David Mayhew, America’s Congress (2000).

_Main Argument:_

The thesis of America’s Congress is that members of Congress can make a difference. Congress is an important centre of power and is a genuine actor in American politics. Mayhew explores the sorts of actions by members of Congress that “register in the collective public consciousness” (p. 10). He argues that by definition such actions should be considered consequential or at least potentially so, given their notice by politically aware citizens at the time. Mayhew asks not only what sorts of public actions are undertaken by members but also in what mix and with what consequence for national politics and institutions over time.

 

_Method:_ Mayhew takes a rational choice analysis of Congressional elections. He compiles a database of 2,304 observations of members’ publicly noted moves stretching back to 1789.

 

 

== Notes ==

 

–     Mayhew observes that the House, Senate, and presidency have become democratized over American history and at the same time have grown distinct and equal in influence and legitimacy

–     If it is assumed that Members of Congress (MCs) are single-minded seekers of re-election, then we would predict that MCs would devote substantial resources to three basic activities:

*Advertising: Making yourself seen, e.g. ribbon-cutting ceremonies, speeches, interviews

*Credit claiming: Particularistic policies, pork, casework, etc)

*Position taking: using role call votes and speeches to stake out a popular position more than to change policy

–     Mayhew does not actually claim that MCs are motivated exclusively by re-election; his goal is only to deduce the behaviours that we would expect if this assumption were true – behaviours, incidentally, which conform closely to reality

 

_Evidence:_

–     Less than half of members’ public moves are directly related to passing legislation

–     ”Taking stands” is an equally prominent mode of behaviour and more often than not does not explicitly entail legislative action

–     Mayhew argues that legislative life is as much about opinion formation as it is about opinion expression [18]

–     “Actions”, to Mayhew include legislative initiatives, but also investigating , taking stands on issues, intervening in foreign policy, expressing opposition to presidential policies, even extra-constitutional duties such as serving on presidential commissions

 

_Reelection as the exclusive goal:_

–     Others, such as Fenno, detail more than one goal, but re-election must be achieved if any of the other goals are to be achieved

–     Studies of the US Congress must focus on individuals rather than groups of individuals, such as parties

–     Members believe that they are constantly in danger of losing (either in the primary or in the general election) and that they are in a position to improve their chances

 

_Effects of reelection as the exclusive goal:_

–     a) The organization of Congress meets the needs of its members remarkably well

–     b) the satisfaction of electoral needs requires remarkably little zero-sum conflict among members

–     There are three structural units: congressional offices, committees, and parties

–     Mayhew argues for a ‘public sphere model of politics’ an policy making centred in the separation of powers

–     In contrast with parliamentary systems, the US does not have a ‘party centred model of politics’ as parties are no cohesive enough

–     This also stems from Madison and the Framers desire for conflict among the branches

–     The committees (highly specialized) are set up to aid credit-claiming

–     Parties are not cohesive because members need to avoid taking the “wrong” positions.

 

Congress has several policy functions:

–     1) expressing public opinion

–     2) handling constituent requests

–     3) legislating and oversight

–     In legislation and oversight, unless there are particularistic benefits, members get credit for position-taking, not for passage or implementation

–     Since the payoff is for positions, members don’t care much about good legislation

–     Results include delay, particularism, servicing of the organized, symbolism, and blunt, dumbbed down positions

–     How does Congress stay afloat? Control committees and party leaders act to make sure that individual interests don’t destroy the entire enterprise. They are paid off with internal benefits (as opposed to electoral benefits).