Unit 3: American Institutions When many people think of the American government, the institutions that come to mind most often are Congress, the president, and the Supreme Court. This unit will focus on these three important pillars of American government in addition to a fourth and often overlooked facet of American government: the bureaucracy. Each subunit is dedicated to one of the major institutions and discuss the significant role that the particular institution plays in the American political system. As we learned in previous units, the American system of government relies on a delicate balance of power among many forces. By the end of this unit, you will understand the specific roles that each institution plays in establishing and maintaining that balance of power.
Unit 3 Time Advisory
Completing this unit should take approximately 46.5 hours.
☐ Subunit 3.1: 14.25 hours
☐ Subunit 3.1.1: 1.25 hours
☐ Subunit 3.1.2: 2.25 hours
☐ Subunit 3.1.3: 0.75 hours
☐ Subunit 3.1.4: 0.75 hours
☐ Subunit 3.1.5: 1.25 hours
☐ Subunit 3.1.6: 0.25 hours
☐ Subunit 3.1.7: 3 hours
☐ Subunit 3.2: 10.75 hours
☐ Subunit 3.2.1: 1.75 hours
☐ Subunit 3.2.2: 3.25 hours
☐ Subunit 3.2.3: 1 hour
☐ Subunit 3.2.4: 0.75 hours
☐ Subunit 3.3: 6.5 hours
☐ Subunit 3.3.1: 0.25 hours
☐ Subunit 3.3.2: 0.75 hours
☐ Subunit 3.3.3: 0.25 hours
☐ Subunit 3.3.4: 1.5 hours
☐ Subunit 3.4: 12.5 hours
☐ Subunit 3.4.1: 0.75 hours
☐ Subunit 3.4.2: 0.5 hours
☐ Subunit 3.4.3: 1.25 hours
☐ Subunit 3.4.4: 0.75 hours
☐ Subunit 3.4.5: 5.25 hours
☐ Unit 3 Current Events Challenge: 1.5 hours
☐ Unit 3 Assessment: 1 hour
Unit3 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to: - outline the structure and powers of the US Congress; - compare, contrast, and discuss the defining features of the US Senate and House of Representatives; - explain the factors involved in electing members of Congress, including the advantages of incumbency; - explain the process of how a bill becomes a law; - discuss the role, structure, and powers of congressional committees; - explain the basic structure of party leadership in both houses of Congress; - identify and analyze the factors that influence how members of Congress vote; - contrast the concepts of trustee, delegate, and politico roles in congressional representation; - discuss the constitutional origins of the executive branch; - outline both the powers of the presidency and the constraints on those powers; - trace the evolution of the modern presidency; - explain the roles and duties of the vice president, the Executive Office of the President, and the cabinet of the United States; - analyze the dynamics among the president, the public, and the media; - discuss the historical evolution of the federal bureaucracy; - define the characteristics and organization of the bureaucracy; - discuss the methods used to check the bureaucracy and efforts made to reform the system; - outline the development and structure of the judicial branch; - explain the role and powers of the federal court system; - analyze the decision-making powers of the US Supreme Court; - discuss the landmark decisions in the history of the Supreme Court; and - describe the politics of the judicial selection and confirmation process.
3.1 The Legislative Branch: Congress
- Web Media: Missouri State University: Dr. Patrick Scott’s
Link: Missouri State University: Dr. Patrick Scott’s
Instructions: Use this PowerPoint as a reference as you watch the lectures “Congress I,” “Congress II,” and “Term Limits” below.
Reading this presentation and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
Lecture: YouTube: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Congress I,” “Congress II,” and “Term Limits” Link: YouTube: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Congress I” (YouTube), “Congress II” (YouTube), and “Term Limits” (YouTube)
Also available in:
iTunes U (Lecture 17, 18, and 19)
Instructions: Watch these three video lectures to gain a general understanding of important terms and concepts for future readings and assessments. The US Congress is one of the world’s most significant democratic institutions. On one hand, Congress can enact far-reaching and vital legislation. Members often succeed in pushing through projects and funding that benefit their home districts. However, it is also one of the most criticized – typically for having low ethical standards and for being frustratingly slow to act, elitist, beholden to special interest groups, and overly partisan. It is no wonder that most Americans have a negative perception of Congress. Job disapproval ratings for Congress as a whole usually range between 20-30 percent among voters. Most of the criticisms of Congress are a reflection of three institutional factors: here
- Congress is an entity that is made up of hundreds of elected officials, all representing different constituencies, agendas, and interests. As a result, members of Congress often disagree about major legislation. Any legislative action requires broad agreement both within and across the institution.
- Because the framers created a system of shared powers, Congress has to work with the executive branch. Remember, the president has the power to veto any legislation that Congress enacts (although they can override the president's veto), so compromise becomes the order of the day. This is a system that the Founding Fathers desired, so that no one branch could wield more power than the others.
- Congress is an incredibly complex institution in terms of rules and procedures. Thousands of bills are introduced each session in Congress, and these bills must traverse a complex legislative process involving committees, floor debates, interest group influence, and party power struggles. This complexity not only slows the process of enacting legislation, it also provides a tremendous built-in advantage for opponents of any bill to block it. Supporters of a bill must have success at every step. Opponents need to win only once. Of the approximate 8,000 bills that are introduced in every 2-year congressional cycle, only 5 percent become public laws.
Watching these lectures and taking notes should take approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Reading: American Government and Politics in the Information Age: “Chapter 12: Congress” Link: American Government and Politics in the Information Age: “Chapter 12: Congress” (PDF)
Instructions: Read Chapter 12 on pages 462-530. The US Congress is one of the world’s most significant democratic institutions. Members fight hard on behalf of their states and districts and are free to introduce any legislation they wish. This openness also makes Congress one of the world’s most frustrating institutions. The tension between representation and action has existed from the very first Congress in 1789. Because Congress is divided into two houses with their own rules, procedures, and electoral bases, members often disagree about major legislation, even when the public wants action. However, as you’ll discover in this subunit, frustration does have a purpose and was even intentionally built into our constitutional system.
Reading this chapter and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Reading: Missouri State University: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Student Study Guide #3” Link: Missouri State University: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Student Study Guide #3” (PDF)
Instructions: Read over this brief list of questions, which will be addressed in Unit 3. You should use it as a guide before each subunit to help you determine some of the most important material to be covered. At the end of the unit, use it as a resource for reviewing important terms and concepts.
Reading this study guide and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s “Subunit 3.1 − Quickfire Quiz” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Subunit 3.1 − Quickfire Quiz” (PDF)
Instructions: Answer these questions to assess your understanding of this subunit.
Completing this activity should take approximately 15 minutes.
3.1.1 History and Structure of Congress - Reading: US Department of State: