Influences on Congress


The legislative processes of the United States Congress are often open to certain influences. These influences can come from such elements of the congressional system as logrolling and party representation on committees. In addition, there are several manners in which party leadership in Congress can also contribute to these influences.

Logrolling is one technique used to sway the legislative procedures of Congress in one’s favor. Also known as reciprocity, logrolling is a method that one or more congressman use to garner another’s vote. In essence it is quid pro quo, or as Congressman B.F. Butler once defined it: “If you will vote for my interest, I will vote for yours.” A common practice in American Congress, logrolling is inherently a form of mutual aid among politicians; one legislator will support another’s project in return for the latter’s support of his. When enough of these votes are exchanged, a majority coalition is formed. Logrolling is often used by Congressmen who seek to establish local projects. These initiatives, which are predicated upon the grassroots interests of politicians, run the gamut from new dams to improved irrigation systems; better harbors to additional bridges; and enhanced hospitals to state-of-the-art military bases.

Another component of the congressional committee system that influences the legislative process is party representation. Committee make-up is determined by the percentage of party representation in each house. Essentially, the party who has the most members in Congress obtains the greatest amount of seats on a committee. This majority then impacts the naming of a committee chairman. The committees that wield the greatest amount of influence are the House Ways and Means Committee, the House Rules Committee, and the Senate Judiciary Committee. The party that has the highest percentage of seats, the greatest amount of party representation, clearly has the strongest influence on the legislative process.

One manner in which party leadership in Congress can influence the legislative process is by choosing a Speaker of the House. The majority party is given the option of selecting the Speaker. The Speaker supervises the daily activities of the House and is supposed to be unbiased in his actions. Nonetheless, the influence of this presiding officer cannot be underestimated. The primary responsibilities of the Speaker are recognizing speakers, referring bills to committees, and answering procedural questions. One way in which the Speaker could influence the legislative process is by recognizing a vast amount of speakers which are solely members of his party. Also, the Speaker names members to several committees, votes to break ties, and has the power to name interim speakers, called speakers pro tempore. Ultimately, the passage of certain legislation could come down to the decision of this influential party leader.

A second method in which party leadership in Congress can influence the legislative process is by selecting a Senate Majority Leader. This powerful administrator is chosen by whichever party controls the Senate. Essentially, the Majority Leader manages and schedules the business of the Senate. Moreover, this leader is recognized first, by custom, to speak on the floor of the Senate. The Senate Majority Leader also has the ability to monitor and control the activities of whips and other floor leaders. By scheduling the actions taken by the Senate, and controlling nearly all of the Senate’s activities, the Senate Majority Leader, who is chosen by the majority party, wields a great deal of power in the legislative process.

The legislative procedures of the United States Congress are often open to influences. These influences can come from such aspects of the system as logrolling and party representation on committees. Additionally, there are various ways in which party leadership in Congress can impact these processes.