US Congress

CMC Gov 101, Spring 2011 

Monday and Wednesday 2:45-4:00 Classroom:  Roberts North 105

J.J. Pitney -- Office: D16 Center Court

Telephone: 909/607-4224

Office Hours:  Monday and Wednesday 11AM-noon, 4:15-5:15 PM 

If these times are inconvenient, please make an appointment

 Email: jpitney@cmc.edu  Alternate email:  profpitney@yahoo.com

http://www.claremontmckenna.edu/facultysites/govt/FacMember/JPitney/

See also my Congress Links page.

 

General

Like a vast picture thronged with figures of equal prominence and crowded with elaborate and obtrusive details, Congress is hard to see satisfactorily and appreciatively at a single view and from a single stand-point.  Its complicated forms and diversified structure confuse the vision, and conceal the system which underlies its composition.  It is too complex to be understood without effort, without a careful and systematic process of analysis.       

             -- Woodrow Wilson, Congressional Government 

In this course, we shall undertake such analysis.  We shall ask how lawmakers behave at home and on Capitol Hill.  We shall study Congress's procedures and structures, with an eye to explaining why some bills pass while others languish. 

Classes 

Class sessions will include lecture and discussion.  Finish each week's readings before class because our discussions will involve those readings.  We shall also talk about breaking news stories about Congress, so you must read a good daily news source such as Politico or Real Clear Politics.

Blog

Our class blog is at http://gov101.blogspot.com.  I shall post videos, graphs, news stories, and other material there.  We shall use some of this material in class, and you may review the rest at your convenience.   You will all receive invitations to post to the blog.  (Please let me know if you do not get such an invitation.)  I encourage you to use the blog in these ways:

As part of your class participation grade, all students must post to the blog at least twice.

Grades

 The following will make up your course grade:

Three three-page papers:     

15% each   
In-class exam:      20% 
Simulation & writeup 25%
Class participation/blog:   10%

Details

Required Books

Schedule  The schedule is subject to change, with advance notice. 

Jan 19:  Introduction

"Ron Howard is about to make a risky career move. His friend and collaborator, Russell Crowe, is waxing poetic about Franklin Roosevelt, the New Deal and laws passed by Parliament to battle the Great Depression when Howard musters the courage to interrupt the star. `Pssst,' Howard says, leaning over, his mouth cupped. `It's Congress. Congress passes the laws in the U.S.'" -- USA Today 5-24-05

What are the major functions of Congress?

Jan 24, 26: Two Chambers, Two Congresses     

"Larry, you know, one of the things that's most troublesome to me, having come from a state legislature, is the lack of interaction between the House and the Senate. You know, there's just an institutional barrier there. And I tell you this, I'm not really sure what's going on." -- Rep. Barney Frank (D--MA)

Do lawmakers present different faces on Capitol Hill and at home? What are the major differences between the House and Senate? 

FIRST 3-PAGE ESSAY ASSIGNED JAN 26, DUE FEBRUARY 9.  

READ STRUNK AND WHITE FIRST.

Jan 31, Feb 2: Leaders and Parties

“`Reporters underestimate how powerful the calendar is,' says Jim Manley, the former communications director for Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader. `Say you want to break a filibuster. On Monday, you file cloture on a motion to proceed for a vote on Wednesday. Assuming you get it, your opponents are allowed 30 hours of debate post-cloture on the motion to proceed. That takes you to Friday, and doesn’t cover amendments. The following Monday you file cloture on the bill itself, vote Wednesday, then 30 more hours of debate, and suddenly two weeks have gone by, for something that’s not even controversial.'” -- Joshua Green

Do leaders drive the rank-and-file members, or merely reflect their views?  What is the connection between congressional parties and electoral parties? How does majority or minority status change the way lawmakers do their work?

Feb 7, 9: Elections I             

"I think Katrina just did us a big favor, to be crass about it." -- Then-DCCC chair Rahm Emanuel, 2005.

Who runs for the House and Senate? How do House and Senate elections differ?

Feb 14, 16: Elections II

"When I asked Boehner whether he saw the Republican victory of 2010, which was at least as decisive as Gingrich’s, as a mandate, he seemed almost to recoil. `No, no, noooooo,' he said. `I have watched people in the past deal with this issue, whether it’s Speaker Gingrich, or Speaker Pelosi, or President Obama. And we made a very conscious decision that we were not going to go down that path. The tone that we set is very important. You saw it on Election Night, and you’ve seen it since.'" -- Peter J. Boyer

How does a "wave" election differ from an "all politics is local" election?  Why did the GOP take the House in 2010?

ONE-PAGE MEMO ON SIMULATION ROLE DUE FEBRUARY 16.

 

SECOND 3-PAGE PAPER ASSIGNED FEBRUARY 16, DUE MARCH 2.

Feb 21, 23:  Legislative Process and Rhetoric  

“If you let me write procedure and I let you write substance, I'll screw you every time.” -- Rep. John Dingell (D-MI)     

How does the majority try to control the floor?  How can the minority overcome the majority's procedural advantage?  How does Congress deliberate on issues?     

Feb 28, Mar 2: Power of the Purse 

"We threw this big banana into the gorilla cage and they’re going to pick it up, play with it, mash it, but they’re gonna eat some of it. They can’t avoid eating some of it because of where they’re headed." -- Alan Simpson

How does Congress manage budgets, appropriations, and revenue legislation?  How do budgetary and policy goals shape each other? Can Congress prevent catastrophic levels of debt?

Mar 7, 9: Congress and the Executive I

"I've always been fond of the saying that when it comes to oversight and reform, the federal government does two things well: nothing and overreact. Too often, a problem is allowed to fester until it reaches a crisis point. . ..and the American people are left asking the question: what went wrong and why?" -- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)

In the struggle between Congress and the president, what circumstances favor each side?  How does the president try to influence Congress?

IN-CLASS EXAM MAR 9

Mar 14, 16: Spring Break

Mar 21, 23:  Congress and the Executive II

"In phonemarking, a lawmaker calls an agency to request financing for a project. More indirectly, members of Congress make use of what are known as soft earmarks, which involve making suggestions about where money should be directed, instead of explicitly instructing agencies to finance a project. Members also push for increases in financing of certain accounts in a federal agency’s budget and then forcefully request that the agency spend the money on the members’ pet project." -- Ron Nixon, New York Times

How do bureaucratic and congressional structures affect each other?  Do "iron triangles" actually exist?  How well does Congress oversee the bureaucracy?

Mar 28-31: Legislative Simulation -- Legislative sessions may run from Monday through Friday nights.  Leave evenings open. 

"Indeed, as time has passed, life has begun to imitate art. Adam Kokesh CMC ’07 and Craig McPherson CMC ’06 are both alums of the simulation, playing Ted Kennedy and Pat Roberts respectively. Both are currently running for the U.S. House of Representatives."  -- Jesse Blumenthal

Apr 4, 6:  Students' Choice

"Depending on whose party is running the show, the arguments about how judges should be confirmed has gone back and forth like a windshield wiper. When the GOP was out of power, Republicans pounded the table about their responsibility to study the records of the nominees, while the Democrats insisted the president deserved deference. Flip things around and — boom — the Republicans want deference and the Dems bust out the Federalist Papers." -- Jonah Goldberg

In this week, we shall discuss readings and topics of students' choosing.

April 11, 13: National Security, Homeland Security, and Foreign Policy 

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong. Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball. -- Jeff Stein interview with Silvestre Reyes, then-chair of the House Intelligence Committee

 

Can Congress effectively check the executive branch in wartime?  Do lawmakers have the expertise and information to make decisions about national and homeland security?

SIMULATION WRITEUP DUE APRIL 13.

Apr 18, 20: Reviewing Congressional History I

"It quickly became clear that there is nothing new or unusual about the pattern of sharp partisanship shown in the past two presidential elections and in the frequent battles on Capitol Hill. David Brady of Stanford University made the point that the late 19th century and parts of the 20th century were also times of party warfare; the anomaly was the relative truce for roughly 25 years after World War II."  -- David Broder

How does today's Congress compare with that of the past?  Have lawmakers gotten better or worse?

THIRD 3-PAGE ESSAY ASSIGNED APRIL 20, DUE MAY 4.

April 25, 27:  Reviewing Congressional History II

"It may take courage to battle one's president, one's party, or the overwhelming sentiment of one's nation; but these do not compare, it seems to me, to the courage required of the Senate defying the angry power of the very constituents who control his future."  -- John F. Kennedy

How had divided government worked since the Second World War?  Why has polarization waxed and waned? 

May 2, 4:  Summing Up

"The halls of Congress are wonderful, much like Wonka's factory. Capitol Hill features its own alluring versions of chocolate rivers, lickable wallpaper and edible grass. The temptations are great. TV cameras and klieg lights offer the beacon of fame. K Street lobbyists command your attention. People want to donate to your campaign." -- Chad Pergram

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