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Congressional legislation

The notion that a Congressman ran for office for unselfish goals and went away to Washington to serve his country and represent his neighbors seems quaint and luaghable compared to the way that we currently regard members of congress. Recent views have suggested that most people felt that while the institution on the whole was corrupt, but that their representative was a good person and servant of the electorate. More and more each member is scrutinized and judged harsher by their constituencies, the media, their own party and the numerous interest groups and cuacuses that make it possible for them to act as Senators and Representatives. The Congress and President work together through their own institutions in the common goal of running the worlds most powerful nation. The legilative powers were divided this way to ensure that all new laws would be debated and decided not by a few but through a heirarchy that gives every citizen a part to play in our collective decision making.

Each of the individuals in the House has an equitable voting relationship with the others, 1=1=1, when it come to passing legislation, but in the earlier phases of formulating policy some relationships are dominant over others. The only ones that would be lower than a freshman Democrat in the 105th Congress from a rural, low industry district are probably those that represent our protectorates Guam, Puerto Rico, etc. Many levels within the parties and the institution afford some members leadership roles and positions that they can use to sway the other members. The Whips, Majority and Minority leaders and the Speaker of the House are looking for party cohesion and also bi-partisan support for a bill. Coalitions are forged or broken depending on the issue at hand. Individual committee positions are another point were some are more powerful than others. The committees are major superintendents of some agencies and members not on that particular committee may be ignored or relegated to other tasks while the major decisions are being made. Since much of policy direction is dominated by the two party system they are able to use the majority selected rules and procedures of the House to their advantage. In the more collegial and congenial Senate power is more diffused and shared between the members and minority rights are protected.

In the parties the leaders are able to use their personalities and power to influence the agenda that is agreed upon. The way the House is run leaves a great deal of discretion to the leaders of the parties and committee members regarding which specific measures will be debated and concentrated on. The comeupance of Newt has shown how a member of the House can predominate a political agenda th4at has broad support. The boisterous Newt has brought to the House a new sense of power and prestige for the Republican party and also to the office of Speaker of the House. Newt has lost some of his political steam in the midst of ethics investigations and the friction caused by his abrasive personality. Starting the 104th congress as a revolutionary leader bent on a smaller more efficient government his power has been diminished as his corps of freshmen have become increasingly independent. The democrats chipped away at him and his support by casting a shadow over each of the Republicans in the house as cronies of Newt. During the recent campaigns Newt tried to lay low except for in his home district as thousands of ads linked the Republicans to Newt. As he has down in the last congress he will continue to be a force in the shaping and direction of any new policies.

Since the retirement from the Senate of Bob Dole, Trent Lott has taken over leadership duties for the Republican party in the Senate and has personally become more prominent as a Republican player while Newt has been forced to defend his policy agenda and his personal conduct from all sides. As a powerful personality like Gingrich, Lott will have a great influence. Almost every piece of legislation is going to have hiss blessing or input within it. Lott has brought to the position experience that makes as a good requisite foe the job. He has served in the House as party whip and made many improvements in the position that he later used as a whip in the Senate. These changes streamlined many operations that made party coordination and cohesion easier. Now as Senate Majority Leader he is in a great position to influence the President and to persuade the public to help advance his parties goals.

The president is also a major player in shaping what comes out of congress. He is able to use various tactics that blur party lines in the rhetorical war of words. Congress and the President work together daily, but not in harmony. Many of their efforts are contradictory because they represent different constituencies and are faced with different pressures. Party lines are not the only ones that dived when it come to policy making. Carter and Clinton both saw the difficulty incurred, even in unified government, to formulate policy. These separation of powers forces the burden of policy making to be done even though many competing individuals fight for their agendas to be fulfilled. Sometimes Presidential priorities and congressional desires coincide to create a win-win situation. Reagan was able to do it for a while when his agenda of cutting taxes and increasing defense played directly into the hands of a Democratic congress that was more than happy to bring home a slice of pork to their districts and states. Some policies were reactive to Reagans desires for a stronger military and other benefits for big business. The distributive policies passed out many perks that were divided among the members homes and many regulatory policies were written by congress to benefit large corporations.

Most inherently in our political system is a set of divergent forces that cause the two branches to check and conflict with each other and react to major concerns of the electorate. When the President proposes any policy he is acting as a legislator for the entire country. He can make public appeals for support from the masses to pressure their representative to support an idea. One of his greatest powers to shape what comes out of congress is his power to veto. Even the threat of such action is sometime enough to influence policy while it is still being formulated. The President must constantly be aware of the power shifts and public perceptions that people have between these two branches of government. It can shift quickly producing conflict and also compromise. It may produce a better bargaining relationship where the two try to accommodate each others agenda's where they overlap.

The President is also able to influence congress down to the individual members by lobbying them directly for their support or by giving or withdrawing patronage services. Members of the same party as the President can greatly benefit from a close relationship and ride on their coattails come election time or be diparaged for his ties to to the executive branch. Natural allegiances between the President and members of congress, such as party, geographic concerns and economic priorities help greatly to advance a President's goals. These members may be an advocate all the way to the floor and within the committees. Other informal ties help to influence the Executive-Legilative relationship as they work together. For the first two years of Clinton's term, he worked with a unified government to pass many of his ideas that he gained support for through public appeals. Many of the members who supported the President were passed over for re-election for the sole reason of supporting him. Many were perceived to be acting as trustees and were ousted in favor of Republicans who promised to be more like delegates of their constituency. Clinton was able to gain the upper hand in public support after the governmental shutdowns were judged to be the fault of a radical congress that tried to pass an unacceptable budget proposal into law.

Along side of the competing forces between the legislature and President are the organized interest groups whose sole purpose is to promote their own agendas. They are all fighting each other for the lawmakers' attention to benefit themselves and their members. Our general desire to associate with like minded people has exploded by the need to make the views and inputs of each of these groups known on a wide scale. These groups are able to spread their influence to all levels of government. They are able to give committees support on initiatives, advice about a problem, and information that may or may not be biased to help their cause. Representatives that are sympathetic to the groups cause can also secure votes and monies for their campaigns for office.

Different interest groups have different levels of power and influence depending on their organization and strength. The two main ingredients for a successful interest group are money and personnel. They also need a well organized flow of information to the members that they need to influence and also to their own members that may be called on to protest a program or donate to a candidate. The personnel are there to lobby for their interests everywhere the lawmaker turns. In the past they may have been offering sweetheart deals for proposed legislation to be passed, but now with our closer scrutiny of lawmakers they must be more aware of how there voting patterns will be judged when compared to who has given them money. The lobbyist is not looking so blatantly to buy a legislator but they have never been shy about letting them know how they feel about what is done for or against them to forward their goals. This can be done by attending committee meetings to asses tendencies of a Rep and to gather information to give to a legislative proponent. The lobbying does not stop in the Capitol but goes on at social functions such as fund raisers and vacation retreats as favors are passed for political promises. Lobbying can reach the grassroots level when a group gives cues to constituents that in turn press on their representative for action. Some of the members of these groups have gotten there positions by going through he revolving door of public service and private influence. This happens when a person has worked for an agency that implements policy or for a political insider, then they take their knowledge, expertise and political contacts and use them to work for the benefit of the group that want to have influence over policy making.

An organized interest groups most powerful weapon is its' money. Money makes their influence possible because if they had none, they would never have been able to reach an influential audience at all.. Groups also use money to support candidates. At the same time that cand

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