US Congress - US Congress Reading Assignments: Bardes,...

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Reading Assignments: Bardes, Shelley & Schmidt, Chapter Ten Duties & Roles of Congress: The US Congress has a number of different roles or duties: Its first and foremost duty is to pass legislation, to appropriate funds to implement that legislation, and to raise revenues to run the country. Another important function is its oversight function to keep an eye on executive bureaucracy to ensure that they implement policy as Congress intends. As one of the branches of government, the framers also intended that Congress exercise certain checks and balances on the other two branches and thereby ensure that no branch became too powerful. Another function of individual congressmen is to serve as a sort of "Ompudsperson" to ensure that their constituent's needs are met by federal bureaucracies. Finally, Congress serves as institution or arena in which political differences in larger society can be resolved peacefully through compromise. General Characteristics of Congress: The US Congress is different in important respects from the Executive and Judicial branches. The Legislative branch is characterized by the following attributes: First, Congress is largely non-hierarchical with fragmented power . While there are leadership positions in both Houses, there is nothing comparable to the hierarchical chain of command of the Executive branch. Power is divided between the two Houses of Congress, the leadership caucuses in the two political parties, the leadership positions in both houses, and the chairmanship positions in the key committees and subcommittees. There are 535 members, 435 in the House of Representatives and 100 in the Senate . Each of these 435 members was independently elected from their own district or state and with a supportive constituency back home. Many of the Senators and Congress serve as Chairs or Ranking Minority Members of important Committees Sub-Committees with their own independent basis of support. In the Senate, each of the 100 Senators has some individual power to impede legislation. Moreover, the American political parties are "weak" (as we noted earlier) because members are elected from single-member districts/states rather than selected by the Party leadership as a member of a party list. Consequently, the Democratic and Republican party leadership in the House and Senate can not force recalcitrant members of their party out of their Congressional seats (though they can put pressure on them). What this fragmentation of power means is that it is very difficult for Congress to act as a whole on most issues . Secondly, and in part deriving from this first point, Congress is an institution in which it is far easier to kill legislation than to pass it . Congress is, in this sense, a conservative institution. The process by which a bill becomes a law is somewhat analogous to running a gauntlet. As a result, only approximately 10% of the bills which are introduced actually
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US Congress - US Congress Reading Assignments: Bardes,...

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