Congress's Attributions and How It Fits in the Cogmachine of the National Government

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The framers of the constitution were visionaries who intended for the bicameral Congress to be the most powerful of the three branches of the national government. This branch is obligated to make and implement laws, impose taxes, borrow money, and declare war. The powers of Congress reflect those of a representative democracy. While the framers intended for Congress to represent the sentiments and beliefs of the majority, the framers did not want the Congress to exactly mirror the public view. They did not trust the generally ill-informed and uneducated common man, who would be influenced by his passions when making critical decisions regarding governmental policies. Congress’s role, therefore, was to understand the will of the people, develop and refine their ideas if needed, and govern based not on public whims but rather what they believed was best. While the way in which Congressmen are elected into office represents a democracy, Congressmen have the ability to act outside the public’s will. Although Congressmen’s appointment reflects the will of the people, as Congressmen are voted directly into office by the people and have limited term years, the body may ignore public desires, as Congressmen benefit from gerrymandering and the manipulation of districts of electoral constituencies, and at times indulges in external influences, such as their party’s, special interest groups and lobbyists, or their own.

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Elected Congressmen representing their constituents understand that one of the most important roles they have is to serve the people of the district or state which put them in power. Ignoring the views of the constituents and remaining out of touch can cost representatives a chance at incumbency. In fact, Congressmen visit their home district several times a year in order to actively listen and understand their constituent’s views. Not only do they listen to the voices of the electors who call their office and volunteer their opinions, members of Congress also follow public opinion polls and surveys. They fully understand that the terms set by the constitution; two-year terms for members of the House of Representatives and six-year terms for the Senate makes them more responsible towards the needs and viewpoints of the constituents. The term year limits of Congress also limit the time in which members can develop financially beneficial commitment to special interest groups, thereby undermining the influence of lobbyist who seek to influence legislation. Congressmen understand that voters who elected them expect their representative to reflect their views, and by alienating constituents, they could result in a failure to get reelected. Therefore, Congressmen are accountable to the citizens and have an incentive to act in good faith when voting for specific legislation. It is due to these factors that members of Congress try to remain in step with the public by representing their constituents’ viewpoints, rendering Congress to be seen a democratic body.

Congressmen, however, profit from gerrymandering, the manipulation of districts of electoral constituencies to segregate a voting bloc. Gerrymandering takes three different forms: packing, cracking, and kidnapping. Packing is a system in which the state legislature combines a large voting bloc of one party into one district, which minimizes the number of districts held by a certain party. Cracking, inversely, scatters the opposition’s voting bloc. Kidnapping, the last form, melds two districts of the same party together to force the candidates of said party to compete against one another. Although all of these forms of gerrymandering are initiated by the state legislatures, members of the House benefit greatly from the marginalization of large voting blocs. This, in turn, allows members of the House to disregard the will of the majority. A candidate, whose views contradict those of the majority of the constituents, could be voted into office and represent his or her people, without representing the majority. Processes such as negative racial gerrymandering are specifically problematic, as district lines are drawn to prevent racial minorities from electing a preferable candidate. This was prevalent during the Reconstruction Era, in which white Southern democrats easily manipulated districts to elect white democrats to Congress. Therefore, the various forms of gerrymandering allow state legislatures to elect congressmen whose beliefs and values ultimately may contradict the will of the majority.

How a Congress member decides to vote is based on an overwhelming number of factors and opinions, which do not reflect solely the will of the people. Partisan politics, special interest groups, presidential influences, colleagues in Congress, personal views, and even the media often determine how Congress will decide on a particular issue. Although Congress members have access to non-partisan research groups which can provide accurate information about given proposals, Congressmen sometimes rely heavily on the research and analysis supplied by their own party caucuses’ in order to promote specific arguments and positions, known as organizational politics. Similarly, Congressmen may promote their own personal beliefs, or what they find to be best for society, known as attitudinal politics. Many Congressmen often convert their religious zeal into politics, believing that imposing a certain standard of religious morality is best for the community. Additionally, special interest group, attempting to influence public policy and seeking special favors may provide campaign funding for the election of Congress members, obligating them to take the organization into consideration when voting on selected issues. An example of such “buying influence” was evident in the 1990’s, when tobacco lobbyists launched a comprehensive and aggressive political campaign to convince state legislatures to prevent legislation restricting the sale of tobacco. Through lobbying, media outlets, industry allies, and financial contributions, tobacco interest groups campaigned to “neutralize clean indoor air legislation, minimize tax increases, and preserve the industry's freedom to advertise and sell tobacco” (Barnes). By preempting local clean indoor air ordinances and by decreasing restrictions placed upon youth to access tobacco, special interest groups prevented stricter tobacco control laws, thereby promoting the agenda of tobacco company. Although members of Congress take into consideration how a majority of their constituents feel about a specific legislative proposal, they are often faced with extenuating circumstances and information, which may lead them to vote against the will of the people.

Although Congressmen’s appointment reflects the will of the people, as Congressmen are voted directly into office by the people and have limited term years, the body may ignore public desires, as it benefits from the various forms of gerrymandering, and at times indulges in external influences, such as its party’s, special interest groups and lobbyists, or Congressmen’s own. While the notion of a representative government, of the people, by the people, and for the people, is the cornerstone of American democracy, this principle often faces challenges when Congress has to consider many factors and varying circumstances when casting a vote. Congress, the national legislative body, spends a great deal of time seeking an accurate idea of how the majority feels about specific legislative proposals. By following public opinion survey, polling their constituents, and engaging in outreach activity, Congressmen understand they have to reflect the opinion of the majority of their constituents or face the consequence of not being reelected. Congress is often able to reflect the will of the people. However, Congressmen do ignore public wishes when faced with pressure from organized special interest groups, their own political party, recommendations made by experts and colleagues, or their own personal interests. Additionally, gerrymandering, the manipulation of districts of electoral constituencies to segregate a voting bloc, permits the alienation of certain groups of voters and ultimately allows Congressmen to disregard the overall will of their constituents

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