Table of Contents
The US Congress and Domestic and Economic Policy
I. Qualifications to Run for Congress
II. Congressional Leadership
III. Powers of Congress
found in Article 1, section 8, of the Constitution -
A. Introduction: any member can introduce a piece of legislation
House: legislation is handed to clerk of the House or placed in hopper
Senate: members must gain recognition of the presiding officer to announce the introduction of a bill during the morning hour … introduction of bill postponed until next day if any senator objects
B. Committee: bill referred to appropriate committee by Speaker of the House or presiding officer in Senate … often actual referral decision made by the House or Senate parliamentarian
1. comments about the bill's merit are requested by government agencies
2. bill can be assigned to subcommittee by chair
3. may hold hearings
4. subcommittees report findings to the full committee
5. vote by the full committee: bill is "ordered to be reported"
6. committee will hold "mark-up" sessions during which it will make revisions and additions ... if substantial amendments are made committee can order the introduction of a "clean bill" which will include the proposed amendments, have a new number and be sent to floor while the old bill is discarded (chamber must approve, change or reject all committee amendments before conducting a final passage vote)
7. after bill reported, committee staff prepares written report explaining why they favor bill and why they wish to see amendments, if any, adopted … committee members who oppose a bill sometimes write a dissenting opinion in report
8. report sent to whole chamber and placed on calendar
9. House: most bills go to Rules committee before reaching floor and committee adopts rules that will govern procedures under which the bill will be considered, for example, a "closed rule" sets strict time limits on debate and forbids introduction of amendments
10. rules can have major impact on whether bill passes … rules committee can be bypassed in three ways: (1) a ⅔ vote of members to suspend rules, (2) file a discharge petition or (3) the House can use a Calendar Wednesday procedure
House: bills placed on one of four House Calendars in the order which reported but don't usually come to floor in that order and some never reach the floor at all
Speaker of the House and Majority Leader decide what will reach floor and when (legislation can also be brought to floor by discharge petition)
Senate: legislation placed on Legislative Calendar … Executive Calendar deals with treaties and nominations
Scheduling of legislation is job of Majority Leader but bills also brought to floor whenever majority of Senate chooses
House: Debate limited by rules formulated in the Rules Committee … Committee of the Whole debates and amends bill but cannot technically pass it. Debate guided by Sponsoring Committee and time divided equally between proponents and opponents. Committee decides how much time to allot to each person. Amendments must be germane to subject of bill - no riders allowed. Bill is reported back to House (to itself) and voted on. A quorum call is a vote to make sure there are enough members present (218) to have final vote. If no quorum, House will adjourn or will send Sergeant at Arms out to round up missing members.
Senate: debate unlimited unless cloture invoked. Members can speak as long as they want and amendments need not be germane - riders are often offered. Entire bills can be offered as amendments to other bills. Unless cloture is invoked, Senators can use a filibuster to defeat a measure by "talking it to death"
If passed, sent to other chamber unless that chamber already has a similar measure under consideration. If either chamber does not pass bill dies. If the House and Senate pass the same bill then sent to President. If the House and Senate pass different bills they are sent to Conference Committee. Most major legislation goes to a Conference Committee.
D. Conference Committee
E. President: bill sent to President for review
V. The Budget Process
A. Budget Facts
B. Types of Spending
C. The Budget Process
The President's budget is sent to Congress in early February. This proposal is his plan for the next fiscal year, beginning October 1. This plan, however, only becomes official after Congress passes and the President signs spending bills and legislation creating new taxes and entitlements.
After receiving the President's budget, Congress examines it in detail. Scores of committees and subcommittees hold hearings on proposals under their jurisdiction. The House and Senate Armed Services Committees, for instance, hold hearings on the President's defense plan. If the President's plan contains proposals that affect federal revenues, the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees hold hearings. The President, the Budget Director, the Cabinet and others work with Congress as it accepts some proposals, rejects some and changes others.
Each year Congress must pass and the President must sign, 13 appropriation bills that include all of the discretionary spending. The President and Congress do not have to enact new laws governing entitlements or taxes. If they do not, the government will pay the benefits for Social Security and other programs and collect the taxes required by laws already in place.
D. Budget Calendar
VI. Making Policy (Click on link to access notes.)
VII. Domestic Policy (Click on link to access notes.)
VIII. Economic Policy (Click on link to access notes.)
The Presidency and Foreign Policy
III. The President's Roles
IV. The Powers of the President
V. Making Policy (Click on link to access notes.)
VI. Foreign Policy (Click on link to access notes.)
The National Bureaucracy
The executive branch consists of a number of different people/offices other than the president.
I. Vice President
Traditionally, the power of the vice president has depended on the president. The Constitution makes the VP the 'president' of the Senate, but he has no actual power in the Senate. The Constitution mainly provides for a VP who waits around for the president to die. Few VPs, then, are given any real power by their president. Most presidents don't like their VPs (since each was chosen to balance a ticket and has little in common with the president) and don't trust their VPs (since they assume the VP is out to replace him).
The cabinet is the collective heads of the various executive departments - the head of State, Defense, Commerce, etc. The cabinet was intended to come together and act as a source of wisdom for the president on policy matters. After all, you have in one group the leading authority of every subject in the country. However, the cabinet has never been a major source of policy because members tend to think in terms of departmental interests, rather than national interest.
III. White House Staff / Office
These are the presidential advisors that actually have offices in the White House. These people - the press secretary, the national security advisor, etc. - will always be the president's closest advisors since, unlike any other officials, they have daily access to the president.
IV. Executive Office of the President
These agencies report directly to the president and perform services directly for him but are not located in the White House. Their contact with the president is direct, but not as intimate as the White House staff. The Executive Office of the President includes such positions as the CIA director and the OMB director.
the people who are responsible for implementation: putting specific policies into operation. The chief advantage of a bureaucracy is that is tends to standardize everything so that procedures and personnel can be easily transferred or replaced. Today over 85% of the government operates on the merit system. It is this vast group of people that add stability to the government. Presidents, congressman, judges may come and go but the bureaucracy remains the same. The chief disadvantage of a bureaucracy is that is tends to standardize everything so that people become numbers and problems become cases. How far can the bureaucracy go in the name of efficiency?
The National Courts
The Constitution created one national court - the Supreme Court - but did not mandate its structure. Instead the structure of the Supreme Court is determined by Congress. Originally, the Supreme Court had a chief justice and five associate justices. Today, it has a chief justice and 8 associate justices.
The Constitution also gave Congress the power to create any additional national courts necessary. Over time, the national court structure has evolved into what we have today, with 91 national district courts, 13 national appeals courts, the Supreme Court and a handful of specialized national courts.
Each level of the national court system has its own jurisdiction (types of cases a court is competent to hear and decide). The national district courts are courts of original jurisdiction, while the national appeals courts have appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has both types of jurisdiction, depending on the case. It exercises its appellate jurisdiction when it hears an appeal from a lower court. When the Supreme Court hears a case directly it is exercising original jurisdiction.
Types of Cases Heard
The Supreme Court hears three types of cases:
The justices decide which cases they will hear, about 80 each year. They decide another 50 without hearing arguments. The cases they choose usually address constitutional issues or federal law. The Court decides cases based on merit: cases in which two lower courts have issued contradictory decisions and issues that have broad impact on the country.
The Supreme Court gets about 7000 requests to review cases per year. Judicial review is the power of courts to declare acts of Congress, actions of national executives or laws enacted by any level of government to be unconstitutional. There are many cases that don't get heard. If the justices decide not to hear a case, the decision of the lower court stands.
What Happens When the Supreme Court Hears a Case?
Typically, all nine of the justices hear each case. Sometimes less than the full nine justices may hear a case due to illness, a vacant position, or if one justice recuses him/herself (chooses not to participate in a case) due to conflict of interest. A minimum of six of the nine judges must be present to make a decision on a case.
Each case is decided by majority vote. In case of a tie, the decision of the lower court is upheld.
Since the court only reviews cases which are appealed from a lower court, there is no evidence presented, and no witnesses are heard. There are simply briefs (written arguments) and oral argument by the parties. Each side has 30 minutes to present oral arguments, and the justices interrupt with questions while they are speaking.
After the attorneys are finished speaking, the justices meet in secret to discuss the case and come to a decision. No official record is kept of this discussion.
When the Supreme Court announces what they have decided in a case, they issue a formal document called a decision, and sometimes more than one.
The conclusion of the court is a majority opinion.
The justices that disagreed with the majority vote may issue one or more dissenting opinions, explaining their reasons for disagreeing.
Sometimes, one or more justices may be on the majority side but disagree with the reasoning behind the decision, and issue a concurring opinion.
Supreme Court Jurisdiction
Under the Constitution, federal courts exercise only judicial powers. The Supreme Court only considers cases that are justiciable:
o the petitioner has standing to sue (stake in outcome): In an actual case or controversy, the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit also must have legal standing to ask the court for a decision. That means the plaintiff must have been aggrieved, or legally harmed in some way, by the defendant. This means that federal judges may interpret the law only through the resolution of actual legal disputes, referred to in Article III of the Constitution as “Cases or Controversies.” A court cannot attempt to correct a problem on its own initiative, or to answer a hypothetical legal question.
o the case is ripe for decision (will have an impact on the country)
o it is not moot (has not already been decided): it must present an ongoing problem for the court to resolve
o it is not a political question (an issue with which the Congress or the President should deal)
The case must present a category of dispute that the law in question was designed to address, and it must be a complaint that the court has the power to remedy. In other words, the court must be authorized, under the Constitution or a federal law, to hear the case and grant appropriate relief to the plaintiff. The federal courts, thus, are courts of limited jurisdiction because they may only decide certain types of cases as provided by Congress or as identified in the Constitution .Although the details of the complex web of federal jurisdiction that Congress has given the federal courts is beyond the scope of this brief discussion, it is important to understand that there are two main sources of the cases coming before the federal courts: federal question jurisdiction and diversity jurisdiction.
In general, federal question jurisdiction arises in cases that involve the US government, the US Constitution or federal laws, or controversies between states or between the United States and foreign governments. A case that raises such a federal question may be filed in federal court. Examples of such cases might include a claim by an individual for entitlement to money under a federal government program such as Social Security, a criminal prosecution by the government that alleges someone violated a federal law, or a challenge to actions taken by a federal agency.
A diversity jurisdiction case also may be filed in federal court based on the diversity of citizenship of the litigants, such as between citizens of different states or between US citizens and those of another country. To ensure fairness to the out-of-state litigant, the Constitution provides that such cases may be heard in a federal court. An important limit to diversity jurisdiction is that only cases involving more than $75,000 in potential damages may be filed in a federal court. Claims below that amount may only be pursued in state court. Moreover, any diversity jurisdiction case regardless of the amount of money involved may be brought in a state court rather than a federal court.
Federal courts also have jurisdiction over all bankruptcy matters, which Congress has determined should be addressed in federal courts rather than the state courts. Through the bankruptcy process, individuals or businesses that can no longer pay their creditors may either seek a court-supervised liquidation of their assets, or they may reorganize their financial affairs and work out a plan to pay their debts.
Although federal courts are located in every state, they are not the only forum available to potential litigants. In fact, the great majority of legal disputes in American courts, civil or criminal, are addressed in the separate state court systems. State courts have jurisdiction over virtually all divorce and child custody matters, probate and inheritance issues, real estate questions, and juvenile matters, and they handle most criminal cases, contract disputes, traffic violations, and personal injury cases. In addition, certain categories of legal disputes may be resolved in special courts or entities that are part of the federal executive or legislative branches or state and federal administrative agencies.
Contrary to popular belief the Supreme Court is limited by a number of factors:
o The Constitution sets certain outer limits by guaranteeing certain rights and liberties.
o Past decisions – precedents -- must serve as general guidelines for current decisions.
o The Supreme Court does not have any enforcement power.
o The Supreme Court must rely on public acceptance of its rulings.
o The public must be willing to follow a ruling even if it doesn't like it.
o We can amend the Constitution, which could negate any ruling the Supreme Court may have made on any applicable issue.
The Right accuses the Supreme Court of being too liberal.
The Left accuses the Supreme Court of being too conservative.
If both Republican and Democratic presidents have been able to make their share of Supreme Court nominations over time, can we not say that, over time, we have had a balanced Supreme Court?
Civil Liberties and Civil Rights
The American system of government is based on the concept that power flows from the people to the government.
When the power of government is limited by a framework of fundamental written law,
I. Civil Liberties
Civil liberties refer to individuals in general situations.
Civil liberties guarantee individuals freedom from government intrusion into their lives.
Government does not provide liberty but it can provide the condition of legal order necessary for liberty.
Government can get too strong without restraint -- thus the Bill of Rights -- but civil liberties are significant only if individuals use them.
Civil liberties are found in the Bill of Rights, Articles 1, 3 and 6, and in various Congressional laws -- for example, the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.
Liberties Guaranteed in the US Constitution (before the Bill of Rights was added)
May not suspend writs of habeas corpus (except during invasion or rebellion).
Congress or states may not pass bills of attainder.
Congress and states may not pass ex post facto laws.
The right of trial by jury in criminal cases is guaranteed.
Citizens of each state are entitled to the privileges and immunities of the citizens of every other state.
No religious test or qualification for holding federal office are imposed.
States may not pass laws impairing the obligation of contracts.
Protections Afforded Citizens to Participate in the Political Process
Amendment 1: Freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly; right to petition government
Protections against Arbitrary Police and Court Action
Amendment 4: No unreasonable searches or seizures
Amendment 5: Grand jury indictment required to prosecute an individual for a serious crime, no double jeopardy (being tried twice for the same offense), forcing an individual to testify against himself prohibited, no loss of life, liberty or property without due process
Amendment 6: Right to a speedy, public, impartial trial with defense counsel and right to cross-examine witnesses
Amendment 7: Jury trials in civil suits where value exceeds $20
Amendment 8: No excessive bail or fines, no cruel and unusual punishments
Protections of States' Rights and Unnamed Rights of People
Amendment 9: Unlisted rights necessarily denied
Amendment 10: Powers not delegated to US or denied to states are reserved to states
Amendment 2: Right to bear arms
Amendment 3: Troops not quartered in homes in peacetime
Although the Bill of Rights is the fundamental charter of American civil liberties, the Supreme Court determines how those rights are defined and applied.
Civil liberties were established at a time when the common perception was that individuals could take care of themselves if government left them alone. Gradually Americans became less optimistic about the individual's ability to take care of himself and more optimistic about the government's ability to take care of people.
Do you think this has led to our willingness to allow our freedoms to erode? Do we now say "the government can have my freedom of privacy if they will keep drugs off of my street"? If so, have our priorities shifted?
...In Your Home
II. Civil Rights
Civil rights are the freedom or opportunity to take part in government. They usually come about after a struggle leading to new laws that offer guarantees to a previously excluded group. America's history is one of the extension of opportunity to participate in politics to more and different groups of people.
Expansion of the franchise (right to vote) is an obvious example of civil rights struggles.
Specific civil rights are found in Amendments 13-15, 19, 24 and 26.
In addition, Congress has passed a number of Civil Rights Acts over the past several decades.
Although the civil rights movement of African Americans is the most obvious struggle, it is certainly not the only one. Other groups -- women, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, migrant workers, children, disabled -- have struggled and continue to struggle to increase their rights in the system.