Political Science 1100, Introduction to American Politics, March 17, 2014



Current events




Congress: From the Institution's Point of View

- Congress was designed to be the heart and soul of American national government

The Problem:
    How can you make an institution work when all its members "go it alone" and often resist cooperation?

- Parties and Leaders help make members cooperate and make it work

- But Committees, Rules, and Norms often frustrate leaders and
   make it even harder for members to cooperate 


1. The Problem: How do you get individual members of Congress to cooperate? 


    Remember, to pass a law,
    you have to get majority approval in both the House of Representatives and the Senate
        - and in identical form



2. The Leaders of the Political Parties in Congress
    must make Congress work and members cooperate  

- 1). Congressional Leaders are Political Party Leaders (but the parties are weaker)


- 2). What do leaders use to control the organization


- a) Persuasion

- b) Agenda Setting

- c) Committee Assignments

- d) Information: The Whip System

- e) Logrolling

- f) Access To The President


        - 3). Party Discipline



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




Presidents and the Presidency


1. The Mythical Presidency




    Why has the Mythical Presidency developed?




2. The Reality of the Presidency: Who are the Presidents?







A. Presidents are only Human






    1). Presidentsí Personalities Vary






    2). Presidents' Political & Administrative Skills Vary

-Presidential Leadership Requires Management and Sales Skills


 Presidential Leadership

Selling Skills:




Management Skills



Franklin Roosevelt


Nixon, Bush



Reagan, Clinton 




3. The Reality of Presidential Powers: Using the Presidency is Difficult


A). Emergency Powers / Military Leadership

- Can accomplish goals directly and quickly


- must use these powers briefly and successfully, or risk
substantial loss of support


B). Appointment

Can appoint 2500 top administrators
when the President takes office


- the Senate must approve these appointments
- the President appoints only 1% of federal employees
- 2500 loyal and competent appointees are hard to find in three months

C). Reorganizing Government

- Can try to improve bureaus' performance


- Congress must approve major reorganizations
- Reorganization may not change bureaus at all

D). The Power to Set The Legislative Agenda

- To determine some of Congress's priorities


- Congress can change or ignore Presidential proposals


E). Party Leadership:

- To rally the "party-in-government" and end gridlock


- American government was designed to make this difficult
- Legislators who now can "go it alone"

F). The Veto

- To stop Congressional actions
- To change laws by threatening a veto
- Only 4% of Presidential vetoes are overridden


- The veto can only stop something from happening -
it is only a negative power


G). Publicity


- To build personal popularity


-Popularity can swing widely

4. The Presidency as An Invitation To Tragedy


- We expect Presidents to Use the Presidency Actively, but

   the Presidency is hard to Use
- there are lots of constraints on Presidential Power


Presidents will use the tools that are easiest to use.



  Presidents can most easily control National Security and Publicity, so ... 

We tend to get

1). The Covert Presidency:

- Presidents are tempted to abuse "national security"
to achieve their goals


2). The Permanent Campaign:

- Presidents are tempted to manage their image
instead of improving public policy