Congress in Context

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The U.S. Congress is by far the least popular branch of the federal government. It is also probably the least understood. It is not uncommon for high-ranking government officials to be confused about the workings of the institution and how it exercises its power. This book aims to demystify the institution-to give readers a succinct yet sophisticated overview of Congress and the policymaking process. Instead of treating Congress as an entity isolated from the rest of government, Congress in Context introduces readers to Congress’s critical role as part of an interdependent system. Using the metaphor of Congress as a board of directors, author John Haskell explains the three key roles of Congress within the federal government-authorizing what government does, funding its activities, and, when it sees fit, supervising or “conducting oversight” on those activities. Grounded in current political science literature and packed with real-life examples, Congress in Context offers readers an informed and practical understanding of policymaking in the legislative branch.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Haskell’s Congress in Context offers faculty a terrific alternative for courses on Congress. It carefully balances depth and breadth, while remaining both substantive and engaging. It features exceptionally clear and accessible presentations of topics that students normally find confounding, such as the budget process and legislative procedure.” —Garry Young, George Washington University
Congress in Context is a very nice textbook. It is sharply written, very current, achieves a nice balance between details and over-arching themes, and is pitched at just the right level for classroom use. Haskell combines the insights of a keen observer of the inner workings of Washington with an experienced teacher’s instincts of how to relay information to college students. He places Congress squarely within the political context of modern Washington and explains not only how Congress works, but why students should care.” —L. Marvin Overby, University of Missouri
Congress in Context lives up to its title. John Haskell does an excellent job of putting the institution in its historical, legal, and constitutional context. He does particularly fine work in explaining the power of the purse. His deep knowledge and lively prose lend clarity to a topic that can confuse even longtime Washington hands. His approach is realistic without being cynical, serious without being grave. Readers of this book will come away with a richer understanding of the powers and limitations of Congress.” —John J. Pitney, Jr., Claremont McKenna College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813344126
  • Publisher: Westview Press
  • Publication date: 2/16/2010
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 440
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

John Haskell is Senior Fellow at the Government Affairs Institute in Washington, D.C. He has written several articles on presidential and congressional politics, and is the author of Fundamentally Flawed, an examination of the presidential nomination process.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Preface xv

Acknowledgments xix

1 Congress as the Board of Directors 1

Five Examples of the Federal Government in Action 1

Example 1 Keeping Tabs on the Fish We Eat 2

Example 2 Combating Drugs and Gangs 3

Example 3 Joint Military Training Goes High-Tech 3

Example 4 Controlling Animals 4

Example 5 Providing Recreational Opportunities in the Heartland 5

Congress as the Board of Directors 6

Laying Down the Law 6

Holding the Purse Strings 8

Congress in a Separated System 10

Congress and the Execution of the Law 12

The Executive Branch and the Legislative Process 12

The Plan of the Book 14

2 The Nature of Congress 19

The Nature of Congress, Part I: Two Distinct Responsibilities 20

The Legislative Role 20

The Representative Role 22

Reconciling the Two Roles: The Publics Mixed Feelings 24

Interest Groups and the Representative Role 33

Two Roles, One Field of Vision 40

Conclusion: The Primacy of the Representative Role 47

The Nature of Congress, Part II: House and Senate 48

The Great Compromise 49

The House of Representatives 52

The Senate 64

House and Senate Organization and the Pressures of the Legislative Representative Roles 71

Conclusion 73

3 Congressional Elections 77

The Electoral Connection 79

Example 1 Senator Stevens and America's Forty-Ninth State 79

Example 2 Representative Murtha Looks After Johnstown Pennsylvania 79

Example 3 Mississippi's Bennie Thompson and the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 80

Running for Congress 81

Eligibility 81

Deciding to Run 83

The Work of the Parry Committees 85

Protecting the Freshman Members 87

The Geographical Context of Congressional Elections 90

House Apportionment 90

Partisan Gerrymandering 92

Sweetheart Gerrymandering 95

Racial Gerrymandering 96

Senate "Districts" 98

The Incumbency Advantage 98

Institutional Advantages 99

Political Advantages 101

The Incumbency Advantage: The Bottom Line 102

Financing the Campaign 103

The Fund-Raising Burden 103

Political Action Committees 108

Parry Committees 110

Putting It All Together 112

Campaign Themes and Issues 113

Primary and General Elections 113

The Stakes in Congressional Elections 119

The Landscape 121

National Trends 121

Conclusion: The Board of Directors and the Continuous Campaign 124

4 Congress as the Board of Directors: Authorizing the Work of Government 129

The Authorizing Power 132

The Authorizing Committees 132

Authorizing Legislation: Exerting Control over Government Policy 137

Case Study: Congress Restructures the Intelligence Community 150

Authorizing Direct Spending 152

The Legislative Process 157

The Legislative Process Resembles Baseball, Not Football 160

Scheduling Legislation 161

Key Stages in the Legislative Process: The House 166

Key Stages in the Legislative Process: The Senate 175

Reconciling the Differences 182

Congress and the Authorizing Power 186

The State of the Authorization Process: The Spending Continues- Sometimes Without the Thinking 186

Authorizes Usurp Their Rivals: The Increase in Mandatory Spending 189

Conclusion 190

5 Congress as the Board of Directors: Funding the Government 195

The Budget Pie 198

The President's Budget: Kicking Off the Congressional Budget Process 202

Putting the President's Budget Together 203

Congress Responds: The Concurrent Budget Resolution 205

What Does the Budget Resolution Do? 206

The Budget Process Is Created 207

The Early Stages of the Process 209

The Components of the Budget Resolution 210

Passing the Budget Resolution 211

The Reconciliation Process 213

The Appropriations Process 215

The Appropriations Committees 215

The Subcommittee Hearings 217

The All-Important 302(a) and 302(b) Allocations 218

Marking Up the Appropriations Bills 220

The Rules Committee and the House Floor 221

Appropriations Bills in the Senate 224

The Conference Committee Stage 225

Looking at Appropriations Bills 227

Supplemental Appropriations 234

Earmarks in Appropriations Bills 235

The Power of the Purse 237

The Breakdown of the Budget Process 238

Not Enough Money 239

Policy and Politics 240

The Specter of a Government Shutdown 241

Continuing Resolutions and Omnibus Appropriations 242

Congress and the Funding Power 242

Does Congress Budget Responsibly? 242

Does Congress Need to Start Balancing the Budget? 244

A Time of Surpluses 245

What Is So Hard About Balancing the Budget? 246

The Growing Entitlement Programs 247

Is There Any Hope? 248

Conclusion 250

6 Congress as the Board of Directors: Oversight of the Executive Branch 255

Congressional Oversight Authority 258

The Two Central Purposes of Oversight 258

The Statutory Bases of Oversight 259

Methods of Congressional Oversight 262

Congressional Hearings 264

Congressional Investigations 275

Case Study: Congress Investigates: The Senate and the IRS 277

Oversight in Legislation and Report Language 281

The Government Accountability Office and Oversight 286

The Inspectors General 288

The Government Performance and Results Act 290

Informal Methods of Oversight 290

Conclusion: The Politics of Congressional Oversight 291

Members and Program Efficiency 292

Discerning a Pattern to Congressional Oversight 293

7 The Board of Directors Meets its Match: War Powers 299

The Board of Directors: Domestic Powers and War Powers 302

Congress Versus the President 304

The Constitutional Provisions 304

The Case for Congress 305

The Case for Presidential Prerogative 308

Two Key Dimensions of the Presidential Advantage 315

Congress Attempts to Flex Its Muscles 318

The 1973 War Powers Act 318

Exercising the Power of the Purse: The Iran-Contra Affair 322

Case Studies of War in the Twenty-First Century 323

Authorizing Action Against the Perpetrators 9/11 323

Authorizing War on Iraq 327

Conclusion: Congress and War in the Twenty-First Century 334

8 The Board of Directors in the Twenty-First Century 343

Congress's Inherent Limitations 345

It's Not All "Nature": The Environment Shapes the Contemporary Congress 352

A More Partisan Place 353

Electoral Pressures 361

The Growth of the Lobbying Industry 363

Can Congress Work in the Twenty-First Century? 365

Delegating Responsibility to the Executive Branch 366

The Commission Solution 369

Legislating Reform 371

Looking Ahead: A Therapeutic Approach 373

Problem Number 1 Partisanship 375

Problem Number 2 Congress's "Work-Work Imbalance" 380

Conclusion 385

Appendix: 100 Years of Congress: 1910-2010 389

Glossary of Key Terms 393

Index 403

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