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THE OPERATION OF CONGRESS

 

Some facts about the 107th Congress
  • House has 435 members:
    • 221 Republicans
    • 211 Democrats
    • 2 Independents
    • 1 vacancy
  • Senate has 100 members:
    • 50 Republicans
    • 50 Democrats

Two principles are needed to govern any large body of people engaged in group activity

  • Location of authority
  • Division of labor

Location of authority in Congress:

Chamber leadership consists of a multiplicity of positions, mostly elected

  • HOUSE:
    Republicans
    Speaker -- Dennis Hastert (IL)
    Majority Leader -- Richard Armey (TX)
    Majority Whip -- Tom Delay (TX)
    Republican Conference Chair -- J.C. Watts (OK)
    National Republican Campaign Committee Chair -- Tom Davis (VA)
    Democrats
    Minority Leader -- Richard Gephardt (MO)
    Minority Whip -- David Bonior (MI)
    Caucus Chair -- Martin Frost (TX)
    Democratic Campaign Committee Chair -- Nita Lowey (NY)
  • SENATE:
    Republicans
    President Pro Tem -- Strom Thurmond (SC)
    Majority Leader -- Trent Lott (MS)
    Majority Whip -- Don Nickles (OK)
    Republican Conference Chair -- Rick Santorum (PA)
    Republican Policy Committee Chair -- Larry Craig (ID)
    National Republican Senate Campaign Chair -- Bill Frist (TN)
    Democrats
    Minority Leader -- Tom Daschle (SD)
    Minority Whip -- Harry Reid (NV)
    Democratic Policy Committee Chair -- Tom Daschle (SD)
    Conference Secretary -- Barbara Mikulski (MD)
    Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Chair -- Patty Murray (WA)


    The geographical locus of power within the Republican Party has shifted

    The phrase "Solid South" used to mean solidly Democratic.
    Since the 1960s, the Republican Party has made a steady increases in the south
    Data from Hamang Patel's Senior Thesis:
    • The percent of House Districts from the four regions represented by Republicans has equalized.
    • So has the percentage of Senators.
    • Also, in both chambers, southerners claim a larger percentage of the leadership positions in both the House and the Senate.


    Powers of leaders are considerable but not determining

    • House leaders usually exercise more influence than Senate leaders.
    • Main power is agenda-setting, inviting bi-partisan cooperation.
    • Leaders do not have the power to make committee assignments.

    Comparisons of leadership powers

    • More centralization within House than Senate
    • In the past, there has been more centralization within Democratic party than Republican, but the 104th Congress changed that somewhat.

The Division of labor in Congress

Congress is organized through a system of committees based on subject matter specialization, for example:

Agriculture
Banking
Science

Committees by Chambers

House of Representatives -- 435 members organized into
20 standing committees
1 select committee (Intelligence Permanent Select Committee)
About 80 subcommittees
Senate -- 100 members organized into
16 standing committees
4 select and special committees
About 90 subcommittees
 

The work of Congress is divided among a total of about 200 committees and subcommittees
  • Committee assignments are determined by committees on committees, with seniority an important factor when vacancies occur
  • The party in control of Congress holds all committee chairs and seniority on the committees is the main factor in determining the chair.
  • But seniority is no longer the only factor:
    • In the 99th Congress, House Democrats voted in a secret ballot in caucus to remove 80-year old Melvin Price as Chair of the Armed Services Committee (118-121)
    • Passed over the member next in line in favor of seventh-ranking Les Aspin of Wisconsin, who campaigned for the post.
    • In the 102nd congress, the Democratic Caucus ousted two aging chairs whose leadership had been deemed ineffective:
      • Frank Annunzio (IL, House Administration
      • Glenn Anderson (CAL), Public Works
    • In the 104th Congress, Newt Gingrich departed from seniority in three cases
      • Robert Livingston (LA, Appropriations, passing over 3 more senior Republicans.
    • The Republicans' Contract with America limited commitee chairs to four terms
      • In 2001, 13 Chairs in House committees were opened bue to term limits
      • The Steering Committee of the Republican leadership made the choices.
  • The power of the chair in the past has been vast, but now the chairs of subcommittees have become more important, and sometimes senior members will relinquish the opportunity to chair an unimportant committee in preference for the chair of an important subcommittee.
  • Committees and subcommittees have great power over legislation.
    • Upon introduction, bills are referred to committee for deliberation.
    • A study of legislation from 1955 to 1964, shows that 90 percent of all House bills that went through the normal committtee process and came to a vote passed the House.
    • 70 percent of all House bills reported from committee passed the chamber unamended.
    • 65 percent of all Senate bills reported pass unamended.

An alternative committee system: British House of Commons
  • The legislature makes the decisions, not the committees
    • Only 6 or 7 general standing committees, ranging in size from 16 to 50 with membership proportional to party representation.
    • Committees have no jurisdiction over the major principle of the bill, for it is voted on by the house BEFORE being sent to committee.
    • The principle in parliament is that the government is responsible to the house as a whole rather than part of the house (a committee).
    • Moreover, these committees have no subject-matter jurisdiction (A, B, C, designation), bills are assigned by rotation, and appointment of members varies from bill to bill.
  • Consequences of the American system of legislative committees
    • Extreme decentralization of authority in considering legislation.
    • Specialization of knowledge and acquisition of expertise among committe members.
    • Fixed and relatively stable committee membership means that each committee and even subcommittee is a "little legislature".