lecture12.1.doc - LECTURE NOTES UCLA PS 40 Department of...

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LECTURE NOTES UCLA Department of Political Science Winter 2010 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 : 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 (or the "left" 1
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cause, if that's what his constituents prefer). This involves voting for losing propositions, making public statements, etc. Particularism : Each representative tries to deliver locally targeted benefits 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 constituents with the federal bureaucracy. A congressman’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 voteseeking 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
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lecture12.1.doc - LECTURE NOTES UCLA PS 40 Department of...

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