Module Five Printable Notes
I. The origins and powers of Congress
A. Our Congress has two separate and powerful chambers.
1. The bicameral nature of Congress has its origins in the negotiations that shaped the U.S. Constitution.
2. Representation in the House is based on population. Representatives are elected for two-year terms. After the census is taken every 10 years, House seats are reapportioned.
3. Each state has two senators. Senators serve six-year terms.
B. The U.S. Constitution gives the House and Senate essentially similar legislative tasks.
1. Only the House has the power of impeachment. The Senate acts as a court to try impeachments.
2. The Senate has the sole power to affirm treaties.
3. The Senate must also approve major presidential appointments.
II. Electing the Congress
A. Incumbents have a very high rate of return to the Congress.
1. In the majority of elections since 1950, more than 90 percent of all House incumbents have won reelection. (See Figure 8.1 in the text.)
2. Paradoxically, the public seems not to hold Congress in high esteem.
B. Due to widespread dissatisfaction with Congress, voters in many states have passed term limits.
1. Term limits specify the maximum number of years a legislator can serve; their intent is to open the electoral process to newcomers.
2. Both in 1995 and in 1997, the House voted against a constitutional amendment for term limits on members of Congress.
3. Although voters tend to disdain Congress as an institution, they are generally satisfied with their own senators and representatives.
C. Meanwhile, incumbents remain protected by district lines that are gerrymandered to protect incumbents or the dominant party.
D. Incumbents also have other advantages:
1. Incumbents have name recognition among constituents.
2. Incumbents have a congressional franking privilege, or free postage to send mail to constituents.
3. Incumbents with good local staffs have a history of providing assistance to constituents (casework).
4. Incumbents receive substantial financial support. PACs tend to favor incumbents. Challengers cannot always find the campaign financing to run a viable campaign.
E. The members of Congress are not representative of the U.S. population in terms of demographics. They tend to be much more highly educated than the typical American, and relatively few minorities and women are members.
1. Two schools of thought regarding the lack of female and minority representation exist.
a. One school advocates descriptive representation, the view that the legislative bodies should resemble the demographics of the constituents.
b. Another view says that voters should remain totally colorblind and elect the best representatives, regardless of ethnicity or gender.
2. Those who advocate descriptive representation also tend to advocate racial gerrymandering, or the drawing of district lines to promote the election of minority candidates. (See text Figure 8.2.)
III. How issues get on the congressional agenda
A. Some issues get on the agenda because a visible trend (such as increased awareness and concern about violence on television) or event (such as a coal mine disaster) draws our attention to a problem.
B. Presidential support can move an issue onto the agenda quickly.
C. Congressional party leaders and committee chairs have the best opportunity to influence the agenda.
IV. The dance of legislation
A. After being introduced, bills go to committee and then usually to a subcommittee. After a bill has been passed by a committee, it goes to the full membership for a vote. (See text Figure 8.3.)
B. Bills passed by the House and Senate must go to a conference committee, where differences between the two versions are resolved. If both the House and the Senate pass the conference committee’s compromise version, the bill then goes to the president, who signs or vetos it.
1. If a president vetos a bill, Congress can override that veto by a two-thirds majority in each house.
2. A pocket veto takes place when the Congress adjourns within 10 days of the time it sent the bill to the White House and the president does not sign it.
3. In 1996 Congress voted to give the president the line item veto, allowing a president to veto one aspect of a piece of legislation without vetoing the entire bill. The line item veto was an example of Congress’s willingly ceding power to the president. However, the Supreme Court ruled the line item veto unconstitutional in 1998.
V. Committees: The workhorses of Congress
A. Congress is decentralized into committees for the same reason that any large organization is subdivided into specialized groups or divisions: to develop and use expertise in specific areas.
B. Several types of committees exist.
1. Joint committees comprise members of the House and the Senate.
2. Standing committees are permanent committees that specialize in an area of public policy.
3. Select committees are temporary and are created for a specific purpose (such as the committee that investigated the Watergate scandal).
4. Conference committees work out differences between House and Senate versions of legislation on the same subject.
C. Influence on committees grows formally with seniority and informally with increased expertise.
D. Although committee chair positions are no longer determined only by seniority, they are usually held by the senior member of the majority party.
E. Committees and subcommittees are where the real work on legislation takes place.
1. Hearings are often an opportunity to attract attention to a particular problem.
2. Committee or subcommittee members meet to decide on the provisions of a bill at the markup sessions.
3. The committee or subcommittee chair strongly influences the way a committee handles its work. Some are better than others at leading the bargaining and negotiating that characterize the legislative process.
F. Oversight: following through on legislation.
1. Oversight is the process of reviewing agency operations to determine whether an agency is carrying out policies as Congress intended.
2. As the executive branch has grown and policies have become more complex, oversight has become more difficult.
3. Congress has responded by adding resources, including the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Technology Assessment.
4. Congress is sometimes accused of going too far in its oversight of foreign policy.
G. Both pluralism and majoritarianism play a role in congressional behavior.
1. The committee system enhances pluralism as members try to get on committees dealing with issues of special importance to constituents.
2. Yet committees reflect the bipartisan nature of Congress and thus reflect majoritarianism.
VI. Leaders and followers in Congress
A. Each of the two parties in the two houses has a leadership hierarchy.
1. In the House, the leader selected by the majority party is the Speaker of the House. The Speaker’s counterpart in the opposing party is the minority leader.
2. In the Senate, the president pro tempore is supposed to preside when the vice president is absent. The real leader of the majority party is the majority leader. The minority leader holds a parallel position in the minority party.
3. Party leaders are coalition builders, not autocrats.
B. The operation of the House and the Senate is structured by both formal rules and informal norms.
1. The House relies on its Rules Committee to govern floor debate. The Senate uses unanimous-consent agreements.
2. Senators can filibuster to try to stop legislation they do not like. Filibusters can be stopped by a cloture vote.
C. Unwritten norms of behavior help to keep both houses operating smoothly.
1. One celebrated norm is that members are to show respect for one another in their public deliberations. This norm has not been observed as much in recent years as in earlier years.
2. Members of Congress are expected to be willing bargainers.
3. Recent years have seen an evolution toward greater assertiveness by individual members.
VII. The legislative decision-making environment
A. How do legislators decide how they will vote? The most important influences seem to be:
1. Political parties: Party unity is not strong, but party affiliation is still a good predictor of voting behavior. (See text Figure 8.4.)
2. The president: The White House is heavily involved in legislation. Legislation is introduced on behalf of a president, and the president and the president’s assistants lobby members of Congress on bills moving through the legislative process.
3. Constituents: A crucial factor in any legislator’s consideration of a bill is how his or her constituents feel about the issue.
4. Interest groups: Interest group influence is enhanced if many active members live in the member’s district or state.
VIII. The dilemma of representation
A. All members of Congress live in two worlds. In Washington they spend time dealing with the great issues of national concern. But they also spend much of their time traveling back to their district or state, where they meet with constituents and give speeches to local groups.
B. The debate over whether legislators should vote according to conscience or constituency preference has never been resolved.
1. The view that legislators must be free to vote according to their conscience is associated with Edmund Burke. Legislators who vote according to their conscience see their role as that of a trustee.
2. A legislator who feels duty bound to represent the majority view of constituents sees his or her role as that of a delegate.
3. Few members of Congress act consistently as a delegate or a trustee. The more crucial an issue is at home, the more they are pulled toward the delegate role.
IX. Pluralism, majoritarianism, and democracy
A. If legislators act as delegates, policymakers will be highly pluralistic. If they act as trustees, there is no guarantee that policy-making will be majoritarian, but legislators will be less closely tied to the narrow interests of their districts and states.
B. Parliamentary systems are quite different from our system. They fit the majoritarian model of democracy to a much greater extent than does Congress.
C. Congress’s inability to reduce the budget deficit reflects the pluralistic nature of congressional policy-making.
1. Legislators are more concerned about saving programs of interest to their particular constituencies than they are in cutting back on spending even though they all agree that the deficit is too big.
2. Although pluralism is easy to criticize on this score, our congressional system does allow individual constituencies to be heard. The programs that are protected through bargaining are important to different segments of the U.S. population.
3. An alternative to our pluralistic Congress would be one that operated on strict majoritarian principles. We would need strong (or “responsible”) political parties for this type of system.
I. The constitutional basis of presidential power
A. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention were wary of unchecked power.
B. The Articles of Confederation failed in part because of the lack of a strong national executive.
C. Delegates had to balance the need to check the power of the presidency with the need to make it powerful enough to provide effective leadership.
D. In the end, they created an office that gave presidents the power to:
1. Act as administrative head of the nation.
2. Serve as commander-in-chief of the military.
3. Convene Congress.
4. Veto legislation (but Congress can override a veto).
5. Appoint top officials, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.
6. Make treaties subject to Senate approval.
7. Grant pardons.
II. The expansion of presidential power
A. The power of the modern presidency comes not only from the explicit powers listed in the U.S. Constitution, but also from the expansion authority under claims of inherent powers. Presidents have claimed the authority to do certain things and have left it up to Congress or the courts to try to stop them. During the Civil War, President Lincoln issued orders increasing the size of the military and, therefore, military expenditures. This clearly usurped Congress’s constitutional power to raise and support armies. Nevertheless, both Congress and the Supreme Court approved these actions.
B. Congress has also delegated considerable power to the executive branch. During the New Deal, for example, the Congress delegated much authority to Franklin Roosevelt’s administration to do what was necessary to solve the nation’s ills.
C. Presidential power is determined in part by the political skills of the individual presidents.
1. In Richard Neustadt’s words, “Presidential power is the power to persuade.”
2. Presidents must thus choose their issues carefully. They must calculate when they need to intervene and play their cards and when they need to hold back. (See text Figure 9.1.)
D. Presidents are in a better position to bargain when their public popularity is high.
1. Over time, presidential popularity usually declines.
2. Presidential popularity can be strongly affected by economic conditions, unanticipated events or crises (such as the Iranian hostage crisis), or U.S. involvement in a war.
III. The electoral connection
A. To win an election, a presidential candidate must put together a winning coalition with a minimum of 270 electoral votes.
1. The president fashions an appeal to groups of voters across the country.
2. Candidates may prefer to be vague on some controversial issues (as Richard Nixon was about Vietnam in 1968) so as not to drive away any voters. Yet by the time candidates receive the nomination for president, they will have become closely associated with some important issues.
B. Candidates who win the presidency claim they have been given a mandate by the voters, but such mandates tend to be more rhetoric than reality.
C. Even a landslide at the polls does not guarantee consistent public support during a president’s term, because the presidential election is independent of the elections of Congress. This often leads to divided government.
1. Divided government is the situation that occurs when one party controls the Congress and the other party controls the presidency.
2. Polls show that the public often finds divided government desirable.
IV. The executive branch establishment
A. One of the most important of the president’s resources in office is the White House staff.
1. Each president has some key aides, including a chief of staff and a national security adviser.
2. The extended White House staff constitutes the Executive Office of the President. This includes the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, and other specialized staff.
3. There is no “right way” for a president to organize staff. Each president creates the structure that he thinks will work best for him. Yet sometimes difficulties arise in the way the White House is organized.
B. Vice presidents have traditionally been “standby equipment.” They are not usually used in a major advisory capacity. However, Al Gore was given a more public role than usual.
C. The cabinet comprises the heads of the major departments in the executive branch.
1. The cabinet is not used as a collective decision-making body. Cabinet meetings may not even be particularly important to the president, although he may value the advice of individual cabinet members.
2. Presidents do not always know cabinet secretaries very well. Cabinet secretaries may also be too concerned with the wishes of their clientele groups.
3. With the growth of the White House staff and the Executive Office of the President, the president has less need to rely on the cabinet as an advisory body.
V. The president as national leader
A. Presidents carry into office a broad political vision that reflects their ideology and priorities.
1. Lyndon Johnson, for example, saw government as a positive force for promoting justice and equality. Once in office, he tried to give life to that philosophy with the Great Society program.
2. Ronald Reagan came into office seeing government as part of the problem rather than as the solution. He tried to promote freedom by pursuing policies that would reduce the role of government in American life.
B. The president’s central role in our political system guarantees that he can always command attention for his agenda. Nothing guarantees that he will be successful in getting that agenda through Congress. (See text Figure 9.3.)
C. Thus, a president must be a lobbyist as well as an agenda setter. Presidents spend considerable time working to get legislation passed in the form they want it in.
1. The president has a legislative liaison staff to help him.
2. The White House will also work directly with interest groups to get them to activate members and to get their Washington, D.C., representative to lobby the Congress directly.
D. Part of the president’s job is to lead his party. However, no prescribed tasks are associated with this duty.
VI. The president as world leader
A. For nearly 40 years, the president’s priority as world leader was to contain communism.
B. U.S. presidents have entered a new era with increasing emphasis on managing economic relations with the rest of the world. Yet the world remains a dangerous place.
C. Periodically, the president faces a grave situation in which conflict is imminent or a small conflict threatens to explode into a larger war.
1. How a president handles such crises can be critical to the success of the presidency. The president must exercise good judgment in situations where only a limited time exists in which to make a decision.
2. It is difficult to go beyond rather general advice in designing an ideal procedure for handling crises. Almost by definition, each crisis is a unique event.
VII. Presidential character
A. A president’s actions in office reflect something more than just political views; they also reflect the inner forces that give rise to his basic character.
B. Personality characteristics clearly have an important effect on presidents’ success or failure in office. However, character is only one of several factors that go into making a successful president.
I. The development of the bureaucratic state
A. Bureaucracies are large, complex organizations in which employees have very specific job responsibilities and work within a hierarchy of authority.
1. The employees of the departments, agencies, bureaus, and offices of government are known as bureaucrats.
2. The manner in which a bureaucracy is organized affects how well it is able to accomplish its tasks.
3. Therefore, the study of the bureaucracy centers around finding solutions to the many kinds of problems faced by large government organizations.
B. Government at all levels has grown enormously during this century. Although several explanations are possible for this growth, all of them point to the fact that society has become increasingly complex.
1. Science and Technology: Advances in science and technology have led to new roles for government. The creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an example.
2. Business regulation: When it became clear that a pure free-market philosophy had to give way to some government role, regulatory agencies were created to police various business markets.
3. Social welfare: As far back as the nineteenth century, the government provided pensions to Civil War veterans. With the onset of the Great Depression, the government began to take major steps to provide income security and social services to Americans in need.
4. Ambitious administrators: Top agency officials look for new ways to serve clients, which in turn leads to new programs, larger staffs, and larger budgets.
C. Recent years have witnessed a movement toward reducing the size of the bureaucracy.
1. This is difficult to do because different segments of the population work hard to protect the programs which serve them.
2. Efforts at budget cutting reflect the tension between majoritarianism and pluralism. The broader public wants to reduce the size of government, but those who benefit from specific government programs organize into interest groups and mobilize their resources to protect programs and agencies that they value.
II. Bureaus and bureaucrats
A. By examining the basic types of government organizations, we can better understand how the executive branch operates.
1. Departments are the largest units of the executive branch. The secretaries of these departments, such as the secretaries of defense and of health and human services, form the president’s cabinet.
2. Independent agencies are not part of a cabinet department. Some are controlled by the White House. Others have a good deal of autonomy, although they are influenced to some degree by the president.
a. Some independent agencies are structured as regulatory commissions and were originally formed to guard against unfair business practices.
b. Others were created to protect the public’s safety and quality of life.
3. Government corporations perform services that theoretically could be handled by the private sector, but for some reason Congress believes the public will be better served if these corporations have some link to the federal government.
B. Most bureaucrats who work for the federal government are hired under the requirements of the civil service.
1. The civil service was created to reduce patronage in the awarding of federal jobs. Jobs are filled on the basis of merit instead.
2. Civil servants mirror the population in terms of education, income, and age. At the highest levels of the civil service, however, we find a disproportionate percentage of white males and those born into higher-status families.
C. Presidents can appoint less than one percent of all executive branch employees, although the ones they appoint fill the top policy-making positions.
1. Presidents feel that they have insufficient control over the executive branch and would like to fill a larger number of positions in government.
2. On the surface it makes sense that increasing the number of political appointments would make the bureaucracy more responsive to the president. However, pluralism may pull agencies in a different direction. For example, the Department of Transportation may favor mass transit, but it cannot afford to ignore the policy preferences of highway builders.
III. Administrative policy-making: formal processes
A. The latitude that Congress gives agencies to make policy in the spirit of their legislative mandate is called administrative discretion.
1. Critics of bureaucracy frequently complain that agencies are granted too much discretion.
2. Some critics say that agencies are “out of control” and a “power unto themselves.” But these claims are often exaggerated.
a. Congress is often vague in its policy directive when it establishes a new agency or program. Administrative discretion is not a fixed commodity.
b. When agencies do something that Congress does not like, it can rein in that agency. Congress can use its “power of the purse,” or control over an agency’s budget, to express its preferences.
c. Moreover, informal contacts between legislators and administrators lead to compromise and consensus in agency policy-making.
3. Some critics complain that the bureaucracy does not have enough discretion and that the many layers of rules governing agency behavior create inflexibility.
B. The policy-making discretion that Congress gives to agencies is usually exercised through rule making. These administrative procedures result in the issuance of regulations.
1. Because they are authorized by congressional statutes, regulations have the force of law.
2. When agencies issue regulations, they are first published as proposals so that all interested parties have an opportunity to comment on them.
3. Regulations are controversial because they force people and businesses to act in certain prescribed ways, often against their own self-interest.
IV. Administrative policy-making: informal politics
A. In his classic article, “The Science of Muddling Through,” Charles Lindblom compared policy-making in the real world and in the ideal world, and he highlighted the difficulties bureaucracies have in trying to reach rational decisions.
1. The ideal, rational-comprehensive model holds that administrators can rank values, clarify objectives, explore all possible solutions, and choose the most effective means to the desired goal.
2. Real-world decision making does not meet these criteria.
B. Agency policymakers encounter a number of constraints.
1. Precisely defining values and goals is often difficult.
2. Agency policymakers cannot always select the most effective means to the desired ends.
3. Problems are often too pressing to wait for a complete study.
C. The behavior of bureaucrats is frequently a source of irritation. They often act “bureaucratically” by going by the book.
1. Bureaucrats are affected by the norms and rules of their agencies.
2. Actually, if bureaucrats were highly independent and interpreted rules as they pleased we might find it distressing.
V. Problems in policy implementation
A. Many factors can influence the implementation of programs and policies in the field. Vague directives to bureaucrats in the field are one source of difficulty.
B. Faulty coordination can occur when programs cut across the jurisdiction of many agencies or lack coordination between national and state or local officials.
C. Implementation is an incremental process in which trial and error eventually lead to policies that work.
VI. Reforming the bureaucracy
A. The newest wave of reform is based on a best-selling book, Reinventing Government, by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler (New York: Plume Books, 1993). The book’s ideas have been adopted by the Clinton administration and by many state and local governments around the nation.
B. Deregulation is a reform championed by conservatives who prefer less government involvement in the economy.
1. Deregulation of the long-distance telephone industry has led to a competitive market for long-distance service. Soon, consumers will also see the effects of deregulation of local telephone service.
2. Deciding the appropriate level of deregulation in an agency such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is more difficult. How do we balance the need for careful evaluation of prescription drugs with the need to relieve the suffering of those being denied access to new drugs during the FDA evaluation?
C. Making government smaller and reducing its regulatory activities can entail serious risks. Government must balance the freedom of the marketplace with appropriate regulation to protect the public.
D. In addition to regulating for a responsible marketplace, government must increase the efficiency and responsiveness of its own bureaucracies. Some government agencies are imitating the private sector by employing total quality management (TQM) methods.
1. TQM relies on employee teamwork.
2. It also emphasizes that the client is a “customer.”
3. One problem for government is to decide who is the client. Is the FDA’s client the person with AIDS or the pharmaceutical company?