Congress is created in Article I of the Constitution. It is the branch that makes the law, declares war and approves a budget. Unlike the presidency with its focus on one individual, the congressional branch has a House of Representatives and a United States Senate. There are 535 members of the House and 100 in the Senate (two from each state) so it is a very complex institution. The 2017-2018 Congress was controlled by the Republicans as was the presidency under Donald Trump. However, as a result of the 2018 Mid-term elections, the House of Representatives is now controlled by the Democrats while the Republicans still have a majority in the United States Senate.
The Chapter begins with a discussion of the differences in representation between the House and the Senate (starts on page 473) which is a significant factor in understanding how Congress operates. Note that the Congress is bicameral as opposed to unicameral. The demographic breakdown in the Congress is interesting and important as well. There is a good summary of this information on page 477 in “Who Are the Members of Congress”.
On page 479 begins a discussion of who runs for Congress and the power of the incumbent in usually getting reelected time and again. On page 486 is the beginning of the discussion of the organization of the Congress and the critical role of the political party system and the leadership positions in both houses of Congress. These include the Speaker of the House, Majority and Minority Leaders in both houses of Congress (and Majority and Minority Whips) and the role of the Vice President in the Senate as presiding officer.
The Committee system is also important (begins on page 488) as this is how the Congress functions in terms of reviewing, writing and passing legislation. There is a good chart on page 493 on how a bill becomes a law, a difficult process most of the time. Note also the filibuster and cloture available in the Senate (not the House) , the Conference committee and the options available to a president when legislation reaches his desk.
Beginning on page 507 there is a discussion of other important congressional powers involving “oversight”, advice and consent (mostly the Senate) and impeachment and removal (both the House and Senate participate in this process). All are important and useful to review.
The Chapter opens with this statement: “Congress is the most important representative institution in American government.” (p. 473).
Why is this so, and why is the Congress more “representative” than the presidency, the federal courts or state and local governments? How does representation work within the Congress? What are some of the competing interests within the congressional system (such as political parties, regional and policy differences among members of Congress) that create and sustain conflict and the inability to often resolve those differences to fulfill the responsibilities of Congress such as making laws, passing budgets and the “oversight” function mentioned in the Chapter?
What do you see as possible ways to reform how Congress operates to make it more efficient, effective and responsive to the will of the people? Consider the political conflicts between Democrats and Republicans if you wish and the ongoing debate over The Affordable Care Act (Obama Care), immigration, spending, tax reform, the deficit and the significant differences between these two parties and their opposing visions of the role of government in American life as revealed in the differing views expressed during the election of November, 2016 and for Congress (midterm elections) in 2018. Reflect on the challenges facing Congress during 2019-2020 session in which both the Senate is controlled by the Republicans and the House of Representatives is controlled by the Democrats.