Essay Question #1
Congress was first created by the Founders to ensure the protection of individual rights. After fighting England, they realized they needed to protect exactly what they had fought hard for. In simple terms, they wanted Congress to protect freedom. They understood leaders should not be given too much power and created the federal government to be a balance of power. The Constitution allowed them to feel secure in knowing that everyone’s voice counted equally. Thus, the Constitution created the Executive, the Judicial, and the Legislative branches.
Congress is an extremely important part of the government of the United States. The most noted job Congress holds is the power to make laws. Congress was initially established through the Constitution to specifically make laws. The Constitution outlines its duties specifically and originally called it the legislative branch. The only way a law can be enacted is if it goes through Congress first.
The Founders set Congress up to consist of two chambers with equal power: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate consists of two elected representatives from each state. The House of Representatives consists of elected representatives from each state as well, however each state has a different number of representatives based on the state’s population. The United States Census Bureau regulates the population and the number of representatives each state should have.
The term of a senator is six years. The candidate must be at least 30 years old. The laws outline that he or she must also be a citizen for nine years and a resident of the state from which he or she is elected. Representative terms are for two years. Laws outline representatives must be at least 25 years old and live in the state they represent.
Congress also has other important duties. Congress has the power to regulate taxes, mint money, and regulate interstate commerce. It also has incredible power over foreign affairs. The founding fathers also gave Congress power over the Executive and Judicial branches, in a precautionary “checks and balances” plan.
The extraordinary power of creating the lower courts as well as the power to investigate the executive branch’s actions and administration was given to Congress. It is outlined that Congress is the only way to amend The Constitution, however this power is rarely used. An amendment requires two-thirds votes by both chambers and then a three-fourths vote by the states. This is difficult to obtain and explains why this power is not used often.
Today’s Congress is much busier than the Founders could have imagined. In a society of mass politics, representatives have no choice but to form interactive relationships with interest groups. They compromise with each other to get what they want and to represent their constituents accordingly. They group together on specific issues in order to obtain power in numbers and to provide security in their opinions. This is a necessary part of the Congress and allows it to effectively run.
Public opinion is a difficult subject when studying politics. The public generally has little trust for politicians, carrying this distrust over to Congress and other branches of government. Americans are quick to blame Congress for many government decisions. However, most Americans will agree that Congress is useful and their powers and duties are appropriate.
Essay Question #2
One current public policy issue that is impossible to ignore is the fight over Social Security. This issue is so notorious due to the fact that every American at some time in their life will be affected directly by the decisions made. An issue of public policy that affects such a large portion of the population usually holds an urgency in the public’s and the government’s eyes. An issue such as this one however is causing massive arguments and delays, making the public and the opposing sides frustrated with the Bush administration.
After many proposals and discussions, the plan is currently stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee. This committee is trying to add changes in retirement savings, long-term care and private pensions. Since this plan is extremely unpopular, the administration and Congress are trying to make it more appealing to everyone involved. It is clear that the current Social Security plan needs to be revised, however no one can agree on exactly how to accomplish the task.
Representative Bill Thomas of California is the chairman of this committee and is positive they are making progress that will help the plan gain support. The Congress is split over this decision mostly by political party affiliation. As expected, Democrats are against specific parts of Bush’s plan, including the private investment accounts financed by payroll tax revenue and are refusing to sign any plan that includes anything similar. Bush and his Republican supporters however are convinced the plan will do nothing but bring positive days to the American people. Until a plan is worked out to benefit the desires of both political parties, the Social Security code will remain as it is.
Another issue of public policy today is the fight over how to penalize gang members involved in crimes. The House of Representatives is proposing mandatory minimum sentences for gang violence members. The new plan would increase the federal sentences and change the laws on defining a gang. Currently, a gang is defined as three or more people who have committed five or more crimes together with at least one of them being violent. The new plan would change the number of crimes to two.
Representative J. Randy Forbes, Republican of Virginia is the sponsor of the bill. He states that there are vast benefits with mandatory sentencing. He thinks criminals will be less likely to commit crimes when they know they have no way to escape mandatory sentencing if caught. Conservatives have come down on the courts lately, saying they are unwilling to intervene when necessary. This bill drives the issue of court accountability home. Civil rights groups are against this measure, saying it violates individual rights and waste taxpayers’ money. Amidst controversy however, the costly bill is likely to pass in some form.