Congress and Policy Change

Congress and Policy Change

Congress and Policy Change

Congress and Policy Change

Excerpt

Students of American politics have a particular fondness for Congress. More than the other branches of our national government, the presidency and the Supreme Court, those who study Congress have had personal contact with that institution and its members. The 535 members of Congress are necessarily more accessible than one President and his immediate staff, or the nine justices of the Court, and many congressional scholars have had experience as legislative staff or congressional fellows. The presidency and the Court, by comparison, are more remote and less accessible, and probably to some extent because of this, less thoroughly studied than the House of Representatives and Senate.

The major reason for studying Congress, however, is its constitutional role as the chief policy-making body in the country. The policy-making process in Congress is complicated greatly by our expectations that members of Congress act as representatives. They are delegates for the interests of their districts and their states and as such are necessarily in regular contact with their constituents and spokespersons for policy interests. They need to be concerned with reelection and with achieving personal, partisan, and constituent goals in Washington. As the size of government has grown, so has the policy-making role of all branches of the government, and for Congress, especially, this has entailed tremendous growth in its internal complexity, staff, and the demands placed on its members. These, like changes in the nature of elections over the last thirty years, have important and varied effects on the policies that Congress adopts.

This book is about congressional policy making, and particularly processes by which congressional policy changes — and does not change. At times in our history Congress has been a policy initiator, at others it has been the bastion of resistance to new directions of government action. It reflects the will of the citizenry at times, while at others its rules and processes have done more to serve the interests of special and minority interests.

Studying the processes of policy change in Congress and the forces that give rise to change presents interesting challeges. Congress is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than the representatives and senators that fulfill those roles at any time; more than the buildings on Capitol Hill; and more than a reflection of the wishes and interests of people the institution represents. Congress is all of these things plus its evolving norms and rules for how it makes decisions. It is a complex institution, composed of elected representatives and senators, staff, and historical traditions, all interacting . . .

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