The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-07-07
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
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Many scholars believe that the framers of the Constitution intended Congress to be the preeminent branch of government. Indeed, no other legislature in the world approaches its power. Yet most Americans have only a murky idea of how it works. In The U.S. Congress, Donald A. Ritchie, a congressional historian for more than thirty years, takes readers on a fascinating, behind-the-scenes tour of Capitol Hill--pointing out the key players, explaining their behavior, and translating parliamentary language into plain English. No mere civics lesson, this eye-opening book provides an insider's perspective on Congress, matched with a professional historian's analytical insight. After a swift survey of the creation of Congress by the constitutional convention, he begins to unscrew the nuts and pull out the bolts. What is it like to campaign for congress? To attract large donors? To enter either house with no seniority? He answers these questions and more, explaining committee assignments (and committee work), the role of staffers and lobbyists, floor proceedings, parliamentary rules, and coalition building. Ritchie explores the great effort put into constituent service--as representatives and senators respond to requests from groups and individuals--as well as media relations and news coverage. He also explores how the grand concepts we all know from civics class--checks and balances, advise and consent, congressional oversight--work in practice, in an age of strong presidents and a muscular Senate minority (no matter which party is in that position). In this sparkling addition to Oxford's Very Short Introduction series, Donald Ritchie moves beyond the cynicism and the platitudes to provide a gem of a portrait of how Congress really works.

Author Biography

Donald A. Ritchie is Historian of the U.S. Senate. His books include Our Constitution; The Oxford Guide to the United States Government; Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents; Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps; and Electing FDR: The New Deal Campaign of 1932.

Table of Contents

The Great Compromise
Why Not a Parliament?
All Laws Necessary and Proper
The People's House
The Cooling Senate
To Get Along, Go Along
Campaigns and Constituents
Campaigning for Congress
The Freshman Class
Serving Constituents
Media Relations and News Coverage
Congress at Work
The Committees
Turning Bills into Laws
House Committees
Senate Committees
Appropriations: Where Things Happen
Floor Proceedings and Coalition Building
Debate, Rules, and Procedure
Majority Rule in the House
Minority Muscle in the Senate
Making Laws and Making Sausage
Checks and Balances
The Chief Legislator
Advice and Consent
War and Peace
Congress Investigates
Punishment and Protection
Congress and the Courts
The Contours of Capitol Hill
The Capitol
The Members
The Staff
Lobbyists and Other Visitors
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

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