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Reforming Congress: The Republican Contract with America
  • Under Gingrich, the U.S. House demonstrates flashes of responsible party government
    • Promulgation of a clear party platforms prior to the election, published in Contract with America
    • If elected to government, actually carried out the promises
    • Standing for re-election on the basis of action taken
  • In the 103rd Congress (1993-95), Democrats controlled both House of Cognress under president Clinton:
    • Senate: 56 Democrats to 44 Republicans
    • House: 256 to 178
  • Following the 1994 congression elections, the 104th Congress that convened in January 1995 had
    • Senate: 53 Republicans to 47 Democrats
    • House: 230 Republicans to 204 Democrats
  • This was the first time in 40 years that the Republicans controlled both Houses
    • Newt Gingrich was elected Speaker
    • 74 committee Republican Freshman ideologs followed their leader Newt
    • Centralized power in the House to carry the Contract with America, which promised to change the rules of the House on the first day of taking office.
      Cutting Committee Staff by 1/3 -- passed internal rule change 416-12, 1/4/95.
      Truth-in-Budgeting Baseline Reform -- passed internal rule change 421-6, 1/4/95.
      Term Limits for Speaker and Committee Chairmen -- passed internal rule change 355-74, 1/4/95.
      Ban Proxy "Ghost" Voting in Committee -- passed internal rule change 418-13, 1/4/95.
      Open Committee Meetings to Public and Press -- passed internal rule change 431-0, 1/4/95.
      3/5 Vote for Tax Increases -- passed internal rule change 279-152, 1/4/95.
      Comprehensive Audit of House Books -- passed internal rule change 430-1, 1/4/95.
      The first-ever audit of the House's books was completed in July 1995, and the Inspector General of the House was authorized to continue investigating certain aspects of the audit's findings.
  • Reduction in Republican House majority in the 105th Congress
    • Had more than a 30 seat margin in the 2nd session of the 104th Congress
    • This was reduced to about 20 seats in the House, increased from 6 to 10 in the Senate
  • Newt Gingrich's influence suffered greatly
    • Personal financial problems
    • Strategy and Policy failures
  • The result has been a swing back toward politics as usual, toward committee government
    • Toward the end of 1996, committee chairs achieved some success in overhaul of the welfare program, minimum wage increase, business tax relief
    • Committee chairs are reasserting their power
  • In the Senate, power is being more decentralized among subcommittees
    • New rule in the Republican conference that limit the number of subcommittee chairs a single senator can hold
    • Before the chairs of the 20 standing committees controlled 40% of the subcommittee chairs
    • Now they control only 19%
    • Senators in their first and second terms are now getting subcommittee chairs

Party leadership

Political parties are crucial in the organization and operation of Congress.

Leaders in both chambers are also party leaders, and committee chairs and committee membership is party-determined.

As mentioned before, party voting in the US Congress has increased, but it's still far below party voting in most other nations.

  • The power of the party in affecting legislative output:
    • Comparison with British parliament: 95 percent of all votes are party votes, 90 percent of one party voting against 90 percent of the other.
    • Within congress, only about 15 percent meet this strict criterion.
    • Using a looser criterion of 50 percent of one party voting against 50 percent of the other, approximately 50 percent in both House and Senate until the Reagan era.
      • 73% in House for 1995
      • 69% in Senate
    • Another view of partisanship: the percentage of party-unity votes on which a member agreed with a majority of his party (abstentions count against the member):
      • House
        • Average Democrat: 80%
        • Average Republican: 91%
      • Senate
        • Average Democrat: 81%
        • Average Republican: 89%
      • But in the British parliament, virtually all members always vote with their party
  • Party as the "unifier" of the separation of powers:
    • The president as party head usually gets cooperation from chamber leadership when his party controls the chamber.
    • But obviously, party is not enough to command support for the president's program.
  • Bicameralism
    • Passage in one chamber does not guarantee passage in the other -- even when the same party controls both chambers.
    • Coordination of House-Senate differences is in the hands of the conference committee appointed to resolve differences between the House and Senate.
  • Consequences of the lack of central authority
    • The POLICY MAKING function is impaired
    • The REPRESENTING function is advanced

Models of Representation
Descriptive Representation
A legislature is "representative" if it reflects the demographic characteristics of the population it represents.
Descriptive representation in the 107th Congress
Collective Representation
This is Dalton's "collective correspondence"--the extent to which elite opinions match citizen's opinions.
The American people favor outlawing burning the American flag.
In 1989, the U.S. Congress has passed such law, showing collective representation.
In 1990, the Supreme Court struck down the law as a violation of the First Amendment.
Dyadic Representation
As instruments of democracy, elections are used by citizens to vote out officials who don't do what the people want and to vote in officials who promise to do the public's bidding.
Different representational roles
Delegates promise to vote according to the public's wishes
Trustees hold that they should vote as their conscience directs them
The Miller-Stokes model of dyadic representation (Dalton, p. 244)
Party Representation
In European countries, the political parties seem to be the agents of representation, helped by their bloc voting in parliaments and by the greater diversity on party programs, which gives more meaning to party labels.

Evaluating Congress for its contribution to democracy
Is Congress responsive to citizens? 
Individual members are highly responsive to contacts by individual constituents
Constituents need not have much clout
But clout and financial contributions make members more responsive
Exemplifies the "representing" function of Congress 
Congress as a whole often fails to do what a plurality of the citizens want
Examples: gun control, ending budget deficit
Can citizens exercise control over Congress through elections? 
Yes: individual members of Congress pay attention to election results 
Congressional elections in America are highly decentralized and divorced from party positions.
Because citizens can exercise little control over the behavior of parties as a group, they exercise little control over Congress as a whole.
Congress and the British Parliament: a paradox 
Members of congress are more responsive to their constituents than members of parliament, but parliament is more responsive to the electorate as a whole than congress. 
In democratic government, less may be more. 
Where the electorate is essentially limited to choosing between which party is to rule the country, the electorate may have a greater say in directing the broad outlines of policy.
The issue can be viewed as a choice between majoritarian democracy and pluralist democracy. 
The British system operates more like a majoritarian democracy based on a responsible party system of government--although it features more centralization of power it also gives the masses of citizens a greater chance to determine who holds that power. 
The American system, which is clearly more of a pluralist democracy, features more decentralization of power and responsivness to individuals and groups but offers the masses of citizens less opportunity to shape who holds power, for no one holds enough power to shape public policy.
Is it important to have a strong Congress? 
Strong presidential government is known for efficiency, but it is also carries the threat of authoritarianism.
In presidential systems, democracy is strongest where the legislative branch is an effective counterforce to the executive.
The rub is that strong legislatures are also not very efficient, and they tend to be representing agencies like the U.S. Congress.
What factors account for presidential success in leading Congress? 
THE CHALLENGE OF DEMOCRACY contends that the president's power is the power to persuade. 
This suggests that success with the congress varies with presidential popularity.