My responses during my final exam for my US Government class
Author: Kara Adamo
Advantages of Incumbents vs. Challengers
Congressional incumbents tend to have more money to work with during elections because the house tends to reelect over 90% of its members. Because of this, corporations tend to throw more money at incumbents and their campaigns because they have a higher statistical likelihood of winning. It is an investment game. Those incumbents—reelected and in their debts—are more likely to push agendas that are favorable to said corporations.
The reason reelection is so likely is that on the whole people are more comfortable with what they are used to than with mystery. It’s almost like having a home-field advantage. Also, a previously elected congressman usually represents the predominant ideology of their district. The challenger, then, tends to represent the minority.
Steps in How a Bill Becomes a Law
The process of making a bill into a law is a long, logistical nightmare that one could argue is entirely counterproductive and encourages stagnancy in our legislative system.
Bills may be introduced in either the House or the Senate—with the exception, of course, for bills regarding financial matters. Those must be introduced in the House only.
First, members of congress draft a bill. This can also be done by outside groups, but for the most part it is handled by the executive branch. Then, the bill is introduced in the House of Representatives. The speaker of the house sends it to a committee, where it more than likely will die off. If it manages to make it through, it goes to Rules Committee where debate rules are decided upon and its scheduled debate time is set. Once the house begins to debate the bill, amendments may be added and then it goes to a vote. In the event that it passes, it is sent to the Senate.
When a bill is introduced by a Senator, it is sent to a committee and the whole process repeats itself. If the committee votes for the bill, it goes to the Senate floor and is called up by the floor leader who decides when the Senate will consider it. Then something called floor action occurs, where the bill is further debated and amendments are added again. If the senate passes it, it goes back to the house where a conference committee determines whether or not the changes are acceptable. They then work out a compromise with the Senate.
Both houses work together to work out a compromise and both must approve of all of the changes made during the conference committee. Then, after the bill has been beaten around until it is unrecognizable, it is sent to the president who has the ability to sign or veto the bill. If signed, the bill becomes law.
If the president decides to veto the bill, but the house and the senate want to override that veto, they are able to do so with a 2/3 vote.
And we wonder why it takes so long for them to do anything.
The Modern Institutional Presidency
Article 2 of the Constitution provides a list of limited formal powers for the president of the United States. It gives the president the power to appoint—with Senate approval—executive department heads, federal judges, and ambassadors. The president has the ability to negotiate treatise and to recognize ambassadors from other countries and remains the top civilian commander of all US forces. While Congress retains the authority to actually declare war, the president is given carte blanche in times of emergency.
These days, the presence of the White House Office and the Executive Office of the Presidency muddles things a bit. Stifled under layers of bureaucracy, presidents rely on their gatekeeper, the White House Chief of Staff, to keep them in touch with everything.
There is also a media component now that was not necessarily a factor before. While there may be inherent limitations in the offices, there are conflicting public expectations to contend with, as well. Presidents must sell themselves as common Joe’s while simultaneously proving that they are above that very commonality that makes them relatable. They must juggle pragmatism with vision while thwarting attempts by both sides to throw off their policy initiatives. And even if they manage that, the media can and will spin it in another way to enhance ratings.
Executive Orders & Executive Privilege
Presidents are able to issue executive orders in order to avoid public debate and opposition because they do not require congressional approval. They generally related to administrative matters and have recently been used to carry out legislative policies and programs. Kennedy, for instance, used an executive order to eliminate racial discrimination in federally funded housing.
They are often used to enforce civil rights and impose sanctions and they are immediately treated as law. They also do not have to cite existing constitutional legislation to show authority thanks to written support in things like the Vestiture Clause, which states that “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”
Executive Privilege allows the president and other high-ranking officials to withhold information from congress. It is because of this that executive orders are sometimes pushed in the interest of time constraints and necessity.
Judicial Review is the doctrine that enables the courts to annul legislation they deem unconstitutional. It differs from Judicial Restraint in that it involves their own interpretation of laws and usually their emotions and political agenda factor in. Judicial Restrain, theoretically, involves practice solely based in written law and existing legislation. The ability to deem one of those laws unconstitutional is taken out of the equation. The law is there and so it must be followed. Judicial Activism, on the other hand, involves judicial practices almost exclusively based in political agendas and emotion-based rulings. This becomes controversial in that it can be considered almost undemocratic. It almost gives judges the ability to overturn the will of the people by making laws instead of interpreting them. Still, some people believe that it is a required avenue in many cases because it promotes engaging conversations and progressive concepts like social liberties.