Political Science | The United States Congress
Y319 | 3559 | Hoffman


The end of the millenium is a time of uncertainty and, by all appearances, a
period of transition for the U.S. Congress.  Five years ago the Democratic
Party lost the majority control of Congress it had successfully maintained
for most of the postwar period.  But the margin of Republican control is
razor thin, with partisan power as evenly matched as it has been at anytime
since Eisenhower's day.  Both parties seem poised to fight and win decisive
control.  Meanwhile, public perceptions of Congress display dramatic, if not
puzzling, shifts; members of Congress seem to be changing the way they
operate (both in office and while out on the campaign trail); and the
institution as a whole appears to be slowly moving toward a new sort of
post-Cold War relationship with the executive branch.    It is by no means
clear where all of this will lead.
While this course won't turn students into soothsayers, it does aim to
illuminate the most prominent forces of change (and of stability) affecting
the U.S. Congress today and to help students make sense of this branch of
the national government and where it may be headed.    To do this, we must
approach the nation's preeminent lawmaking body from several different
directions.  Thus, we will look at:
*	the electoral process, which determines who serves in Congress and
what members will try to accomplish as congresswomen and men;
*	the internal structures of  the institution (parties, committees,
formal rules and informal understandings) which shape the way Congress
actually accomplishes its purposes;
*	Congress's relations with external forces (the presidency, the
courts, interest groups, the media), which influence what it does and does
not do;
*	the public's perceptions of Congress;
*	the ways Congress carries out its basic tasks of policymaking,
oversight and representation; and,
*	the prospects of enhancing Congress's performance.
This course will primarily follow an informal lecture format, designed to
allow for student discussion.   The reading schedule will be fairly
demanding, requiring approximately 150 pages of reading per week.