POL S 353 A: United States Congress

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 12:50pm
GWN 201
Scott Lemieux

Syllabus Description:

*This syllabus is a living document! It will be updated frequently, so plan to revisit it often.*

New: Designated Opponents List


POL S 353: The United States Congress

Winter 2019

T/Th 11:30-12:50

Gowen 201


Scott Lemieux


Gowen 114

Office Hours: TTh 1:20-2:20pm or by appointment


Teaching Assistants (TAs):

Alicia Reese


Smith 39

Office Hours: T 1:30-3:30pm or by appointment

Sections AA (Friday 11:30 in Mary Gates 231), AC (Friday 12:30 in Mary Gates 241)


Jennifer Driscoll


Gowen 42

Office Hours: T 9:20-11:20am or by appointment

Sections AB (Friday 11:30 in Clark 316), AD (Friday 12:30 in Clark 316)


COURSE DESCRIPTION: Congress—the people's branch—is famously unpopular. Nine out of 10 Americans disapprove of Congress. Yet, the same Americans will reelect 90% of House members and 80% of Senators. One explanation is that candidates, including incumbents, run for Congress by criticizing Congress. Ironically, by reinforcing public disdain and delegitimizing the institution, they make their jobs more difficult and the cycle continues.

Playing politics can be an effective way to learn about the essential role of Congress in the US system of government, and why lawmaking can be so challenging. Roughly 50% of class time is devoted to a student-run simulation, and most of your grade reflects your contributions to the simulation. This project-based approach can be a terrific way to learn about a subject – but it requires your participation!


The learning goals in this class are to:

Demonstrate appreciation of:

  • the role of Congress in society
  • the legislative process, its logic, and proposed reforms
  • the external and internal influences shaping legislative behavior

And to improve your:

  • listening and communication skills
  • collaboration skills
  • strategic skills


Thoughtful disagreements make this class work! It takes courage to express alternative points of view. If we are truly interested in making good policy decisions (as opposed to just winning or getting reelected), then we need to encourage criticism. The framers of the Constitution believed in the power of information, which is why the first amendment protects freedom of speech (and why Congress is given the power to “promote the progress of science and useful arts”). Promoting the free flow of ideas is also a central reason for Congress’ rules of decorum and the University of Washington’s student conduct code.

Please let us know if there is something we can do to improve your learning experience. If you have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), please contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or uwdrs@uw.edu.


Required book: Robert Kaiser, Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't


LegSim: Everyone must register and create a profile by January 14 at 11pm, and complete the constituency assignment by January 15 at 11pm. There is a $16 registration fee. See registration instructions at the very bottom of this syllabus.


ASSIGNMENTS:  You will be given brief assignments that provide opportunities to apply course content from the readings and lectures. Assignments that do not show evidence of engaging with the readings will receive a low score. Review assignments early and if you have questions, feel free to ask your TA or instructor!

We expect your essay responses to demonstrate that you have been attentive to the lectures and assigned readings. Be sure to include appropriate citations (including page numbers where relevant).  The Political Science Writing Center exists for you and offers excellent on-line resources. View handouts or sign up for writing help at https://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/. Late assignments will be accepted but penalized.


Plan ahead for the capstone assignment, the Final Report on Legislative Accomplishments (25% of your grade).


Designated opponent: Throughout the simulation, another student is watching and will hold you accountable for your actions and decisions (see the Final Report assignment).





January 15, by 11pm. Register on LegSim (SEE THE END OF THE SYLLABUS), complete your profile, and submit the constituency research assignment.                                                                   5 pts

  • Your constituency must be from a state that is within one letter of your last name (e.g. Lemieux can choose a K, L or M).


January 22, by 11pm. Propose your legislative agenda.                                                            7.5 pts 

  • Describe your legislative goals and how they relate to your representational and reelection goals.


January 28, by 11pm. Justify your committee requests.                                                            7.5 pts

  • How will serving on your requested committees advance your agenda?


February 12, by 11pm. Major bill assignment.                                                                         10 pts

  • You may sponsor as many bills and resolutions as you like. This assignment asks for a ‘major’ bill. If you are uncertain if your bill qualifies, please ask in advance!


March 19, by 5pm. Final Report on Legislative Accomplishments.                                    25 pts



Canceled: Give a one-minute speech.                                                                                     0 pts


Prepare a Committee Report.                                                                                                 10 pts  

  • A sample committee report is located under 'Instruction' on LegSim. Due March 4, 11pm. No credit if submitted after March 8, 11pm.


Prepare debate remarks.                                                                                                          5 pts

  • Prepare talking points for a forthcoming legislative debate, applying strategies of persuasion discussed in class. Due March 8, 11pm. No credit if submitted after March 12, 11pm.


Section Participation.                                                                                                            15 pts

  • Participation in section activities including quizzes and assignments


LegSim Effectiveness.                                                                                                          15 pts

  • Contributions to the collective class experience, on-line and during class debates


      TOTAL: 100 pts

Extra credit!

  • Get elected (and reelected) to a leadership position

    • 2 pts chamber leader (2 more points if reelected)
    • 1 pt committee chair (1 more point if reelected)
    • 1 pt party leader
  • Earn a Leadership PAC Contribution
    • The chamber leader awards 2 pts (campaign funds) to 3 different legislators
    • Each committee chair awards 1 point to 2 different legislators (leader and chairs must inform the TAs before finals week)


CLASS SCHEDULE: Readings for each week will be posted on Canvas unless otherwise noted. All readings except Kaiser, Act of Congress, will be announced a week before they are due.


Week 1

January 8: Class introduction

January 10: Introduction to the people’s branch

The Changing Face of Congress 

A record number of women will serve in Congress 

The wealth of Congress 

Congress and the Public 

Art. I. Sec. 8 

Federalist #51


Week 2

January 15 & 17: Democracy and polarization

See Congress Polarize Over 60 Years 

Polarized We Govern

Why Divided Government is Bad for Contemporary Presidents  

Two Cheers For Polarization 


Week 3

January 22 & 24: The legislative process

            Kaiser, Act of Congress


Week 4

January 29 & 31: How laws are made and what they do

Introduction to the legislative process, CRS

The Legislative process: the theory, the practice

(See also the tutorials on LegSim and this handy primer on floor procedures)

US Code   US Code growth   Federal Regulations   Depts and Agencies

Signing Statements   Executive orders   Federal budget   

Legislation examples:  Dodd-Frank, The Orphan Drug Act 

Visualization: Legislative Explorer

Film: HR 6161: An Act of Congress (1977)

**Party leadership selected in class January 31**


Week 5

February 5 & 7: Government gets the hard problems: Why are we disappointed when they aren’t solved?

Researching and drafting legislation:

LegSim Sample bill format

Introducing a Senate Bill or Resolution, CRS

Another take on Introducing Bills and Resolutions


Ten Questions checklist

Legislative Issue Ideas


**First Committee meetings and Committee Chairs appointed in section February 8**


Week 6

February 12 & 14: Inside the institution: Process, parties, committees, and leaders

How Parties Function in Government 

Party Leadership, CRS

Polarization vs. Partisan Warfare, Theriault

Party Leaders: Leaders or Followers?

Leadership Flash Cards 

Committees: Why does such a small group of lawmakers have so much influence?

Categories and Rules for Committee Assignments, CRS

Legislative Explorer 

Committee Theories Reconsidered, Groseclose and King


Week 7

February 19 & 21: Fiscal politics, incredibly boring but incredibly consequential

As deficit soars towards $ trillion, Congress shrugs and keeps spending
Winners and losers in the Trump budget

A Tour of the Federal Budget, CBO
Federal Budget Process, Washington Post
Authorizations versus Appropriations, CRS


Week 8

February 26 & 28: The lone wolf starves: Getting others to support your legislative effort

Arnold, Strategies for Building Coalitions
Schneider and Ingram, Social Construction of Target Populations
Kingdon, How Legislators Decide


**Party Leadership reelections in class February 26**


Week 9

March 5 & 7: The dynamics of Congressional elections

Forecasting the 2018 midterms

Cohen, Getting the Hogs to the Corn


Week 10

March 12-14: final legislative sessions. 

March 15 quiz sections: Campaign Day. Bring the propaganda you produced as part of your final report to share with the class.

 **Legislature adjourns**


LEGSIM REGISTRATION: LegSim is a class resource. Please think twice before posting something that may be offensive (and then don’t do it!). The photo upload is there so that your classmates can connect people in class with their on-line profiles. Please upload a good headshot.


A $16 registration fee needs to be paid by credit card during the registration process.


To register, go to www.legsim.org, select ‘create new account.’ Complete the field and enter the authorization code (below). Be sure to use a valid email address and write down your username and password.


If you exit the process before paying, you will need to start over. You cannot use the same email address unless you contact support@legsim.org to have your current information deleted.


Within a few minutes after paying, LegSim will send a reply email with an activation link. You must use that link to login for the first time (using your username, not your email address).


Check your junk/trash folder if you don’t receive the activation email. If it’s not there, forward your receipt email to support@legsim.org and they will activate for you.


Here is the authorization code: 8b3724cdd1d7e0bf1c9d0e4cd0a1d0f9



Academic Misconduct

Academic misconduct is a serious offense at the University of Washington. All cases of suspected academic misconduct will be referred to the Arts and Sciences Committee on Academic Conduct, and may result in a grade of 0.0 for the assignment in question.

University policies and guidelines regarding cheating and plagiarism can be found here.

What constitutes academic misconduct? The University of Washington Student Conduct Code defines it as the follow (WAC 478-120-024)

Academic misconduct includes:

  1. (a)  "Cheating," which includes, but is not limited to:
    (i) The use of unauthorized assistance in taking quizzes, tests, or examinations; or (ii)The acquisition, use, or distribution of unpublished materials created by another student without the express permission of the original author(s).
  2. (b)  "Falsification," which is the intentional use or submission of falsified data, records, or other information including, but not limited to, records of internship or practicum experiences or attendance at any required event(s). Falsification also includes falsifying scientific and/or scholarly research.
  3. (c)  "Plagiarism," which is the submission or presentation of someone else's words, composition, research, or expressed ideas, whether published or unpublished, without attribution. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:
    (i) The use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment; or

(ii) The unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or acquired

from an entity engaging in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.

  1. (d)  Prohibited collaboration.
  2. (e)  Engaging in behavior specifically prohibited by an instructor in the course of class

instruction or in a course syllabus.

  1. (f)  Multiple submissions of the same work in separate courses without the express

permission of the instructor(s).

  1. (g)  Taking deliberate action to destroy or damage another's academic work in order to

gain an advantage for oneself or another.

  1. (h)  The recording of instructional content without the express permission of the

instructor(s), and/or the dissemination or use of such unauthorized records.


If you are uncertain what constitutes plagiarism, please ask me. The Political Science/JSIS/LSJ Writing Center also offers guidance on plagiarism here.


Catalog Description: 
Organization and procedure of Congress, state legislative politics, lobbying, legislative roles, theory and practice of representative government.
Department Requirements: 
American Politics Field
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm