lecture12 - UCLA PS 40 Department of Political Science...

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1 UCLA Department of Political Science Fall 2007 PS 40 Introduction to American Politics Prof. Thomas Schwartz HUNK 12 CONGRESSIONAL BEHAVIOR Congressional legislation obviously depends on votes , less obviously on procedural or agenda control . Both reflect strategy , and strategy reflects congressmen’s goals . Apart from personal values , those goals are driven by the reelection incentive and by partisanship . The former means that Congressmen want, above all, to hold onto their jobs. In Europe, members of parliament belong to disciplined parties that present platforms to the electorate, who vote mostly on the basis of party positions. In the US, parties are weaker, less disciplined, less committed to clear, comprehensive platforms. Therefore, getting reelected in the US requires pretty much that every Congressman watch out for himself. He must see himself as an agent of his constituency more than his party. That leads him toward the following activities: - - Credit claiming : A congressman wants his constituents to see him doing good things for them. So he tries to take credit for every good thing the government does for them. Among other things he is usually the first to announce any federal benefit for his district, such as a school-construction or transportation grant or a defense contract. The bureaucracy allows this in order to stay on his good side. Position taking :
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2 Each representative is one of 435 and often will not prevail in getting what his constituency wants. Even so he will try hard to show that he has at least fought for the “right” cause. This involves voting for losing propositions, making public statements, etc. Particularism : Each representative tries to deliver locally targeted benefit s of two sorts: Pork is money directly spent on separate, tangible projects in his district, such as roads, hospitals, levees, bridges, schools, and whatnot. Laws that authorize such projects are called pork- barrel legislation , especially when one wishes to deride them for inefficiency. Case work (or constituent service) involves acting as an intermediary to help individual constituents with the federal bureaucracy. A congressmen’s staff might intervene with the post office, expedite the issuance of a passport, secure a veteran’s benefit, etc. Congressmen have local staff dedicated to this service. The bureaucracy is usually pretty responsive because Congress appropriates its budget. That may sound a bit shady, but it isn’t or it need not be. A vote-seeking congressman has an incentive to play ombudsman. Budget-seeking bureaucrats have an incentive to obey him with alacrity. It is surprising that not more citizens take advantage of this service. Universalism : This means that the shared incentive congressmen have to secure goodies for their own constituencies results in something for everyone . Congressmen scratch each other’s backs. In order to avoid fights over the benefits, everyone goes along with passing laws that are known to be fat with pork, hence inefficient. There is pork for all . For example, interstate highway funds bring roads to every state. Once in Honolulu I took special pleasure in driving down the Eisenhower Interstate Highway.
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