*This syllabus is a living document! It will be updated frequently, so plan to revisit it often.*
POL S 353: The United States Congress
Office Hours: TTh 1:20-2:20pm or by appointment
Teaching Assistants (TAs):
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)
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 email@example.com.
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).
DEADLINES/GRADE BREAKDOWN (100 PTS TOTAL)
ASSIGNMENTS WITH DEADLINES:
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
ASSIGNMENTS WITHOUT SPECIFIC DUE DATES:
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
- 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.
January 8: Class introduction
January 10: Introduction to the people’s branch
January 15 & 17: Democracy and polarization
January 22 & 24: The legislative process
Kaiser, Act of Congress
January 29 & 31: How laws are made and what they do
(See also the tutorials on LegSim and this handy primer on floor procedures)
Visualization: Legislative Explorer
**Party leadership selected in class January 31**
February 5 & 7: Government gets the hard problems: Why are we disappointed when they aren’t solved?
Researching and drafting legislation:
Another take on Introducing Bills and Resolutions
**First Committee meetings and Committee Chairs appointed in section February 8**
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?
Committees: Why does such a small group of lawmakers have so much influence?
Committee Theories Reconsidered, Groseclose and King
February 19 & 21: Fiscal politics, incredibly boring but incredibly consequential
February 26 & 28: The lone wolf starves: Getting others to support your legislative effort
**Party Leadership reelections in class February 26**
March 5 & 7: The dynamics of Congressional elections
Cohen, Getting the Hogs to the Corn
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com and they will activate for you.
Here is the authorization code: 8b3724cdd1d7e0bf1c9d0e4cd0a1d0f9
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:
- (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).
- (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.
- (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.
- (d) Prohibited collaboration.
- (e) Engaging in behavior specifically prohibited by an instructor in the course of class
instruction or in a course syllabus.
- (f) Multiple submissions of the same work in separate courses without the express
permission of the instructor(s).
- (g) Taking deliberate action to destroy or damage another's academic work in order to
gain an advantage for oneself or another.
- (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.