POLSC331: Congressional Politics

Course Syllabus for "POLSC331: Congressional Politics"

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In this course, you will learn about the complexities of the legislative branch by examning the U.S. Congress in the American political system.  Course content will focus first on the history of Congress and the constant tension between Congress’ competing representation and lawmaking functions.  In this respect, you will focus on topics that include the history and original purpose of the legislative branch, the basic structure of Congress, and the electoral considerations and dynamics that impact how members of Congress act.  The course will then take a careful look at the internal politics and law-making processes of Congress.  Here, you will learn not only the “nuts and bolts” of the legislative process, but also the reasons why rules are designed as they are as well as the external competing interests that impact members and shape legislative outcomes.  By the end of the course, you should be able to explain how a bill becomes a law, how it evolved throughout the legislative process, and what internal and external factors impacted it along the way.  This course will enable you to have a deeper understanding of Congress and the entire legislative process in American politics.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Explain how Congress was structured by the Framers of the Constitution.
  • Discuss how Congress is shaped by the U.S. Constitution.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the importance of bicameralism in a representative body.
  • Compare and contrast features of the House and the Senate.
  • Explain the evolution of Congress as a modern institution.
  • Explain how congressional candidates run for office.
  • Discuss the importance of political parties in the recruitment of congressional candidates.
  • Identify the advantages and disadvantages of incumbency.
  • Define reapportionment and redistricting.
  • Assess the role of money and fundraising in congressional elections.
  • Compare and contrast how members of Congress fulfill their duties in their home districts and in Washington D.C.
  • Compare and contrast the leadership systems used in the House and Senate.
  • Describe the roles and functions of legislative leaders and political parties in Congress.
  • Name and describe the various types of congressional committees.
  • Explain why the committee system is central to an understanding of the legislative process.
  • Describe the major steps in a bill becoming a law.
  • Evaluate the influence of constituents, colleagues, political parties, and interest groups on congressional decision-making.
  • Assess the relationship between Congress and the president and its many permutations over time.
  • Analyze the pros and cons of united and divided government.
  • Explain the influence of the presidency on congressional elections.
  • Discuss the role of congressional oversight as it relates to both the presidency and the bureaucracy.
  • Identify the role played by Congress as it relates to the judicial branch.
  • Analyze the complicated relationship that exists between members of Congress and the media.
  • Analyze the role and performance of Congress in the budgetary process, economic policy, and foreign policy.
  • Explain the complications that arise as a result of shared foreign policy powers between Congress and the president.
  • Discuss how congressional policymaking has responded to post-9/11 governance.
  • Discuss the criticism of Congress, and assess the methods put forth to reform the institution. 
  • Explain why Congress has become more partisan over the past 30 years, and discuss how this has influenced policymaking.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (i.e. Adobe Reader or Flash Player).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt., .xls).

√    Be competent in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed all courses listed in “The Core Program” of the Political Science discipline.

Course Information

Welcome to POLSC331:  Congressional Politics.  Below, please find general information on this course and its requirements.
Course Designer: Professor Angela Bowie
Primary Resources:  This course is comprised of a range of different free, online materials.  However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:

-          C-SPAN Video Library
-          Congressional Research Service Reports

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials.  Although all of the units will allow you to gain a foundational understanding of Congress, pay close attention to Unit 1, as it will lay the historical framework for future units.  You will also need to complete:
            - Sub-subunit 1.1.3 Assignment
            - Sub-subunit 2.3.3 Assignment
            - Sub-subunit 3.3.1 Assignment
            - The Final Exam
Note that you will only receive an official grade on your final exam. However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the assignments listed above.

In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.

 Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 86 hours to complete.  Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.  These should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself.  For example, Unit 1 should take you 14.75 hours to complete.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete sub-subunits 1.1.1 and 1.1.2 (a total of 3 hours) on Monday night; sub-subunit 1.1.3 (a total of 3 hours) on Tuesday night; subunit 1.2 (a total of 4.75 hours) on Wednesday night; etc.

Tips/Suggestions: This is an introductory course, so there is no prerequisite to help prepare you for the material covered.  The course is important, however, to help prepare you for future upper level courses in the political science discipline, so be sure to pay close attention to all course material.  To help make the most of your learning experience, please read all the materials and watch the videos in their entirety.  Take notes as you work through each resource.  These notes will serve as a useful review as you study for your Final Exam.

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.