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Congress Study Guide Essay

1.What is the paradox regarding Congress and public opinion? Congress is considered by many to be the system’s broken branch. It has probably been the object of more mass public distrust and more elite reform proposals than either the presidency or the federal judiciary combined. This is true although most incumbent members usually win re-election and congress has consistently expanded programs and adopted policies that most citizens favor. 2. How does the book describe partisan polarization in Congress? What is the explanation for why Congress today seems more polarized than it die up until the 1970s? The book describes partisan polarization as a vote in which a majority of voting democrats oppose a majority of voting republicans. Congress today seems more polarized than it was up until the 1970s because of social issues such as abortion. Democrats tends to be more liberal and republicans more conservative. 3. Summarize the differences between Congress and a parliament and how these fundamental differences influence the character of the U.S. Congress.What were the main issues in the development of the Senate and how were these issues settled? Make sure that you understand what these terms refer to: filibuster, cloture, Rule 22.

A person becomes a candidate for representative or senator in the U.S. Congress by running in a primary election. Except in a few places, political parties exercise little control over the choice over who is nominated to run for congressional office. Voters select candidates in the primaries because of their personalities, positions on issues, or overall reputation. Parliament tends to be made up of people loyal to the national party issues. A congress tends to be made up of people who think of themselves as independent representatives of their districts who expect to vote as to their own constituents. Filibuster: The use of the Senate’s tradition of unlimited debate as a delaying tactic to block a bill. Cloture: shuts of the discussion on a bill.Rule 22: debate may be closed of on a bill if 16 senators sign a petition requesting it and if, after two days have elapsed, three-fifths of the entire membership vote for cloture. 4)Why is Congress a decentralized institution and why is Congress inevitably unpopular with voters. Members of Congress are more concerned with their own constituents and careers than with the interests of any organized party or program of action. Congress doesn’t choose the president, they know that worrying about the voters they represent is much more important than worrying about whether the president succeed with his programs. Congress must worry about how voters feel, it’s inevitable that on controversial issues that Congress will engage in endless arguments, worry about interest groups, and work out compromise decisions.

5) Read through the six phases of the House of Representatives so that you are clear about the rules changes and the balance of power between the Speaker and committee chairmen. Briefly summarize phases five-six. (It is not important for you to learn the name of individual Speakers except for Newt Gingrich – unless you want to be a history major or quiz bowl whiz.) Phase 1- the powerful house – 1789-1820-under Washington’s administration the house was more powerful than the Senate, but still answered to Washington’s cabinet. Phase 2-The Divided House- 1820-1890- Jackson asserted his power over the house. Sectional tensions leading up to the civil war the House was again divided between Radical Republicans and Moderates and different opinions on Reconstruction. Phase 3- The Speaker rules- 1890-1910 GOP Thomas Reed, Speaker of the House obtained the power to name chairpersons. He decides what business would come up for vote. Phase 4- The House Revolts- 1910-1911 Cannon replaces Reed as the Speaker but the House revolts against him. The Speaker can no longer name committee chairpersons or serve on the rules committee. The powers were given to Party Caucus. Phase 5 -The Members Rule- 1911-1965-Democrats take control of the House. Chairpersons kept civil rights from happening. Eventually, the committee rebelled. Phase 6 -The Leadership Returns- 1965-Present. Newt Gingrich takes power back from the House and gives it to himself as a speaker. Although voted on by Party Caucus, he dominated choices of the committee chairperson.

6) How has the history and structure of the Senate meant that it would be different from the House of Representatives? The Framers chose to create a bicameral legislature—with a House of Representatives, to be elected directly by the people, and a Senate, consisting of two members from each state, to be chosen by the legislatures of each state. Though all “legislative powers” were to be vested in Congress, those powers would be shared with the president, limited to powers explicitly conferred on the federal government, and subject to the power of the Supreme Court to declare acts of Congress
unconstitutional. 7) What were the main issues in the development of the Senate and how were these issues settled? Make sure that you understand what these terms refer to: filibuster, cloture, Rule 22. The larger more populous states wanted a senate based on population. Of course the smaller states objected because they would have been severely outnumbered. So both sides compromised and made the House of Representatives (by population) and the Senate (everyone has 2 representatives) together these two bodies make up. Ben Franklin came up with the idea for Senate as a means of satisfying the small states.

Filibuster: The use of the Senate’s tradition of unlimited debate as a delaying tactic to block a bill. Cloture: shuts of the discussion on a bill.Rule 22: debate may be closed of on a bill if 16 senators sign a petition requesting it and if, after two days have elapsed, 3/5 of the entire membership vote for cloture. 8)Summarize the points that Edmund Burke made in his speech to the Bristol Electors about the responsibilities of a representative to his constituents. He basically said that a representative should have good judgment and should be sacrificial to his constituents. He should also respect the opinions of his constituents and to always listen to the people’s problems. 9) Briefly summarize the trends in the sex and race of members of Congress. The House has become less male and less white since the 1950s. The Senate has been slower to change. In addition, Republican control of both houses prior to the midterm election of 2006 had reduced minority influence. However, the recent shift of control of both chambers to the Democrats resulted in African Americans and Hispanics becoming chairpersons of several important committees.

10) Why have more congressional districts become safer for incumbent reelection? Incumbents, with support and privileges of their status (such as franking privileges) have developed ways to make themselves popular by: using the mass media, making personal appearances with constituents, and sending newsletters, etc. These efforts have made more and more congressional districts become safer for incumbent re-election. 11) What are the possible explanations for why the Democrats dominated Congress from 1933-1994? Democrats tend to dominate Congress. This is mostly because Democrats tend to do better in low-turnout districts, while the Republicans do well in high-turnout districts. The advantages of incumbency became more pronounced during a time when Democrats controlled the Congress. Democrats generally have more experienced congressional candidates, have more closely reflected district-level voters’ rights policy preferences, and have been able to fashion winning,district-level coalitions from among national Democratic constituencies. Democrats were the majority party in Congress when this happened.

The anti-incumbent mood, coupled with the effects of redistricting after the 1990 census and the shift of the South to the Republican party, brought the Republicans into power in the House and Senate in the 1994 elections. In the past the Democratic party was more deeply divided than the Republicans, because of the presence in Congress of conservative Democrats from the South. Often these southern Democrats would vote with Republicans, thereby forming a conservative coalition 12)Why has Congress become more ideologically partisan since the 1980s? It has become more polarized than voters in terms of political beliefs. One result of this polarization is that members of Congress, especially those in the House, do not get along as well as they once did with members who disagree with them, and they are more likely to challenge one another 13) Summarize the three theories of how members of Congress behave. There are three theories about how members of Congress behave: representational, organizational, and attitudinal. The representational explanation is based on the assumption that members want to be reelected, and therefore they vote to please constituents.

The organizational explanation is based on the assumption that since constituents do not know how their legislator has voted, it is not important to please them. But it is important to please fellow members of Congress, whose goodwill is valuable in getting things done and in acquiring status and power in Congress. The attitudinal explanation is based on the assumption that there are so many conflicting pressures on members of Congress that they cancel each other out, leaving them virtually free to vote on the basis of their own beliefs. 14.Define malapportionment and gerrymandering. From the online article on Gerrymandering 101, summarize what Minority Gerrymandering and packing are. Malapportionment- drawing the boundaries of political districts so that districts are very unequal in population. Gerrymandering- drawing the boundaries of political districts in bizarre or unusual shapes to make it easy for candidates of the party in power to win elections in those districts Packing is to concentrate as many voters of one type into a single electoral district to reduce their influence in other districts. 15.What is the sophomore surge? Why does it happen? What effects does it have? Sophomore surge is where the most newly elected members become strong in their districts very quickly. The reason for this surge is that members of Congress have figured out how to use their offices to run personal rather than party campaigns.

They make use of their free privileges. They also cater to their constituent’s distrust of federal gov’t by promising to “clean things up”if reelected. If re-elected, they run for congress by running against it. 16.Summarize the issues involved and the resolution in Baker v. Carr and Wesberry v. Sanders Both Wesberry and Reynoldsdecisions were predicated on the landmark ruling in Baker v. Carr,369 US 186 (1962), in which the US Supreme Court decided reapportionment of state legislative districts was not a “political question” that should be resolved through legislation. The Court found legislative conflicts of interest raised justiciable issues that could be addressed and resolved by the Federal courts. 17)What are the principal jobs and responsibilities in the party leadership in the Senate? The majority party chooses one of its members usually the person with the greatest seniority to be president of the Senate. It is largely an honorific position, required by the Constitution so that the Senate will have a presiding officer in the absence of the vice president of the United States.

The real leadership is the hands of the majority leader (chosen by the senators of the majority party) and the minority leader (chosen by the senators of the other party). The senators of each party also elect a whip. The principal task of the majority leader is to schedule the business of the Senate. He has the right to be recognized first in any floor debate. The whip is a senator who helps the party leader stay informed about what party members are thinking, rounds up members when important votes are to be taken, and attempts to keep a nose count on how the voting on a controversial issue is likely to go. Each party also chooses a Policy Committee composed of a dozen senators who help the party leader schedule Senate business, choosing what bills are to be given attention and in what order. From the point of view of individual senators, the key party organization is the group that assigns senators to the standing committees of the Senate.

These assignments are very important to newly elected senator. 18) What are the formal and informal powers of the Speaker of the House? The Speaker is the most important person in the House. He is elected by whichever party has the majority, and he presides over all House meetings. He is the principal leader of the majority party as well as the presiding officer of the entire House. The Speaker decides who shall be recognized to speak on the floor of the House; he rules whether a motion is relevant; and he decides the committees to which new bills shall be assigned. He influences what bills are brought up for a vote and appoints the members of special and select committees.

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