CONGRESS The founding fathers intended for Congress to be the central policy-making body in the federal government. Although the power of Congress has fluctuated over the years, today it shares with the presidency and the judiciary the responsibility of making key policy decisions that shape the course of the nation. THE PEOPLES INFLUENCE Although the founders saw Congress as the body most directly in touch with the people, most people today have negative overall views of both houses. Approval ratings have hovered for years at about 30%, although in recent years those ratings have climbed somewhat higher. Yet the majority of voters express higher approval ratings (60 to 70%) for the members of congress from their districts. Members of Congress are seen as working for their constituents, but Congress as a whole supposedly represents the nation as a whole. These seemingly contradictory expectations create different pressures on members of Congress. Americans elect their senators and representatives. This direct link between the legislature and the people is a very important part of our democracy. Should Congress, then, reflect the will of the people? Or should they pay attention to their own points of view, even if they disagree with their constituents? Many considerations influence the voting patterns of members of Congress, including the following: Constituents Views. Members of congress often visit their home districts and states to keep in touch with their constituentsâ views. They also read their mail, keep in touch with local and state political leaders, and meet with their constituents in Washington. Some pay more attention than others, but they all have to consider the views of the folks back home. Party Views. Congress is organized primarily along party lines, so party membership is an important determinant of a members vote. Each party develops its own versions of many important bills, and party leaders actively pressure members to vote according to party views. It is not surprising that representatives and senators vote along party lines about three-fourths of the time. Personal Views. What if a representative or senator seriously disagrees with the views of his constituents on a particular issue? How should he or she vote? Those who believe that personal views are most important argue that the people vote for candidates that they think have good judgment. Representatives should feel free to exercise their own personal views. After all, if the people don’t like it, they can always vote them out of office.
CONGRESS IN THE CONSTITUTION At its creation in 1789 the legislative branch was a unique invention. Rule by kings and emperors was an old style of government, and the legislature in many ways represented the new. Almost certainly, the founders intended that Congress have more important powers than they granted to the president and the judiciary. However, they placed many checks and balances on the legislature that have shaped what we have today. They controlled power not only by checks from
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- Winter '14
- United States Congress, United States House of Representatives, 109th Congress