Formal orders issued by the president to direct action by the Federal bureaucracy.
Impoundment - A decision by the president not to spend money appropriated by Congress, now prohibited
under Federal law.
Line item veto – Presidential power to strike, or remove, specific items from a spending bill without
vetoing the entire package; declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Chief of staff – The head of the White House staff.
Executive Office of the President – The cluster of presidential staff agencies that help the president carry
out his responsibilities. Currently the office includes the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of
Economic Advisers, and several other units.
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – Presidential staff the agency that serves as a clearinghouse
for budgetary requests and management improvements for government agencies.
Cabinet – Advisory council for the president consisting of the heads of the executive departments, the vice
president, and a few other officials selected by the president.
Rally point – A rising public approval of the president that follows a crisis as Americans “rally ’round the
flag” and the chief executive.
Mandate – A president’s claim of broad public support.
Cycle of decreasing influence – The tendency of presidents to lose support over time.
Cycle of increasing effectiveness – The tendency of presidents to learn more about doing their jobs over