CMC Gov 101, Spring 2011
Monday and Wednesday 2:45-4:00
Classroom: Roberts North 105
J.J. Pitney -- Office: D16 Center Court
Hours: Monday and Wednesday 11AM-noon, 4:15-5:15 PM
these times are inconvenient, please make an appointment
Like a vast picture thronged
with figures of equal prominence and crowded with elaborate and obtrusive
details, Congress is hard to see satisfactorily and appreciatively at a single
view and from a single stand-point.
complicated forms and diversified structure confuse the vision, and conceal
the system which underlies its composition.
It is too complex to be understood without effort, without a careful
and systematic process of analysis.
-- Woodrow Wilson, Congressional
In this course, we shall undertake such analysis.
We shall ask how lawmakers behave at home and on Capitol Hill.
We shall study Congress's procedures and structures, with an eye to
explaining why some bills pass while others languish.
Class sessions will include lecture and discussion.
Finish each week's readings before class because our
discussions will involve those readings.
We shall also talk about breaking news stories about Congress, so you
read a good daily news source such as
Real Clear Politics.
Our class blog is at
shall post videos, graphs, news stories, and other material there. We
shall use some of this material in class, and you may review the rest at your
convenience. You will all receive invitations to post to the blog.
(Please let me know if you do not get such an invitation.) I
encourage you to use the blog in these ways:
To post questions or comments about the
readings before we discuss them in class;
To follow up on class discussions
with additional comments or questions.
To post relevant news items or videos.
part of your class participation grade, all students must post to the blog
at least twice.
The following will make up your course grade:
Three three-page papers:
The papers will develop your research and
writing skills. In grading your
papers, I will take account of the quality of your writing, applying the
Strunk and White’s
of Style. If you object to this approach, do not take this
course, or anything else that I teach.
simulation will require you to study your part and
spend several sessions in character.
not take this class if you cannot take part in the simulation.
exam will test your comprehension of course material.
will hone your ability to think on your feet, as I shall call on students at
random. If you often miss class
or fail to prepare, your grade will suffer.
I shall use the
cold calls to judge how well you are keeping up with the material.
object to this approach, do not take this course. I also
expect you to post relevant material to the blog.
In addition to the required readings (below), I may also give you
emails, and web links covering current events and basic factual
information. The exam may cover
a courtesy to your fellow students, please arrive on time, and refrain from
eating in class.
Check due dates for coursework and the exam. Arrange your schedule
accordingly. Do not plan on
or any other form of academic dishonesty will result in referral to the
Academic Standards Committee. See:
- William F. Connelly, Jr., James Madison Rules America (Lanham,
Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2010).
- Louis Fisher, Constitutional Conflicts Between Congress and the
President, 5th ed. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas,
- John Haskell, Congress In Context (Boulder: Westview, 2010).
John F. Kennedy,
Profiles in Courage (New York: HarperCollins, 2006 ).
Larry Sabato, ed.,
Pendulum Swing (New York: Longman, 2011).
Schedule The schedule is subject to change, with advance notice.
Jan 19: Introduction
"Ron Howard is about to make a risky
career move. His friend and collaborator, Russell Crowe, is
waxing poetic about Franklin Roosevelt, the New Deal and
laws passed by Parliament to battle the Great Depression
when Howard musters the courage to interrupt the star. `Pssst,'
Howard says, leaning over, his mouth cupped. `It's Congress.
Congress passes the laws in the U.S.'" --
What are the
major functions of Congress?
Jan 24, 26: Two Chambers, Two Congresses
"Larry, you know, one of the things that's most troublesome to
me, having come from a state legislature, is the lack of
interaction between the House and the Senate. You know, there's
just an institutional barrier there. And I tell you this, I'm
not really sure what's going on." --
Rep. Barney Frank (D--MA)
Do lawmakers present different faces on Capitol Hill and at home? What are the major differences between the
House and Senate?
Haskell, ch. 1-2.
Fisher, ch. 1
FIRST 3-PAGE ESSAY ASSIGNED JAN 26, DUE FEBRUARY 9.
READ STRUNK AND
Jan 31, Feb 2: Leaders and Parties
“`Reporters underestimate how powerful the
calendar is,' says Jim Manley, the former communications director for Harry
Reid, the Democratic Senate leader. `Say you want to break a filibuster. On
Monday, you file cloture on a motion to proceed for a vote on Wednesday.
Assuming you get it, your opponents are allowed 30 hours of debate post-cloture
on the motion to proceed. That takes you to Friday, and doesn’t cover
amendments. The following Monday you file cloture on the bill itself, vote
Wednesday, then 30 more hours of debate, and suddenly two weeks have gone by,
for something that’s not even controversial.'” --
Do leaders drive the rank-and-file
members, or merely reflect their views? What is the connection between congressional parties
and electoral parties? How does majority or minority status change the way
lawmakers do their work?
Connelly, ch. 1-4
Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, "The Johnson System,"
in The Legislative Process in the US Senate, eds. Lawrence K. Pettit
and Edward Keynes (Chicago: Rand-McNally, 1969).
Feb 7, 9: Elections I
"I think Katrina just did us a big favor, to
be crass about it." -- Then-DCCC chair Rahm Emanuel, 2005.
Who runs for the House and Senate?
How do House and Senate elections differ?
Haskell, ch. 3.
Sabato, ch. 1-5.
Feb 14, 16: Elections II
"When I asked Boehner whether he saw the Republican victory of 2010, which was
at least as decisive as Gingrich’s, as a mandate, he seemed almost to recoil.
`No, no, noooooo,' he said. `I have watched people in the past deal with this
issue, whether it’s Speaker Gingrich, or Speaker Pelosi, or President Obama. And
we made a very conscious decision that we were not going to go down that path.
The tone that we set is very important. You saw it on Election Night, and you’ve
seen it since.'" --
Peter J. Boyer
How does a "wave" election differ from an "all politics is local" election?
Why did the GOP take the House in 2010?
Sabato, ch. 6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,16,20,21,22,24,25, conclusion. [Do not
worry: the chapters are short.]
ONE-PAGE MEMO ON SIMULATION ROLE DUE FEBRUARY 16.
PAPER ASSIGNED FEBRUARY 16, DUE MARCH 2.
Feb 21, 23:
Legislative Process and Rhetoric
“If you let me write procedure and I let you write
substance, I'll screw you every time.” --
John Dingell (D-MI)
How does the majority try to control the floor? How can the minority
overcome the majority's procedural advantage? How does Congress
deliberate on issues?
Feb 28, Mar 2: Power of the Purse
"We threw this big banana into the gorilla
cage and they’re going to pick it up, play with it, mash it, but they’re gonna
eat some of it. They can’t avoid eating some of it because of where they’re
How does Congress manage budgets,
appropriations, and revenue legislation? How do budgetary and policy goals shape each other?
Can Congress prevent catastrophic levels of debt?
Mar 7, 9: Congress and
the Executive I
"I've always been fond of the saying that when it comes to oversight and reform,
the federal government does two things well: nothing and overreact. Too often, a
problem is allowed to fester until it reaches a crisis point. . ..and the
American people are left asking the question: what went wrong and why?" --
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)
In the struggle between Congress and the
president, what circumstances favor each side? How does the president
try to influence Congress?
IN-CLASS EXAM MAR 9
Mar 14, 16: Spring Break
Mar 21, 23: Congress and the
"In phonemarking, a lawmaker calls an agency to request financing for a
project. More indirectly, members of Congress make use of what are known as soft
earmarks, which involve making suggestions about where money should be directed,
instead of explicitly instructing agencies to finance a project. Members also
push for increases in financing of certain accounts in a federal agency’s budget
and then forcefully request that the agency spend the money on the members’ pet
Ron Nixon, New York Times
How do bureaucratic and congressional
structures affect each other? Do "iron triangles" actually exist?
How well does Congress oversee the bureaucracy?
Haskell, ch. 6
Connelly, ch. 6.
Legislative Simulation --
Legislative sessions may
run from Monday through Friday nights.
"Indeed, as time
has passed, life has begun to imitate art. Adam Kokesh CMC ’07 and
Craig McPherson CMC ’06 are both alums of the simulation, playing Ted
Kennedy and Pat Roberts respectively. Both are currently running for the U.S.
House of Representatives." --
Apr 4, 6: Students' Choice
"Depending on whose party is running the
show, the arguments about how judges should be confirmed has gone back and
forth like a windshield wiper. When the GOP was out of power, Republicans
pounded the table about their responsibility to study the records of the
nominees, while the Democrats insisted the president deserved deference.
Flip things around and — boom — the Republicans want deference and the Dems
bust out the Federalist Papers." --
In this week, we shall discuss readings and topics of students' choosing.
April 11, 13:
National Security, Homeland
Security, and Foreign Policy
Al Qaeda is what, I asked,
Sunni or Shia?
“Al Qaeda, they have both,”
Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”
“Sure,” I said, not knowing
what else to say.
“Predominantly — probably
Shiite,” he ventured.
He couldn’t have been more
wrong. Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an
al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer
Jeff Stein interview with
Silvestre Reyes, then-chair of the House Intelligence Committee
Can Congress effectively check the executive branch in wartime? Do
lawmakers have the expertise and information to make decisions about
national and homeland security?
Haskell, ch. 7
Fisher, ch. 8, 9, 10
WRITEUP DUE APRIL 13.
Apr 18, 20: Reviewing Congressional
"It quickly became clear that there is nothing new or unusual about the
pattern of sharp partisanship shown in the past two presidential
elections and in the frequent battles on Capitol Hill. David Brady of
Stanford University made the point that the late 19th century and parts
of the 20th century were also times of party warfare; the anomaly was
the relative truce for roughly 25 years after World War II." --
How does today's Congress compare with that of
the past? Have lawmakers gotten better or worse?
Connelly, ch. 7
Kennedy, ch. 1-7.
THIRD 3-PAGE ESSAY ASSIGNED APRIL 20, DUE MAY 4.
April 25, 27: Reviewing Congressional
"It may take courage to battle one's
president, one's party, or the overwhelming sentiment of one's nation; but these
do not compare, it seems to me, to the courage required of the Senate defying
the angry power of the very constituents who control his future." -- John
How had divided
government worked since the Second World War? Why has polarization waxed
Connelly, ch. 8
May 2, 4: Summing Up
"The halls of Congress are wonderful, much like Wonka's factory.
Capitol Hill features its own alluring versions of chocolate rivers,
lickable wallpaper and edible grass. The temptations are great. TV cameras and
klieg lights offer the beacon of fame. K Street lobbyists command your
attention. People want to donate to your campaign." --
Connelly, ch. 9.
Haskell, ch. 8