The U.S. Congress

Political Science 342

Spring 2010


Dr. Sean F. Evans

Office: PAC A-38

Phone: (731) 661-5237





                Recently, Republican Scott Brown shocked the nation winning the Senate seat of the late Edward Kennedy in liberal Massachusetts by running against the health care bill and Democratic control in Washington. Losing the ability to break Senate filibusters, President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats must decide whether to moderate their agenda to diminish expected losses this November or push on and pass a bill they think will greatly reduce health care costs while expanding access to many that lack it. In short, they must consider whether they should govern and take their lumps or respond to the national will. 

                This tension is the focus of this course as we explore the advantages and limits of the legislative system as a governing and representational system.  The major question of this course is what is the purpose of a legislature?  Should it represent the people or should it govern?  That is, should legislators reflect and respond to the preferences and characteristics of their constituents or should legislators make analytically sound, timely, and well-justified policy?  Are the two purposes incompatible?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of a governing and representational system?  What are the consequences for policy of having one or the other system? 


Course Requirements


Assigned Readings.  The syllabus designates the readings for each class period.  The date of the reading indicates the day by which the reading should be completed.  Usually, the readings are taken from the books assigned for the class.  In a few instances, readings are on reserve in the library.  The following books, available at the Lifeway Bookstore, are required for this class:


Davidson, Roger H., Walter J. Oleszek, and Frances Lee.  2010.  Congress and Its Members, 12th ed.  Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. 


Dodd, Lawrence C., and Bruce I. Oppenheimer.  2009.  Congress Reconsidered, 9th ed.  Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. 


Smith, Steven S., Jason M. Roberts, and Ryan J. Vander Wielen.  2009.  The American Congress Reader.  NY:  Cambridge University Press. 


                In addition, students should keep abreast of politics by reading a daily newspaper.  Personally, I suggest reading a national paper, most of which are available on-line.  I relate the lectures to actual events occurring in Washington so knowledge of current events increases your understanding of lectures.  For your convenience, my home page has links to major papers and magazines under News Links.


Grading.  Your grade for this course is determined from three exams, a research paper, a presentation, and class participation.  This is a 300 level course so exams are essay and cover lecture and reading assignments.  There are three exams and each exam is worth 20% of your final grade.  The final exam is cumulative.  There are no make-ups for missed exams.  If you miss an exam, the final counts twice. 

                After exams are returned, you must wait 24 hours before discussing the exam with me.  This serves as both a cooling off period and as a time for you to reflect upon the exam and what you may have done wrong.  We will then sit down and discuss what is wrong, how we can correct this, and how you can improve over the course of the semester.  If I make a mistake, I will rectify that, but I do not engage in point grubbing. 

Participation is worth 10% of your final grade.  Each student is expected to come to class prepared to integrate readings with lecture material and to apply theories and models to the current congress.  In a small class, your participation or lack thereof is rather obvious.  Moreover, if you complete the readings before class, you will find that our time spent in class is more productive and you will have to study less around exam time.  In assessing participation, students who do not attend regularly will receive a 0. Those who attend class but do not participate earn a 40 in participation.  Those who show they read but show a superficial understanding receive a 60.  Those who read and show they understand the material in discussions receive an 80 for participation and those who excel by showing a thorough understanding of readings and an ability to connect concepts across lectures, readings, and discussions receive a 100 for participation.  Please see this as the difference between letter grades.  Moreover, when and/or if I curve test or final grades, I reserve the right to withhold the curve from students who never attend class. 

                Finally, your performance at the end of the semester is more important than your performance at the beginning of the semester.  If you show dramatic improvement, your final grade will reflect how you ended the course rather than how you began it. 


Paper.  This semester each student will write an empirical research paper in conjunction with the professor. I am expanding my research on strategic retirement from the House of Representatives to the Senate and feel this is an opportune time to relate our studies to professional political science research. So over the course of the semester, you will conduct a literature review on a strategic retirement from the Senate, develop hypotheses, collect data, and analyze the data. We will use several days in class to discuss our project as we do this together. This is a great opportunity for you to put your research skills into practice and prepare you further for senior seminar. This paper is worth 25% of the grade.

                In writing this paper, I recognize that this is not a grammar course, but an integral part of communication is good grammar.  As such, I will stop reading any paper that has not been spell checked or grammar checked (it is usually easy to tell) and assign that paper an F.  Since the paper requires outside research, proper citations are required (U of Chicago style preferred) and rules against plagiarism are enforced.  More information on this assignment will be forthcoming.


Presentation: An important component of your education is developing your skills to conduct research and present it to others. Therefore, each student must make a presentation that relates a theory from our research to the current congress. So each student should choose an area of congress that interests them and choose to study a theory or concept from that section and be able to explain, critique, and apply that to the current congress. The presentation should be 10-15 minutes, should use Powerpoint, and this presentation is worth 5% of your grade.


Cheating.  Don’t do it.  Anyone caught cheating receives an automatic F for the course and will be referred to the appropriate authorities for punishment.  Please read the Department’s policy on plagiarism here.

Communication Devices.  Please turn off all cell phones and other portable electronic devices while in my class.  Your life is not so important that you need to answer the phone or text your friend immediately.  If found using any such device, I reserve the right to answer the phone and/or read your text message to the class. Moreover, I will confiscate your communication device until the next class meeting. Therefore, if you have an emergency necessitating having the communication device on, please let me know before the class.


Audio/Video Recording:  No audio or video recording of classroom activity is permitted without my prior approval. This prohibition includes cellphone camera functions, laptop audio or video functions, and all other digital or analog recording equipment.


Lap top computers: Students are welcome to use lap top computers in my class as long as they are not a distraction to the user or others (e.g., noise, email, internet use not connected to the course, playing games) and it does not create a hazard to others (e.g., extension cord in the aisle).


Extracurricular.  Students are expected to attend any special political events this semester.


Special Needs.  If you have any special needs that affect your ability to learn in this class, please inform me and appropriate steps will be taken to help you. 


Continuity of Instruction: In the event that this course is no longer able to meet face-to-face, students should first immediate check their email account for instructions. If there are no instructions there, please check your cell phone.


The Syllabus. I reserve the right and prerogative to modify the syllabus in accordance with student needs. The syllabus should not be construed as a contract.

Class Outline


Feb. 3 Introduction


Feb. 5 Representation v Lawmaking

DOL, ch. 1 and Weissberg “Collective v Dyadic Representation in Congress” in SRW


Feb. 8 The Founders and Congress

Federalists # 51 in SRW


Feb. 10 Congress from Washington to FDR

DOL, ch. 2 and Chiles "Congress Couldn't Have Been This Bad, or Could It?" on reserve


Feb. 12 The Modern Congress

Sinclair "The New World of US Senators" and Dodd and Oppenheimer “The Politics of the Contemporary House” in DO


Feb. 15 Legislative Development:  Organizational Theory

Polsby "The Institutionalization of the US House of Reps" in WHC


Feb. 17 Legislative Development:  Individual Goals

Dodd "Congress and the Quest for Power" on reserve


Feb. 19 Legislative Development:  Partisan Goals

Binder “The Partisan Basis of Procedural Choice” in SRW

Rohde Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House, ch.2 on reserve


Feb. 22 The Incumbency Advantage

DOL, ch. 5, Cox and Natz “Elbridge Gerry’s Salamander,” Fenno "US House Members in Their Constituencies," Mayhew “The Electoral Connection,” and Sulkin “Issue Politics in Congress” in SRW


Feb. 24 The Decision to Run for Congress

DOL, ch.  3 and


Feb. 26 Strategic Politicians

Jacobson "Strategic Politicians" and Rohde “Risk Bearing and Progressive Ambition” in SRW


March 1 Discuss Strategic Political Literature


March 3Campaign Tactics

DOL, ch. 4


March 5 Congressional Elections: Voting

DOL, ch. 4 and Erikson and Wright "Voters, Candidates, and Issues in Congressional Elections" and Herrnson and Curry “Issue Voting in the 2006 Elections” in DO


March 8 How Representative is Congress?

March 10 First Mid-term


March 12 Parties or Committees

Cooper and Brady "Institutional Context and Leadership Style" and Maltzman and Smith “Principals, Goals, Dimensionality, and Congressional Committees” in SRW and Smith and Gamm "The Dynamics of Party Government in Congress” in DO


March 15 Parties

Cox and McCubbins "Setting the Agenda" and Smith “Party Influence in Congress” in SRW


March 17 Leadership

DOL, ch. 6, Pearson and Schickler “The Transition to Democratic Leadership in a Polarized House,” Evans and Grandy “The Whip System in Congress” in DO


March 19 The Minority Party


March 22 Committees

DOL, ch. 7


March 24 Committees

Aldrich and Rohde “Congressional Committees in a Continuing Partisan Era” in DO


March 26 Rules and Procedure: The House

DOL, ch. 8, “Sample of a Special Rule” and Cox “On the Effects of Legislative Rules” in SRW  


March 29-April 4 Spring Break


April 5 Discuss research


April 7 Rules and Procedure:  The Senate

“Sample of a Unanimous Consent Agreement” and Roberts and Smith “The Evolution of Agenda-Setting Institutions in Congress” in SRW


April 9 No class


April 12 Decision Making

DOL, ch. 9 and Kingdon "Models of Legislative Voting" in SRW


April 14 Passing a Bill  

Lipinski “Navigating the Congressional Policy Process,” in DO and Evans “Greasing the Wheels,” and Krehbiel “Pivotal Politics” in SRW


April 16 Catch-up and Review


April 19 Second Mid-term


April 21 Congress and the Presidency

DOL, ch. 10 and Cooper “From Congressional to Presidential Preeminence” in DO and Cameron “Veto Bargaining”


April 23 Congress and the Presidency  

Fisher “The Politics of Shared Power”


April 26 Congress and the Bureaucracy

DOL, ch. 11


April 28 Congress and Interest Groups

DOL, ch. 13 and Wright “Legislative Lobbying” in SRW


April 30 Congress and Interest Groups

Hall and Wayman “Buying Time” in SRW


May 3 Congress and the Courts

DOL, ch. 12 and Binder and Maltzmann “The Politics of Advice and Consent” in DO


May 5 Congress and the Public

Hibbing and Smith “What the American Public Wants Congress to Be” in DO


May 7 The Budget Process

DOL, ch. 14 and Rudder “Transforming American Politics Through Tax Policy” in DO


May 10 Congress and Foreign Policy

DOL, ch. 15 and Howell and Kriner "Congress, the President, and the Iraq War’s Domestic Political Front" in DO


May 12 Congress Today

Dodd and Oppenheimer “Congressional Politics in a Time of Crisis”


May 14 Congressional Change

DOL, ch. 16 and Dodd "Re-Envisioning Congress"  on reserve


May 19 Final Exam 8:30am