|1.||What is the actual role that Congress plays in the American political system?|
|2.||Is Congress a legislative body whose role is to obscure the real wielders of power in America?|
|3.||What groups in American society have the ability to get the legislation they want passed?|
|4.||Do the American people have any role to play in making Congress an effective national political institution representing their interests?|
Conservatives and liberals believe that both houses of Congress--the Senate, the House of Representatives--play a primary role in policy- making. In this role, the Senate holds hearings, conducts investigations, and debates issues. This organ has the ability to take a long perspective and to develop issues which take extended periods of time to incubate. Also, the Senate develops public opinion on these issues through hearings, debates, and investigations. As far as conservatives and liberals are concerned, the Senate is a public forum and publicity machine.
The House of Representatives is viewed as a more specialized body than the Senate.1 Because it has more members2 it can divide itself into more committees and pay detailed attention to special areas. The House is often seen as reacting to the publicity generated by the Senate in its "Great Debates." Conservatives see Congress as playing as important a role in the formulation and passing of legislation as the Office of the President.
Although the President often initiates legislation, he just as often responds to the initiatives of Congress, particularly in domestic affairs.3 The weaknesses of Congress as perceived by liberals are seen by conservatives to be strengths. For example, the seniority system-- where length of time served in Congress is the determining factor to being assigned to head a committee--viewed as anti-democratic by liberals, is seen by conservatives to be an asset because it allows Congressmembers to mature in office before attaining great power. This system also acts as an incentive to encourage good performance. Conservatives believe in the importance of Congress and maintain that it functions as a primary instrument of policy formation. The legislative structure in the United States is well suited to perform its task of policy formation, and, according to conservatives, it really accomplishes this.
Liberals accept the legislative structure that exists in the United States. They believe that this structure has the ability to initiate, formulate, and enforce legislation. Its weaknesses are threefold: (1) Structural defects; (2) the right person is not always elected to Congress; and (3) the public does not always arouse itself to pressure Congress in the same manner as do special interests.