Political Science 1100, Introduction to American Politics, October 14, 2013



Current events





Congress is very unpopular -

But almost all the incumbents will be reelected this November!

Why doesn't Congress work better?

Let's look at it from two points of view

    - From a Member's point of view

    - From the Institution's point of view


Congress from a Member's Point of View

1.The Job 


2. Getting the Job

     Remember: Most members run a candidate-centered campaign

3. Why do Incumbents win?

    A. Because they act in a way that helps them win

1)      Claiming credit

2)      Providing Services

3)      Taking Popular Positions


    B. Because the organization of Congress helps incumbents


   C. Because incumbency helps them raise money and build a warchest

- Early Fundraising Discourages Good Opponents


    D. How do Incumbents lose?

- Changed Constituencies


- Misconduct


- Mid-term Election waves against incumbents


Congress: From the Institution's Point of View



Congressional Leaders, 113th Congress




House of Representatives
(Republican Majority)

Speaker: John Boehner (Ohio)

Majority Leader:
Eric Cantor (Virginia)

Minority Leader:
Nancy Pelosi (California)

(Democratic Majority)

Majority Leader:
Harry Reid (Nevada)

Minority Leader:  
Mitch McConnell (Kentucky)



3. Committees And Subcommittees


    a) Most of Congress's work is divided up and given to
        Committees And Subcommittees


    b) Committees And Subcommittees therefore
       are Central to The Law-Making Process


   c) Standing Committees



   d) Other Committees



   e) Committees And Subcommittees Decentralize Congress

      often make cooperation very difficult because they resist control  

4. Rules

    a) Rules Make It Easy To Obstruct The Law-Making Process

        Examples: Senate Filibusters

    b) Rules That Overcome Congressional Obstacles Are Hard To Use

        Examples: Cloture

5. Conclusions About Congress

        A. Policy-Making Biases

        1) Parochialism

        2) Incrementalism

        3) Driven by Crisis

     B. Bad People, or Normal People In A Peculiar Institution?

We Distrust Congress, But We Tend To Like Our Individual Representatives

    D. These biases can be overcome  -- with Leadership And Public Support