Congress in session is Congress on public exhibition, whilst
Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.
Writing while still a postgraduate student, President Woodrow
Wilson commented, ‘Congressional government is committee
government’. Committees are the engine rooms of Congress.
In order to become law, every piece of legislation must ultimately face a vote in the chambers of House and Senate,
but it is in the committee rooms that nearly all proposals
take shape and where most proposals die. This chapter
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.
, the choice of
speciality can also be influenced by their colleagues choices.
There is evidence to show that Senators will try to specialise
in different areas to those chosen by the other Senator from
their state, so to make sure they have their own territory
marked out for the media and voters to see.7
At the heart of policy specialisation by members is the committeesystem of House and Senate, which will be considered
in detail in the next chapter. The committees are the engine
room of Congress where legislation is researched and formulated. To a large extent the
the committeesystem, much as Democrats did in the 1970s.
Alternatively, leaders are in an advantageous position to push
through changes within their own party which affect their
degree of control over the legislative process, as Gingrich did
by ensuring committee chairs were inhabited by members
who would be sympathetic to his agenda. The leadership
also has some influence over who is assigned to which commitee.
The leader of the majority party in the House or Senate also
have the power of referral. When a bill is introduced it must
be referred to a
impulse of members and the power of the committee. With
Assessing the US Congress
members focused throughout their term of office on the need
for re-election, the interests and preferences of their constituents will be a priority. Representatives and Senators will
behave and take positions in order to benefit their voters and,
if possible, ensure that the benefits of legislation are targeted
at their constituency. The committeesystem allows members
to specialise in issues of concern or potential benefit to their
constituents and exercise a great deal of
the administration of such services as health, education, housing, transport and
agriculture. It is expected that these policy issues, which were formerly run on
sectarian basis, will be conducted in a neutral fashion so that no section of the
community will suffer discrimination. A strong committeesystem, which
scrutinises the work of the devolved government, helps to prevent such possibilities from re-emerging.
The idea of cross-community agreements in the assembly was a key
innovation. It is completely different to anything known either in the British
Education and Culture Directorate’s more socio-cultural approach. The
same is true of the committeesystem within the Parliament. Sporting discussions taking place within the EP’s Committee on Culture, Youth, Education,
the Media and Sport take a different course to those discussed within the
Committee on Legal Affairs and Citizens’ Rights.
Institutional norms Institutions also develop routinised patterns of behaviour. Despite the widespread provision for qualified majority voting in the
Council, consensual decision making is still preferred. In
broad thrust of public policy.
The Irish cabinet system is not buttressed by an extensive committeesystem. At an administrative level, day-to-day co-ordination is the responsibility of the Economics Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs
which has a watching brief over all EU policies. The division is responsible for co-ordinating briefs for the General Affairs Council, the main
co-ordinating council in the EU system and ‘A points’ for other Councils.
It also had primary responsibility for the interdepartmental European
Communities Committee which was chaired