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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.

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Congress cannot rely on their party label alone to assure their election and instead must develop their own platform and reputation. However, it is a fact that since 1945 only a handful of candidates for Congress have successfully gained election without the official endorsement of one of the two major parties. Consequently, parties are still of vital importance in Congress and deserve fuller understanding. Organisation by party On 24 May 2001, Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont, in a statement he called his ‘declaration of independence’, 88 The United States Congress

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experience; only one-third of the Senate’s seats are up for election at any one time (leaving two-thirds of the Senate to continue their six-year term without the need for re-election) and the majority of the other members of Congress will be returning to their offices after successful reelection. As discussed in the previous chapter, on average, over 90 per cent of the Representatives and Senators who choose to run for re-election are successfully returned to the next Congress. 40 The United States Congress What sort of person gets elected? To make an

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, passing on the profits of the sales to the ‘Contra’ rebels fighting in Nicaragua. A series of Congressional investigations discovered not only 122 The United States Congress that had profits from the Iranian arm sales been diverted to the Nicaraguan rebels, but that members of the administration had lied to Congress in an attempt at a cover-up and had tried to subvert the process of Congressional oversight. While the President was never directly implicated himself, it did great damage to the remaining years of his Presidency. Foreign policy Most of this book has been

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United States Congress 18 Table 2.1 Party control of the House and Senate since 1945 Congress Year House Senate 79th 80th 81st 82nd 83rd 84th 85th 86th 87th 88th 89th 90th 91st 92nd 93rd 94th 95th 96th 97th 98th 99th 100th 101st 102nd 103rd 104th 105th 106th 107th 1945–47 1947–49 1949–51 1951–53 1953–55 1955–57 1957–59 1959–61 1961–63 1963–65 1965–67 1967–69 1969–71 1971–73 1973–75 1975–77 1977–79 1979–81 1981–83 1983–85 1985–87 1987–89 1989–91 1991–93 1993–95 1995–97 1997–99 1999–2001 2001–03 Democrat Republican Democrat Democrat Republican Democrat Democrat

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, radio, television and the Internet for information about their elected representatives. This position gives the media the potential to influence the political agenda of the nation greatly. It also has opened up the media to accusations that it is not living up to its responsibilities. Development of the modern media In a country the size of the United States, the media has always had an important role to play in relaying information about 144 The United States Congress the federal government to citizens across the nation. From the beginning of the republic until

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of man’, is that over 200 years after its conception it still forms the basis of the 2 The United States Congress government of the United States. Consequently, to be able to understand the principles on which the US Congress was founded, one must first understand the politics which surrounded the formation of the United States of America. The founding of British colonies in what was known as the ‘new world’ is only one part of the history of the Americas, but it is central to the history of the United States. It was from the British colonies that, in 1776, a

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surprised by how few members are present during a typical debate. For low profile issues, or those which are technically complex, debates often take place with 106 The United States Congress only a handful of members present. This situation can change suddenly; when a vote is called or a quorum count is to be held, a bell is rung in the Capitol Building and surrounding offices and members pour through the corridors and the tunnels which connect their offices to Congress into the chamber. Floor debate The chambers of the House and Senate are where all legislation begins

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examines the role and the power of the committee, the legislators who populate these bodies and discusses whether the committee system as a whole is good for democracy in modern America. Committee structure There is no mention of committees in the Constitution, but it quickly became clear that if Congress was to function properly as the federal legislature, some sort of division of labour was going to be necessary. To overcome the problems inherent 62 The United States Congress in getting a large group of legislators to deal effectively with a large range of detailed

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extraordinary high result can be attributed to the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC (the previous month produced an approval score of 42 per cent), since early 2000, Congress has been consistently receiving higher approval than disapproval ratings. 162 The United States Congress Opinion polls are a good snapshot of the public mood at one time, but as the results from November 2001 show, they can be influenced by a variety of factors. The problematic question of whether Congress ‘works’ is, though, an important one. This chapter will examine

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