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Congress III - Chapter Six The Money Committees Power of...

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Unformatted text preview: Chapter Six The Money Committees Power of the purse had inspired the most contentionsjurisdictional fights. In the earliest years of government, revenue and spending bills were handled by Ways and Means in the House and Finance in the Senate. During the 18605 the spending power was transferred to a separate Appropriations Committee in each house to help deal with the financial demands ofthe Civil War. Later, this monopoly of spending power was broken, but eventually restored in favor of parsimony. _ “ 4 The Money Committees 0 Today legislative spending is a two-step process in each chamber: — step one: the committee with jurisdiction over a program authorizes expenditures for it — step two: the Appropriations Committee appropriates the money—that is it writes a bill designating that specific sums be spent on authorized programs — entitlements must be covered @ The Money Committees - After 1921 the money committees took on the institutional task of protecting congressional majorities from themselves: — Appropriations used its authority to limit deficit growth when confronted with members’ desires for local programs and popular projects — tax legislation from Ways and Means was routinely deemed ineligible for amending to prevent a scramble for revenue-draining tax breaks for local firms and well-connected intere ts Budget Reform Budgetary self—control in Congress eroded by the early 19705: — committee reforms weakened committee leaders. — new openness made it hard for members to resist the temptation to promote local projects. — the impoundment constraint was eroded Congress had come to rely on the president to impound— refuse to spend—some of the funds authorized and appropriated by Congress in order to keep spending totals from reaching unacceptable levels. When Nixon turned this into a partisan weapon, Congress passed a law which subjected presidential impoundment authority to Congressional control. The Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. Budget Reform Congress also established a Budget Committee in each chamber to oversee the coordination of taxing and spending policies. It instituted procedures and timetables for setting budget targets, and reconciling bills with budgetary targets. This new system was designed to keep Congress fiscally responsible. Budget Reform But its unintended consequence was that budget deficits grew as partisan politics produced goals that were not reconcilable — — lower taxes and maintaining popular domestic spending programs Budget confrontations continued until a booming economy made it possible for an agreement to be reached. But the emergence once again of a slow economy revived conflict. Slowing economy in 2001, and revenues further reduced by major tax cuts under the Bush administration. Spending increased with two wars reviving partisan conflict over budget priorities. |n budgeting, politics continues to dominate process. Congressional Staff and Support Groups ° As Congress’s workload has expanded, so has its staff: — personal staff assistants manage members’ offices in Washington and at home — they draft bills, suggest policy, write press releases, do casework, and so on ° Members receive additional help from several specialized research agencies: — the General Accounting Office (GAO) . audits and investigates federal programs and expenditures, probingfor waste, fraud, and inefficiency — and the Congressional Research Service (CBO) . gives Congress access to a highly professional team of researchers , Congressional Staff and Support Groups 0 The CBO provides Congress with the economic expertise it needs to make informed fiscal decisions and to hold its own in conflicts with the presidential administration’s OMB. - Also helps members with economic information about their own states and how the budget may likely affect them. Making Laws - Congress’s rules and structures—the parties and committee systems—are designed to enable majorities to make laws. - The lawmaking process, however, presents opponents of a bill with many opportunities to sidetrack or kill legislation. Introducing Legislation 0 Only members may submit legislation to the House or Senate. Proponents of bills often try to line up cosponsors both to build support (by sharing credit) and to display it (increasing the chances for legislative action). 0 The parties and the president (with the cooperation of congressional friends) also use legislative proposals to stake out political positions and to make political statements. Assignment to Committee After a bill is introduced, it is assigned a number and referred to a committee. Once a bill has been referred to a committee, the most common thing that happens next is NOTHING. — most bills die of neglect If a committee decides on further action, the bill may be taken up directly by the full committee, but more commonly it is referred to the appropriate subcommittee. Hearings ° Once the subcommittee decides to act, it (or the full committee) may hold hearings, inviting interested people to testify in person or in writing about the issue at stake and proposals to deal with it. Hearings also provide a formal occasion for Congress to monitor the administration of the laws and programs it enacts: — heaviest duty falls on the Appropriations subcommittees in the House — government agencies have to justify their budget requests to these panels every year Reporting a Bill If the subcommittee decides to act on a bill, it marks it up— drafts it line by line—and reports it to the full committee. The full committee then accepts, rejects, or amends the bill (usually in deference to the subcommittee). |f accepted, it is reported out of committee. The written report that accompanies it is the most important source of information on legislation for members of Congress not on the committee as well as other people interested in the legislation. These reports summarize the bill’s purposes, major provisions, and changes from existing law. Scheduling Debate 0 When a committee agrees to report a bill to the floor, the bill is put on the House or Senate calendar: — in the House controversial or important bills are placed on the Union Calendar (money bills) or the House Calendar (other public bills) — noncontroversial bills go on the Consent Calendar (public bills) or Private Calendar (bills concerning individuals) Scheduling Debate Then the bill goes to the Rules Committee to receive a resolution that specifies when and how long a bill will be debated and under what procedures: the Rules Committee may require some revision of the legislation before allowing it to proceed rule: a resolution that specifies when and how long a bill will be debated and under what procedures open, restricted, and closed rules once the Rules Committee grants a rule, it must be adopted by a majority on the House floor Discharge petitions: — brings a bill directly to the floor without committee approval when signed by a majority of House members (218) Scheduling Debate 0 The Senate does not have 3 Rules Committee. 0 Thus, the leaders of both parties routinely negotiate unanimous consent agreements (UCA’s) to arrange for the orderly consideration of legislation: — UCA’s are similar to rules in that they: ° limit time for debate ° determine which amendments are allowable ° provide waivers of Senate rules 0 In the absence of a UCA, anything goes. Scheduling Debate 0 There is no limit on how long senators can talk or how many amendments they can offer. 0 Individuals or small groups can even filibuster: — here they hold the floor making endless speeches so that no action can be taken on a bill or anything else — filibusters are difficult to break 0 The Senate requires 3/5’s of the Senate (60 votes) to invoke cloture, which allows an additional 30 hours of debate on a bill before a vote is finally taken: — even the threat of a filibuster can be a potent tool — more routine today Debate and Amendment In the House the time for debate is divided equally between the proponents and opponents of a bill. Each side’s time is controlled by a floor manager. If amendments to a bill are allowed under the rule, they must be germane (pertinent) to the bill: — riders (extraneous matters) are not allowed Floor debates do not change many minds because politicians are rarely swayed by words: — these activities are for the public. Why? In the Senate, floor action does more to shape legislation. And bills can change on the Senate floor more than they can in the House. — here amendments need not be germane The Vote The fate of legislation is decided by a series of votes rather than a single one. The process is complex, as strategic members attempt to introduce ”killer” amendments or move to recommit before the final vote. The Vote 0 Members have reason to listen to anyone who can supply them with essential information: — political information about how constituents and other supports will view their actions and technical information about what the legislation will do. - Constituents, trusted colleagues, party leaders even the president may influence a member’s vote. 0 In the House unrecorded voice votes may be case, but at the request of at least twenty members a recorded roll-call vote is taken. In Conference 0 Once passed, a bill is sent to the other chamber for consideration (if some version has not already been passed there). - Often, the chambers pass differing versions of a bill. - Reconciliation ofthese differing bills is thejob ofthe conference committee. In Conference Each chamber appoints a conference delegation that includes members of both parties, usually from among the standing committee members most actively involved for and against the legislation. The size of the delegation depends on the complexity of the legislation: — the House delegation to the conference handling the 1,300 page Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 consisted of 130 representatives from 8 different committees. . the Senate got by with a delegation of nine from two committees. They are supposed to reconcile differences in the two versions of the bill without adding or subtracting from the legislation. In practice they sometimes do both. The Conference Once conferees reach agreement on a bill, they report the details to each chamber. If both chambers approve the report, the bill is sent to the president. Sometimes one or more chambers balks and sends the conferees back to work. If differences cannot be reconciled the bill dies: — this outcome is unusual, however — if the bill gets that far, it is likely to have enough support to make it through 7“ To the President 0 Upon receiving a bill from Congress, the president has the choice of signing the bill into law; ignoring the bill, with the result that it becomes law in ten days (not counting Sundays); or vetoing the bill. If Congress adjourns before the ten days are up, the bill fails (”pocket veto”). When presidents veto a bill, they usually send a message to Congress, and therefore to all Americans, that explains why they took such action. To the President Congressional override of a presidential veto requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber. If the override succeeds, the bill becomes law. — this rarely occurs Even the threat of a veto is enough to motivate Congress to abandon a particular bill. A Bias Against Action It is far easier to kill a bill than to pass one. Passage requires a sustained sequence of victories. Opponents need only win once to defeat a bill. The process imposes high transaction costs, conferring a strong bias in favor of the status quo. Unorthodox Lawmaking - Majority party can easily find its legislative agenda frustrated by the minority party. - Majority leaders have responded to this by improvising unorthodox procedures to enact legislation. Unorthodox Lawmaking: House - Some examples: — designing complex special rules to structure debate and amendment to minimize the minority’s influence — bypassing or overriding committees to draft bills directly — rewriting legislation in conference committee after it has passed the floor and — combining separate bills into huge omnibus packages that leave members the choice of accepting all or nothing Unorthodox Lawmaking: Senate - In the Senate the minority party has probably contributed most to deviations from orthodoxy: — unbridled use of the filibuster — compelling leaders to negotiate supermajority coalitions of at least sixty votes to act on controversial issues Unorthodox Lawmaking Requires a heavy investment of leaders’ resources— time, energy, favors—reflecting the high transaction cots incurred in getting Congress to act collectively on issues that provoke strong disagreement. Defeats, however, are rarely final. Dead bills can be resurrected. Politicians realize that taking half a loaf now does not mean they cannot go for the larger share in the future. Evaluating Congress Americans hold contradictory views about their Congress: — generally like their own representatives and senators — but rarely does the public appreciate Congress Reality: Congress’s difficulty in deciding on a budget, reforming health care, etc. reflects the absence of any public consensus on what should be done on these issues. Evaluating Congress - Poor reputation of Congress comes from: — pluralism: ° groups win when they care the most and lose when they care the least ° special interests can win out over general interests — ethics scandals — public prefers bipartisan agreement — public rallies to support Congress in times of attack Still Congress is the most powerful and independent legislature in the world. ...
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