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.
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’,
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
What sort of person gets elected?
To make an
, passing on the
profits of the sales to the ‘Contra’ rebels fighting in Nicaragua.
A series of Congressional investigations discovered not only
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.
Most of this book has been
, 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
the federal government to citizens across the nation. From the
beginning of the republic until
of man’, is that over
200 years after its conception it still forms the basis of the
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
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
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.
The chambers of the House and Senate are where all legislation begins
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
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
in getting a large group of legislators to deal effectively with a
large range of detailed
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.
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