US Congress

[This page in Estonian, thanks to Sonja Kulmala.]

CMC Gov 101, Spring 2012

Monday and Wednesday 2:45-4:00 Classroom:  Kravis 164

J.J. Pitney -- Office: 232 Kravis

Telephone: 909/607-4224

Office Hours:  Monday and Wednesday 11AM-noon, 4:15-5:15 PM 

If these times are inconvenient, please make an appointment

 Email:  Alternate email:

See also my Congress Links page.




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.  Its 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 Government 


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 must read a good daily news source such as Politico or Real Clear Politics.




Our class blog is at  I 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:



The following will make up your course grade:


Three three-page papers:     

15% each   

In-class exam:     


Simulation & writeup


Class participation/blog:  




Required Books

Schedule  The schedule is subject to change, with advance notice. 


Jan 18:  Introduction


"It’s official: Congress ended its least-productive year in modern history after passing 80 bills — fewer than during any other session since year-end records began being kept in 1947. Furthermore, an analysis by The Washington Times of the scope of such activities as time spent in debate, number of conference reports produced and votes taken on the House and Senate floors found that Congress set a record for legislative futility by accomplishing less in 2011 than any other year in history." -- Stephen Dinan.


What are the major functions of Congress?


Jan 23, 25: 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? 




Jan 30, Feb 1: Leaders, Parties, Elections I


"As Democrats in Congress, we often felt like we were drinking water out of a fire hose, trying to simultaneously deal with past failures of the Bush administration and the avalanche of new initiatives from Obama. This lack of focus also made it easy for congressional Republicans to stall and foil many of President Obama’s best initiatives — which they did with relish!" -- Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA)


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?

Feb 6, 8: Leaders, Parties, Elections II             


"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?

Feb 13, 15: Leaders, Parties, Elections III


"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?  What is likely to happen in the 2012 election?





Feb 20, 22:  Process and Purse I  


“If you let me write procedure and I let you write substance, I'll screw you every time.” -- Rep. 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 27, 29: Process and Purse II


"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 headed." -- Alan Simpson


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 5, 7: 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?




Mar 12, 14: Spring Break


Mar 19, 21:  Congress and the Executive II


"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 project." -- 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?

Mar 26-29: Legislative Simulation --  Leave evenings open. 


"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."  -- Jesse Blumenthal


Apr 2, 4:  Domestic Policy


"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." -- Jonah Goldberg


What is domestic policy?  How does Congress makes decisions on issues such as employment and health care?

April 9, 11: 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 ball. -- 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?



Apr 16, 18: Reviewing Congressional History I


"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."  -- David Broder


How does today's Congress compare with that of the past?  Have lawmakers gotten better or worse?



April 23, 25:  Reviewing Congressional History II


"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 F. Kennedy


How had divided government worked since the Second World War?  Why has polarization waxed and waned? 

Apr 30, May 2:  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." -- Chad Pergram


How well is Congress working in the 21st century?



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