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Federalism and Congress

Terms in this set (45)

Incumbents are politicians that currently hold an office and are seeking reelection.
• The Advantages Incumbents Have in Elections:
o Name Recognition
Voters have seen their representatives/senators on television or received mail from them.
Incumbents have this advantage without the disadvantage of having people know how they have actually voted, because only a small minority of citizens actually knows how their legislators vote.
o Casework
Casework, also known as constituency service, is the work of answering questions and doing personal favors for one's constituents who write or call for help.
• Examples of these kinds of interactions between the member of congress and the constituent include providing information for students working on school papers, for people in search of federal jobs, for citizens unsure about which federal agency to contact, or for residents needing information about their loved one in the military.
This is arguably the main advantage of incumbency.
o Mailing Privileges
Part of tax collection funds the franking privilege, which allows incumbents to write to their constituents without having to pay for postage with their own money or with their campaign funds.
• This, in turn, helps incumbents increase their name recognition.
o Media and Technology Advantages
Incumbents have the advantage of having access to increasingly sophisticated production equipment for television or radio.
Additionally, press releases written by incumbents' staff are often printed in newspapers without any changes at all.
o Fundraising
Incumbents have advantages in fundraising because it is easier to attract large campaign donations.
• Historically, the seniority rule stated that the member of the majority party who had served the longest on the committee was to become its leader. This rule was put in place to protect committee members from the speaker of the House who might use his or her power to elevate friends and allies to committee chair positions. Although this rule was beneficial in that sense, there were many disadvantages. For example, the seniority rule allowed members who were unfit for the position, such as alcoholics or dictators, to come to power. For this reason, the seniority rule was abandoned in the 1970s.
o Judiciary, foreign affairs, defense, and monetary committees are prestigious

• When the seniority rule was abolished, it directly impacted the Congressional committees and subcommittees.
o Without the seniority rule, Steering and Policy Committees in both parties had to recommend chairs and vote on committee assignments. This was an improvement from the seniority rule because it prevented fights within the party regarding who would chair important committees while avoiding dictatorial chairs who were common under the seniority rule.
o The seniority rule's removal also affected subcommittees because when the seniority rule was in place, standing committee chairs chose the subcommittee chairs and controlled subcommittees' jurisdiction, budget, and staff. However, for the past three decades, the House and Senate subcommittees have operated semi-independently. This change, sometimes referred to as the "subcommittee bill of rights", allowed for more members, especially the newer ones, to partake in important decisions.
• A filibuster is a continuous speech that one or more members of the senate makes, which is designed to prevent voting on a piece of legislation.
o In earlier years, filibusters occasionally blocked election reform, nominations, and civil rights legislation. For example, in the 1960's during the Civil Rights movement, the government used a filibuster to block legislation and end a fifty-four day debate, which resulted in the 1964 Civil Rights Act moving on to the floor for a vote.
o Bill Clinton also successfully used filibusters during his first year in office. During this period, Republicans blocked proposals from the Democratic Senate majority by using the filibuster. This was particularly successful because at this time, the Senate was evenly divided so that the majority party was unable to gain the sixty necessary votes it needed in order to override the filibuster (see subsequent "cloture rule"). This benefited the Republicans because, after a while, only the threat of a filibuster was necessary to block action.
o Democrats also used this tactic during George W. Bush's presidency as did the Republicans after the 2008 election.
o Now, however, filibusters rarely occur because the threat of one is enough to stop action on a bill or other piece of Senate business. The majority party can also use filibusters to stop routine procedures and essentially bring Senate business to a halt. In addition, filibusters can prevent rash actions or total domination by the majority party.


• A senator can initiate a filibuster by simply beginning a speech and continuing the speech for an extended amount of time.
• Opposition can end filibusters in two ways: the speaker or speakers can either unanimously end their speech or the cloture rule can forcibly bring it to a close.
o The cloture rule is a rule where two-thirds of those present and voting have the ability to cut off a debate. In 1975, this rule was changed to allow three-fifths of those voting to end a debate.
One calls a successful cloture an "invoked cloture" or a "close debate." If one invokes cloture, a debate must end within thirty hours and the issue brought to a vote.
• Bills may be introduced in either the House or Senate, excluding tax measures and appropriations bills, which are always introduced in the house. This is due to the Founding Fathers' belief that the chamber directly elected by the people (House of Representatives) should control these financial matters. Only members of Congress can introduce bills, so the President and constituents must find congressional sponsors to introduce one.
• After a bill's introduction, the Speaker of the House or the presiding officer in the Senate refers it to a "standing committee". The standing committee then assigns the bill to the subcommittee that covers the appropriate subject area. The committee can choose either to kill the proposed legislation or to take it up and call hearings. Lobbyists fill most of the hearing rooms, and Congress members who receive support from groups affected by the legislation often face pressure to vote a particular way.
• After the hearings, House subcommittees hold markup sessions in which they rewrite a bill or add amendments. This process is unlikely to occur in the Senate because Senate members typically do more work outside the committee structure. If the bill is approved following the markup, the full standing committee receives the bill and holds hearings, markups, and votes themselves.
• Once a House committee approves a bill, it is placed on one of five calendars, depending on the subject matter of the bill. The Senate has just two calendars: one for private and public bills and another for treaties and nominations. Bills are typically considered in the order in which they are reported from committee.
• In the House, the Rules Committee sets the terms of the debate over the bill by issuing a rule on it. The rule either permits or limits debate and determines whether members can add amendments to the bill. The Senate can operate with fewer rules because of its smaller body.
• Bill Managers control debate on a bill. These managers are usually senior members of the committee that sent the bill to the full chamber. The opposition also has bill managers who organize opposition speeches.
o In the House, speakers have five minutes to recite their speech, and typically within a day the bill is reported for final action.
o In the Senate, the lack of fixed rules allows for unrestricted debate as a method of defeating of delaying consideration of a bill.
The filibuster is the major mechanism for doing this.
• If the bill passes in a floor vote, it is sent to the other chamber for action.