The role of the Congress is essential to any study of American government and politics. It would be impossible to gain a complete understanding of the American system of government without an appreciation of the nature and workings of this essential body. This text looks at the workings of the United States Congress, and uses the Republican period of ascendancy, which lasted from 1994 until 2000, as an example of how the Congress works in practice. The book illustrates the basic principles of Congress using contemporary and recent examples, while also drawing attention to the changes that took place in the 1990s. The period of Republican control is absent from many of the standard texts and is of considerable academic interest for a number of reasons, not least the 1994 election, the budget deadlock in 1995 and the Clinton impeachment scandal of 1999. The book traces the origin and development of the United States Congress, before looking in depth at the role of representatives and senators, the committee system, parties in Congress, and the relationship between Congress and the President, the media and interest groups.
This chapter takes a look at the origins and development of Congress. It reveals that the Constitution gave Congress the power to make laws for the federal government, the responsibility of representing the American people and the ability to check the President's actions. The chapter then reviews the important historical events that preceded the crafting of the Constitution in 1787, including the creation of the Articles of Confederation and the establishment of the first British colonies in America. It also examines the federal system, which is based on the separation of powers principle, and the two chambers that comprise the US Congress, which are the Senate and the House of Representatives, and also traces the development of Congress.
This chapter examines the congressional elections, which are held every two years and elect the entire House and around one third of the Senate each time, taking note of the 1994 Congressional elections, where the Republicans achieved a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It then introduces the Contract with America, a proposal that outlines ten key policies which would be brought to the floor of the House for a vote within the first 100 days if a Republican majority were elected. The chapter then takes a look at the candidate-centred campaigning, which features three characteristics of the American system, and also identifies the ways a US citizen can get elected into Congress.
This chapter shows the responsibilities and goals of newly elected representatives and senators. It first describes the kinds of people who get elected into Congress, and then lists the different goals of the new members of Congress. This is followed by a list of the different ways a member of Congress can achieve his/her goals, including policy specialisation and pork barrel. The chapter also cites two examples – the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and term limits – that show the subtleties involved in Congressional decision making.
This chapter discusses the role and the power of the committee system, and examines the structure of the committee, where it lists the five types of committees in Congress. One of these is the standing committee, which reviews the bills introduced into Congress, gathers information and frames the legislation to be put to the floor; this process is outlined in the next section. The discussion also considers the distribution of power within the committee and tries to determine if the Senate or the House can control their committees. It furthermore assesses the role of committees and looks at the reforms that were passed in the 104th Congress.
This chapter explores the role played by political parties, one of the most overlooked aspects of Congress; shows how the Congress is organised along party lines; and outlines the various party leaders who can be found within the House of Representatives, such as the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader. The final part takes a look at the different powers held by the party leaders.
This chapter discusses the floor deliberations and debates in Congress, which are sometimes televised live. It reveals that very few members are present during typical debates, although more members can be summoned to the chamber when a vote is called or a quorum count is to be held. The chapter states that the floor debate determines the final fate of legislation, and then compares the debates held in the House of Representatives with the debates held in the Senate. It discusses amendments and their main purpose, before studying the differences between voting in the Senate and in the House, and ends with a section on the House–Senate Conference, which serves to reconcile the Senate and the House before the legislation is sent to the President for signing.
This chapter studies the powers given to the President and Congress, showing that the United States Constitution ensures that every power given to the President and Congress is checked by the other government branch. It notes that Congress is the only body which can pass federal laws, and that it acts as an overseer of the executive branch. On the other hand, the President has the power to veto legislation that is passed by Congress, even if two thirds of the Senate and the House agree. The chapter also studies the concept of divided government, which has become frequent in the United States over the years.
This chapter discusses the media and interest groups, and their impact on Congress. It first studies the important role media play in the American political process, including the evolution of modern media and the conflict between providing serious news/information and providing entertainment. The chapter then turns to interest groups, which are groups of individuals or organisations that gather together to promote or defend their shared interests, and looks at the strategies these groups use to influence Congress, which are the outsider and insider strategies.