America's Congress

America's Congress: Actions in the Public Sphere, James Madison Through Newt Gingrich

Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 268
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  • Book Info
    America's Congress
    Book Description:

    To understand American politics and government, we need to recognize not only that members of Congress are agents of societal interests and preferences but also that they act with a certain degree of autonomy and consequence in the country's public sphere. In this illuminating book, a distinguished political scientist examines actions performed by members of Congress throughout American history, assessing their patterns and importance and their role in the American system of separation of powers.David R. Mayhew examines standard history books on the United States and identifies more than two thousand actions by individual members of the House and Senate that are significant enough to be mentioned. Mayhew offers insights into a wide range of matters, from the nature of congressional opposition to presidents and the surprising frequency of foreign policy actions to the timing of notable activity within congressional careers (and the way that congressional term limits might affect these performances). His book sheds new light on the contributions to U.S. history made by members of Congress.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13002-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    On Capitol Hill, like it or not, the 1990s was Newt Gingrich’s decade. Certainly he made a major public splash as GOP House leader, and who would deny that many of his much-noticed moves in that role were consequential? “Gingrich’s articulation of a Republican agenda, culminating in the September 1994 Contract with America; his avid recruitment of candidates; his continual assertion since his election to the leadership by two votes in March 1989, that Republicans could win a majority—without all these, Republicans would probably have made gains in the House elections in 1994, but would have fallen well short...

  5. ONE Member Actions in the Public Sphere
    (pp. 1-28)

    If a legislature is set down in a constitutional environment, what sorts of actions will its members engage in that win public notice? For reasons elaborated below, I believe this is a useful question to ask, and I rely on it as an underpinning for this book about the U.S. Congress. By “public notice,” I mean notice by at least a politically aware stratum of the population. For a sense of what I mean by “sorts of actions,” consider the following account of congressional politics during Clinton’s first two controversy-laden years in 1993–94. I wrote this stylized sketch for...

  6. TWO Canvassing for Actions Through American History
    (pp. 29-70)

    The opening sketch of Chapter 1 grew from the following assignment I gave myself in 1995: Write a sketch of U.S. national politics and policymaking during 1993–94, centering on particularly conspicuous actions by members of the House and Senate. I wrote from memory as a close observer of public affairs during those years. If several close observers had each been asked to write a sketch like that, probably no two of them would have identified exactly the same events or participants. Unanimous mention of, for example, Senator Dole’s opposition to the Clinton health-care plan would fade into spottier coverage...

  7. THREE A Basic Profile of Member Roles
    (pp. 71-128)

    Congress is a lawmaking establishment, but it is a good deal more than that. In terms of political influence and legitimacy, it is a successful rival to its companion executive branch—not an easy achievement for a legislature in any regime. In filling this niche during the past two centuries, Congress has exhibited a distinctive blend of offensive and defensive capabilities, and it has vied rather effectively with the presidency to represent, and at times to shape and mobilize, the American public.

    This ample place of Congress in the American regime, I hope to show in this chapter, can be...

  8. FOUR The House, the Senate, and the Presidency
    (pp. 129-167)

    It is said that American politicians operate within an “opportunity structure.” This is the familiar hierarchy of public offices wherein, in the most familiar scenario, they start out as state or local officials, rise to the U.S. House, aspire to the Senate, and possibly climb beyond that to a cabinet post or the vice presidency or presidency.¹ Roles in the political parties are available on the side. This chapter is designed, first, through exhibits of MC “action,” to illuminate the opportunity structure that has engaged American politicians by addressing a selection of topics that bear on it. How has the...

  9. FIVE Action Patterns in Capitol Hill Careers
    (pp. 168-215)

    Notwithstanding the existence of a broader American opportunity structure, time spent in Congress is a career pattern all by itself. What can an analysis of MC “actions” suggest about the nature and significance of Capitol Hill careers?

    That is the concern of this chapter, which begins with a consideration of particularly notable “action careers” during American history, then, with an emphasis on the twentieth century, addresses several interrelated topics: To what degree have committee leaders, party leaders, and southerners dominated the “action” realm? At what points in their careers, at different times during American history, have MCs engaged in “actions”?...

  10. SIX The Stability of American Institutions
    (pp. 216-246)

    In analyzing the data patterns in previous chapters, I have tried to generalize and draw out certain implications along the way. Hence the emphasis on a profile of MC “action” types in Chapter 3, the trends toward democratization, distinctness, and equality among the major U.S. elective institutions in Chapter 4, and the time locations of “actions” in MC careers in Chapter 5. In this concluding chapter, I present some additional general discussion, this time about stability and change in the American system and Congress’s place in it, and then finish as I began in Chapter 1 with a look at...

  11. INDEX
    (pp. 247-257)