THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: INTRODUCTION • The US Congress is one of the most praised yet most criticized political institutions in the world. • On the one hand, it is one of the world’s most representative and democratic institutions, admired for its openness and deliberateness. • On the other hand, it is criticized relentlessly for its inefficiency and unresponsiveness. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: INTRODUCTION • Citizens think members of Congress do not understand their needs, place their concerns of special interests ahead of those of their constituents, and will say anything to get reelected and then do pretty much whatever they want. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: INTRODUCTION • Today’s Congress has come under intense criticism for its lack of legislation dealing with the crucial issues facing the nation. • In the Congressional elections of 2010, the Republican Party gained control of the H of R with its promise to create jobs. • In the same election, the Democrats kept power in the Senate. • Neither chamber of Congress has conducted the business of the nation as the people want it carried out. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: INTRODUCTION • As a result, the approval rating of the current Congress is 13%. • How do we measure the success of Congress? THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: INTRODUCTION • The success of a session of Congress cannot really be measured in the number of laws enacted. • The framers understood that Congress could sometimes be quite successful by not passing any laws at all. • Having given each branch of govt., its own list of checks and balances against the other two branches, the framers expected that the odds against action would be high, THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: INTRODUCTION • The frames did not want Congress to defeat all legislation. • In giving Congress a long list of carefully prescribes legislative powers in Article 1, Sec. 1, of the Const., the framers clearly expected Congress to address foreign and domestic threats. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: INTRODUCTION • Because the framers created a system of shared powers, Congress and the president often agree to disagree, postponing action on important issues until compromise can be reached. • That may be frustrating to the nation, especially when the public favors action, and may create the image of a “do-nothing” Congress, but it fits perfectly with the framers intention to protect the nation from the passions of the moment. • Congress protects the nation by both passing and defeating legislation. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS • There is only one way describes in the Const., but there are two very different electoral calendars for entering office. • Each of the 435 members of the H of R is elected to a two-year term in even-numbered years. • In the Senate, a third of the Senate’s 100 members are chosen for six-year terms every two years. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS • HOUSE REQUIREMENTS: – 25 years old – Citizenship for 7 years – Must be a resident of the states from which they are elected. • SENATE REQUIREMENTS: – 30 years old – Citizenship for 9 years – Must be a resident of the states from which they are elected. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS • By setting the Senate requirements higher and given its members a sixyear term, the framers hoped the Senate would act as a check against what they saw as the less predictable House. • JM: Concerned about the “fickleness and passion” of the House, he saw the Senate as “a necessary fence against this danger.” THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS • The framers did not put any term limits on House and Senate members. • The term limit imposed by the Articles of Confederation had forced several members out of office, leaving the Cont., Congress less effective and souring the framers on the idea. • Should there be term limits? • Regardless of their differences, Reps and Senators are politicians who enter office by winning elections. • Ironically, it is good politics for them to deny they are politicians and to lead the charge against the institution in which they serve or wish to serve. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: WHERE REPS., AND SENATORS ARE ELECTED. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: WHERE REPS., AND SENATORS ARE ELECTED • Members of the House and Senate represent different populations. • According to the Const., every state has two Senators each of whom represent the entire state. • Seats in the House are distributed or apportioned among the states according to population. • There are 435 congressional districts, each composed of about 650,000 people. • No matter how small its population, every state is guaranteed at least one House member. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: WHERE REPS., AND SENATORS ARE ELECTED • The exact apportionment among the states is determined by a national census of the population that is required by the Const., every ten years. • As a result of the 2010 census, MA., lost a congressional seat. The umber went from 12 to 11. • Some states gained seats. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: WHERE REPS., AND SENATORS ARE ELECTED • The process by which Congress reallocates seats based on population is called reapportionment. • While census figures dictate how House districts are apportioned across the nation, each state determines where those districts lie within its own boundaries. • State legislatures nearly always control this redistricting process, subject to final approval by the governor. • The majority party in the legislature often draws the new map to increase the number of House districts that is own candidates are likely to win. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: WHERE REPS., AND SENATORS ARE ELECTED • In extreme cases, this process is known as gerrymandering, after MA., Gov., Elbridge Gerry who approved a redistricting plan that created a salamandershaped district drawn for distinctly partisan purposes following the 1810 census. • • • • • THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: WHERE REPS., AND SENATORS ARE ELECTED Most redistricting attempts to protect the incumbent. Partisan gerrymandering, except in the most extreme cases, is entirely legal. The US Supreme Court has ruled that only a plan that eliminates the minority party’s influence statewide is unconst. State legislatures may also draw districts in which a majority of voters are members of a minority groups. Racial gerrymandering is legal unless the leg., considered only race and ignored traditional redistricting concerns. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: WHERE REPS., AND SENATORS ARE ELECTED • The principle of equal representation does not apply to the Senate. • Because each state has two senators regardless of population, the Senate represents constituencies that are more rural, white, and conservative than would be the case of the one-person, one-vote norm applied to Senate elections. • Such disparities make the Senate the most malapportioned elected legislature in the democratic world, giving the advantage to residents of the smaller states. THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: WHERE REPS., AND SENATORS ARE ELECTED • Political scientists have concluded that the size of a state’s population affects senate-constituent relations, fund-raising and elections, strategic behavior within the Senate, and ultimately policy decisions. • Some have suggested that this apportionment situation in the Senate will have to be addressed in the future. • But the prospects of changing the two-senatorsper-state constitutional rule are highly unlikely in the near future. THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF THE UNITED STATE CONGRESS • The framers made two critical decisions early in the Const. Conv. • First, they agreed to create a legislature as the first branch of govt. • Next, they divided that leg., into two chambers –the House and Senate. • By doing this, the framers created one of the most important obstacles to making laws. THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS • Worried about the tendency for the leg., branch to dominate the govt., they diluted the power of Congress by creating two chambers as little connected as the nature of their functions and common dependency on the society as will admit. • Not only would Congress be balanced by presidency and judiciary, but it would be also be balanced against itself. THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF CONGRESS • Bicameralism remains the most important organizational feature of the US Congress. • Each chamber has its own place to meet in separate wings of the Capitol Bld., • Each has its own offices for its members on separate ends of Capitol Street. • Each has it own committee structure. • Each has its own rules for considering legislation. • Each has its own record of proceedings – even though the records are published together as the Congressional Record. • Each sets the rules governing its members. THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF CONGRESS • Bicameral legislatures were common in most of the colonies. • The framers believed that the arrangement was essential for preventing strongwilled majorities from oppressing individuals and minorities. • JM, in Federalist # 51, – “In order to control the legislative authority, you must divide it.” – Although the 17th Amendment (1913) provided for direct election of senators, the two chambers remain very different. (See Chart) THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS • Defenders of bicameralism point to its moderating influence on partisanship or errors in either chamber. • Bicameralism insures that many votes will be taken before a policy is finally approved. • It also provides more opportunities for compromise among legislators. THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF CONGRESS • Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the power – To tax – To collect debts – To provide for the common defense and general welfare of the people – Borrow money – Regulate foreign commerce, interstate commerce • More powers: – Coin money – Establish post offices and postal roads – Establish the lower courts of the judiciary – Declare war – Raise army and navy – Regulate immigration THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS • Just in case the list was not enough to allow Congress to do its job, the framers gave Congress the catchall power to: – “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS • This clause is sometimes called the elastic clause because it stretches to cover much of what Congress might do. • The Const., also gives Congress complete authority to set its own rules for its proceedings. THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS • The Const., also gives Congress the power of impeachment. • The Const., stipulates that the grounds for impeachment are the commission of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” – these are not clearly defined. THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS • The House sits to determine whether or not an official’s actions reach the level of impeachable offences, and if so, it can impeach by a majority vote. (Indictment) • The Senate sits as a court to decide if the impeached official should be convicted and whether the nature of the offense warrants removal from office. • A 2/3 vote is needed to convict; thus a minority of just 34 senators can block the conviction of an impeached official. • How many impeachments have we had? How many convictions? THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS • House Leaders: – – – – The Speaker Majority Leader Minority Leader Whips • Senate Leaders: – Majority Leader – Minority Leader – President of the Senate (VP) – President Pro Tempore – The Party Caucus – The Party Caucus THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: THE COMMITTEES • The majority of • There are 20 Standing Congressional work is done through the members committee work. • All members are part of several committees and subcommittees. • Membership on a committee is chosen by the party leadership. • Reps and Sens., give a list of committees they wish to serve on. • • • • Committees in each chamber. Each of these standing committees have several subcommittees. There are also Special or Select Committees. There are also Joint Committees. Conference Committee THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF THE UNITED STATES CONGREES: THE COMMITTEES • Of all the committees the Standing Committees are the most durable and important. • Committees also have oversight and investigative responsibilities. • There are 4 types of Standing Committees • Types of Standing Committees: – – – – Authorizing Appropriations Rules/Administration Revenue/Budget THE STRUCTURE AND POWERS OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: JOBS • House and Senate members have essentially two jobs: – Representatives: House (3) Senate (2) – Lawmakers • To help them carry out their jobs Reps., and Senators have a – DC Staff – District/State Staff – Committee Staff HOW A BILL BECOMES A LAW HOW TO KILL A BILL • There are several ways a bill can be “killed” before it becomes law: – – – – – – – – – – – – The House subcommittee and its chair The chair of the House standing committee The House Rules Committee The majority of the House The Senate subcommittee and its chair The Senate standing committee The majority of the Senate The floor leaders in both chambers The Hold The Filibuster (cloture 16/60) Disagreement in the Conference Committee The President’s Veto CRITICISMS OF CONGRESS • Criticisms of Congress are easy to recite, if only by paying attention to what members of Congress say about their own institution. Members long ago figured out that Americans love their own incumbents but have a steady distrust of Congress as a whole. • The criticisms: – – – – Congress is inefficient Congress is unrepresentative Congress is unethical Congress lacks collective responsibility – ARE THESE FAIR CRITICISMS?