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Stars and Stripes, Justice Dept. Washington, D.C.  Photo © 2007 Scott Hanley

The free textbook alternative

If information wants to be free, why are textbooks so expensive?

Stars and Stripes, Justice Dept. Washington, D.C.  Photo © 2007 Scott Hanley

Outline of Chapters on Congress


This is the rough draft outline of the readings on Congerss.


1. School House Rock Honors Edition Introduction

a. To understand Congress you must understand that it’s one institution composed of two separate and very different structures.

i. Distinct electoral bases/approaches to representation

ii. Distinct institutional cultures

iii. Have chart of basic constitutional differences

2. How Congress Functions

a. The Leadership Structure

i. Includes party discipline; rewards and punishments (include failures, like effort to punish Jim Jeffords, to demonstrate limits in a candidate centered electoral system)

b. Committee System

i. lawmaking and budgeting functions; perpetual oversight

ii. 4 types of committees: Budgeting, appropriations, authorization, oversight

c. Member-to-Member/Informal/Logrolling structure


3. The Functions of Congress

a. Lawmaking

i. The process of making laws is complex, and the Constitution’s simple statement does not tell us anything more than the basic requirements.

Article 1, §7. “All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the house of representatives; but the senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills.

Every bill which shall have passed the house of representatives and the senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the president of the United States; if he approves he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objection to that house in which it shall have originated…

b. The legislative process described below is not simply a pro forma process. It is a battleground of who gets what, when, and how, and … strategy of effective use of the procedural rules and control of the agenda.


Bills can start in either chamber, and in fact any important item of legislation usually has bills introduced in both of the chambers, for the simple fact that on any important issue there are both Representatives and Senators who want to be able to take credit for working on it. (Sometimes taking credit means just submitting a bill or co-sponsoring it, so they can tell their constituents they have done so—it does not necessarily mean they are putting any sincere effort into getting the bill passed into law.)

The role of the Judiciary. The judiciary plays no role in the passing of legislation. The legislative process is solely a debate, negotiation, or battle between and within the two chambers of Congress and the President. Not only do bills not need to be pre-cleared for constitutionality by the judiciary, but the Supreme Court decided in the very early days of the republic that it was improper for them to give such “advisory opinions.” The judiciary can only be brought into play after a bill has become a law, and they do not have the authority to bring themselves into play, but can only be brought into play by some person or organized interest group who challenges the constitutionality of a law.

i. Simple version

1. Bi

2. Bills are introduced, sent to relevant committees, normally assigned to a subcommittee of that committee/those committees.

3. Hearings and markup

4. Vote

5. Sent to floor of chamber; discussion, perhaps amendments, vote.

a. German and non-germane amendments

6. Conference committee


ii. More sophisticated version


2. Veto players/gatekeepers


iii. Tricks and Tactics in Lawmaking

c. Budgeting

d. Oversight (including impeachment)

e. Advice and Consent

f. Constituent Service

i. [Note: This order is not set in stone]


4. Motivations of Congress  as Mayhew told us long ago, lawmakers are rewarded for the positions they take, more so than for the outcomes that result.

a. Administration

b. Interest Groups

c. Constituents/electoral

i. “I work for 26 million Texans. That’s my job, to fight for them. I don’t work for the party bosses in Washington. I work for the people of Texas, and I fight for them,” Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas. 2013.

d. Party discipline/leadership rewards & punishments (at least mention briefly)

e. The X factor

i. [Note: This order is not set in stone.]

ii. [Note: We discussed have brief overview of each of these, then case study.]

5. Case Studies

a. “How a Bill Does not Become a Law” (Asian Carp—J. Hanley)

b. Maddie H.’s paper on rights/protections for the mentally disabled.

c. Paper by Jeff Lake on successfully finding legislator votes to pass a bill after it has initially failed (Adrian College Biologist, former L.A. in Iowa State Legislature; case study of Iowa legislation)


6. Rumination on Contemporary Issues

a. “Is the Evolving Nature of Partisanship Affecting the Effective Functioning of Congress?”





This section still under construction

This section is under construction.