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Where Power Lies in Congress

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WHERE POWER LIES IN CONGRESS SAMUEL COVE Each chamber of Congress has a different focus of power. The reasons for this are partly because of the Constitution. With the Senate, it gives the power to ratify or reject treaties (such as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty) and confirm executive (often ambassadorial) appointments. Further, Senators are appointed per state rather than per district, this contributes to giving them a more national (and international) outlook, rather than for the 'folks back home'. These factors increase the Senate's influence over foreign affairs. Although it could be argued that this 'power' in the Senate is only in theory. With Presidential Executive Agreements used in place of treaties more often, and EXOP officials having much power, thus reducing the importance of executive confirmations. These factors undermine the Senate's power. The Senate also has the power to confirm (e.g. Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito) or reject (e.g. Harriet Myers, forced to withdraw after conservative pressure) Supreme Court appointments; a potentially long-reaching power that far outstrips the individual term of any congressmen (6 and 2 years for the Senate and House respectively) - although it should be noted that the high rate of incumbency makes this effect slightly lessened. Individual Senators are often seen as having a higher prestige than members of the House - perhaps because of each of the ...read more.


Also, the House Rules Committee, the most powerful committee in the House (because it can scrap any piece of legislation regardless of its relevant area, and also because it timetables the House floor) was dominated by Gingrich whom alone had 5 votes on the committee and thus, with his other Republican members, he effectively held an iron grip over it and subsequently over much of the legislative agenda. Gingrich also put limits on the chair terms and the number of committees and subcommittees a Congressman could serve on. This allowed him to remove senior members, and be more able to influence who became the new chairs. This practice was continued even after Gingrich left office, for example even popular chairs being removed due to the influence held by Majority Leader Tom Daley in 2000-1. Each of these factors has substantially shifted Congressional power from the committees to the party leadership. Since January 2007, and the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress, this balance of power has shifted some-what back to the committees. Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, has been much less publicised for using Task Forces, for example. However, she has continued the practice of limiting committee chair terms, so party leadership has been controlling power in that respect. It should also be noted that this leadership power is by no means constant, with it largely depending on the personality and goals of the individual. ...read more.


During the Republican Congress - Clinton years, little legislation was signed and Congress' approval ratings dropped sharply, subsequently. Conversely from 2001-2007 (excluding the Democrat Senate of Summer 2001-2002), the Republican Congress were highly successful at getting legislation through with their Republican President - for example the use of only one veto by the president, in comparison to the 7-8 vetoes used after the Democrats gained control, in only one year of 2007-2008. But whether or not this is Congressional power or not is subjective. The 2001-2007 Republican Congress was mocked as 'Do Nothing' and 'Bush's Lieutenants' - so perhaps this isn't an exercise of their own power, but that of the presidents - Bush was able to get through legislation that his supporters in Congress nominated, such as multiple tax cuts, NCLB and the Patriot Act - but was this their success or just that of his platform? More so his, it would seem. But either way, the Speaker getting on well with the President is an important factor in differentiating the Gingrich from the Hastert. Power in recent times has definitely shifted towards party leaders then, it would seem. And although it fluctuates, the overall trend - Gingrich, Daley and Pelosi for example - do seem to show a definitive increase in recent times, matching that of the greater partisanship. Seniority? Expertise? Why bother with that, when you can have order and control! ...read more.

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