POSC385Eksterowicz - James Madison University

POSC 385 The Congress
Anthony J. Eksterowicz
Department of Political Science
James Madison University
Office G-12 Maury Hall
Phone Ext.: 3770
Office Hours:
The Founders intended for the legislative branch to be the premiere branch of
government. Currently, it is no longer self evident that the United States Congress can
adequately perform the tasks of public policy generation, oversight of bureaucracy and
representation of the people. The public's opinion of the Congress is the lowest of any political
institution in the modern era. This, in part, has led to the greatest change since the 1950s,
Republican control of the House of Representatives in 1994 and the Senate. Voters have clearly
lost patience with the modern Congress. Furthermore the modern Congress has lost its premier
status to the executive branch of government. In short, a de facto constitutional rearrangement
has occurred. These trends have continued throughout the late 1990s with the House
impeachment of President Clinton and the historic presidential election which turned the Senate
back to Democrat control in just 136 days of the new Bush Administration. Party rule now rests
precariously upon several moderate and older or ancient senators, e.g. Robert Byrd ( D.W Va.),
Strom Thurmond (R. S.C.).
The problem of the modern Congress is twofold. First, within the Congress itself, a
movement towards fragmentation began shortly after the turn of the century. The Congress
evolved from party government to committee government and finally to sub-committee
government in the 1960s and 1970s. This movement towards fragmentation has hindered public
policy-making, representation and oversight of the bureaucracy. In the modern Congress there
are hundreds of power centers concerning hundreds of issues. So much so that it is difficult for
the average citizen to affix legislative responsibility. Hence, democratic accountability suffers.
Members of Congress are increasingly being elected with funds generated by interest groups and
political action committees (PACs) leading to the perception (if not the fact) of influence
peddling on the part of these special interests.
The committees of Congress are less cohesive than in previous historical eras. Because
individual congresspeople are being elected increasingly with PAC and special interest money,
there appears to be less room for them to cut legislative deals. To compound this problem, in the
early 1970s, as a reaction to Watergate, a large number of ideological liberals were elected. In
the early 1980s and now again after the 1994 and subsequent elections, large numbers of
ideological conservatives were elected to Congress. Thus, on many issues, Congress finds itself
split or ideologically polarized. Debates have become quite acrimonious in recent years. Bills are
increasingly subject to challenge on the House and Senate floors. Sometimes a kind of
conditional party government can be exercised by the leadership of the parties but other times it
cannot. Public policy-making has suffered. Furthermore, as the number of power centers within
the Congress has increased, the overlap in oversight responsibilities has also increased. Oversight
responsibilities have become part of congressional "turf wars" to the detriment of proper
legislative oversight responsibilities.
Second, the relationship of the Congress to the Presidency has undergone a profound
transformation in this century. The Presidency is now considered the premier office of our
federal government. Over the years the Congress has relinquished power to the Presidency. In
the 1920s, it gave the president the power to prepare and submit a budget. Over the years, it
relinquished many of its powers over foreign policy, including, some would argue, the power to
wage war. This transformation of the congressional/executive relationship may imply dire
consequences for our democratic republic. It has already led to two constitutional crises;
Watergate and Iran Contra. The Founders warned us against the dangers of concentrating power
in one branch of government. The debates between James Madison and his faith in the Congress
and Alexander Hamilton with his beliefs in executive prerogatives are but a testament to this
fact. While our nation rejected the Hamiltonian vision of the presidency in its early years, today
it seems as though Hamilton's ideas are embodied in the modern Presidency. Perhaps Watergate
and the Iran Contra Affair should serve as reminders of the dangers of Presidential government.
All is not bleak here. The recent end of the Cold War is forcing a reassessment of Presidential
government since one of the justifications for such government was the context of the Soviet
threat. However, during the past ten years the Presidency may have moved from being an "
imperial" institution to one in grave danger of being "imperiled". Divided government and a
more assertive Congress all within the context of enormous international change has posed
problems for the modern presidency. The recent House impeachment inquiry concerning the
Clinton Administration serves nicele as an example here. The presidential election of 2000 with
President Bush assuming office without a mandate and under questionable circumstances serves
as another example. What effect will the election of 2000 have upon the Bush Administration as
it attempts to govern? Perhaps the Hamiltonian model so useful during the Cold War has been
altered to a Madisonian model more suited to the give and take between the branches during the
post Cold War era. Skills of inter-branch collaboration need to be developed to confront this
danger.Sadly, occupants of the Office of the Presidency have not demonstrated a high level of
such skills.
The purpose of this course is to examine the inner workings of Congress and its
relationship to other branches and actors within the process of American government. This
course, however, strives to do more. It seeks to examine the current structure of Congress with
an eye towards needed reforms. For example, there is considerable consensus concerning the
need for some form of centralization in the Congress. The new Republican majority passed
reforms in this area. How well did they do? We shall examine many of the proposed reforms
concerning Congress and document their strong and weak points. Students should know that
reforms concerning the relationship between the executive and legislative branches are a major
focus of this instructor's research agenda and have been for the past five years. I will incorporate
my research into the classroom lectures. Students should be aware of the delicate and necessary
research agenda as it impacts their learning experience. I have included a vita in this learning
packet for these purposes. The belief of this instructor is that research and teaching go hand in
hand and should comprise the bulk of a student's university experience. If we, as instructors, are
not researching and writing how can we expect you to do so?
Perhaps the question that we must ask ourselves as citizens is how can we strive to
institute a government by the people? An understanding of the answer to this question may have
to precede any or all reform attempts. In essence, how can we, as a nation, inspire greater
political participation ? We must critically evaluate our current form of government. If we fail,
we must then be content to live with future Watergate and Iran Contras and perhaps personal
presidential scandals, weak presidencies and impeachment attempts. Unfortunately, there seems
to be an attitude developing in America that the present system is the best we can do. Therefore
future constitutional crises are inevitable. There may be one way to generate greater citizen
participation and that idea rests with the concept of a citizen's assembly. As we shall see there is
nothing inevitable about this idea. It depends upon interested citizens who are willing to
critically examine our government. Citizens who believe that an unexamined society is not worth
living in. This, after all, is the essence of democracy.
1. William J. Keefe and Morris S. Ogul, The American Legislative Process
: Congress And The States, Tenth Edition, Prentice Hall, 2000.
2. Lawerence C. Dodd and Bruce I. Oppenheimer,
Reconsidered, 7th ed. CQ Press, 2001, ISBN: 1-56802-487-8.
3. Leroy N. Rieselbach, Congressional Reform, Congressional Quarterly
Press, Washington D.C., 1995, (Reprints available at Campus Copy
Center or Bookstore)
4. Student learning package available at Copy Center.
This course is constructed with the word balance in mind. It recognizes the need
for dissemination of information through lectures and the need for the discussion of
ideas. On Monday and Wednesday (Tuesday and part of Thursday on a
Tuesday/Thursday schedule), the course will be conducted via lectures and media
presentations. Each Friday session (or latter part of a Thusday session) will be devoted
to classroom discussions based on the reading material assigned for the week. We
should note that discussion is crucial for students will be given a discussion grade. Over
the years I have designated other days as discussion days. Monday as a discussion
day was a disaster. Students were simply not prepared after the weekend. Wednesday
was inadequate because it split the lecture days and thus interrupted any continuity built
into the lectures and film presentations. Thus we are left with Friday as discussion day.
Unfortunately on a Tuesday/Thursday schedule we must split lecture from discussion
and proceede in the best manner we can. Students are expected to attend these
discussion sessions and to come prepared by reading the assigned works. Questions
will be directed at students based upon the material. They will be judged upon their
mastery of this material. One night, during a mutually agreeable date, a movie entitled,
The Candidate, will be presented. Students are expected to attend this session. There
is also the possibility of attending a talk by a high level official of the Clinton
The evaluation instruments also represent an attempt at balance. There will be
two essay examinations during the regular weekly sessions - one at the midterm point
and one after the first week on the topic of congressional reform. There will be a choice
of essays from a list of essay questions on each exam. There will also be a third, final,
exam given during final exam week. This exam will be composed of 50 objective
multiple choice questions. This final exam will be cumulative. Everyone must take the
final exam. It will cover the textbooks, lectures, media presentations and discussions.
Emphasis will be placed on the textbooks for this final. Because of this cumulative final
the lowest examination score on one of the two essays will be dropped. Thus only two
exams will count towards the final grade. The objective final is useful for students
having trouble with essay exams or those who simply, for whatever reasons, have
performed inadequately on the essay exams. Note that in the end, only two exams will
count towards the final grade. These exams will each be worth 30% of your grade for a
total of 60%.
A term paper is also required for this course. It will comprise 35% of the student's
grade. Requirements for the term paper are addressed in a separate section of this
package. A proposed outline for the paper will be due on the 15th of October for the Fall
semester and the first Monday or Tuesday in March for the Spring semester. One point
of the student's grade will be allocated for the "on time" submission of this outline. The
final paper is due on Monday three weeks before the last day of regular weekly classes.
The approximate length of the paper will be 15 word processed double spaced pages.
NOTE: I will rigidly hold students accountable to the above dates concerning the term
Four points or 4% will be allocated for classroom discussions. 4 = outstanding,
discussion leader, 3 = good, actively participates in discussion on a regular basis, 2 =
average participation, sometimes participates sometimes does not, 1 = below average,
0 = vegetation, chia pet syndrome.
There is an attendance policy for this course and it also strives for balance.
Students will get three "free" cuts during the semester. Please use them wisely. If any
student misses more than three classes he or she will lose 5 points subtracted from
their final averaged grade for the course.
1. Introduction and Overview of Congress; Keefe and Ogul, Chapter One,
Dodd and Oppenheimer (D&O) Chapter Three.
2. Theoretical Foundations of the Legislative Branch: Constitutional
underpinnings, Structures and Powers; Keefe and Ogul, Chapter Two;
D&O Chapter Ten and Eleven.
3. History and Evolution of Congress: Representation and Appointment;
Keefe and Ogul, Chapter Three, D&O, Chapter 8 and 15.
4. Inner Workings of Congress : The Committee and Sub-Committee
System; FILM: An Act Of Congress; Keefe and Ogul Chapters Six and
Seven; D&O Chapter Six and Nine.
5. Inner Workings of Congress: Parties, Caucuses, State Delegations,
Staff, Leadership Positions, Decision Making; Keefe and Ogul Chapters
Eight and Nine; D&O Chapters One and Two.
6. Congressional Campaigning ; The Quest for Office. FILM: Negative
Campaign Adds; Keefe and Ogul Chapter Four; D&O Chapter Four.
7. Congressional Campaigning Continued; FILM: The Candidate; Keefe
and Ogul Chapter Five; D&O Chapter Twelve.
8. Congress and Bureaucratic Oversight; Keefe and Ogul, Chapter
Twelve; D&O .
9. Congress and the President : The Continual Struggle; Keefe and Ogul,
Chapter Eleven; D&O Chapter Thirteen.
10. Lobbying and the Congress; FILM: PACs; Keefe and Ogul, Chapter
Ten. D&O Chapter Five.
11. Congress and Public Policy: Foreign Policy and Taxes; FILM: Tax
Reform of 1985; Legislative Judicial Relations; Keefe and Ogul, Chapter
Thirteen; D&O Chapter Fourteen.
12. Congressional Reform: The Need For Reform And Assessment of
Post Watergate Reforms; Rieselbach, pp. 1-79; Keefe and Ogul, Chapter
Fourteen; D&O Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen.
13. Congressional Reform; Evaluation of Reform Proposals--Presentation
of a Minipopulus; Rieselbach, pp. 70-155; D&O Chapter Seven.