Function of Congress

What is the function of Congress?

Congress has five main functions: lawmaking, representing the people, performing oversight, helping constituents, and educating the public.

Lawmaking

The primary function of Congress is to pass rules that all Americans must obey, a function called lawmaking. Congress deals in a huge range of matters, from regulating television to passing a federal budget to voting on gun control. Many of the bills considered by Congress originate with the executive branch, but only Congress can create laws. Parties, interest groups, and constituents all influence members of Congress in their vote choices, and members also compromise and negotiate with one another to reach agreements. A common practice is logrolling, in which members agree to vote for one another’s bills.

Representation

Members must please their constituents if they want to stay in office, and every issue must therefore be considered from the perspectives of those constituents.
Because the interests of constituents in a specific district may be in conflict with national policy, there are opposing views on how representation should be accomplished: Trustee vs. Instructed-Delegate

Trustee View of Representation

A legislator who acts according to his/her personal belief of the broad interests of the entire society. According to the theory of trustee representation, the people choose a representative whose judgment and experience they trust. The representative votes for what he or she thinks is right, regardless of the opinions of the constituents. Because the constituents trust their representative’s judgment, they will not be angry every time they disagree with the representative. A constituent who views his or her representative as a trustee need not pay close attention to political events. For key issues, the constituent likely monitors the representative’s votes, but for other matters, the constituent likely trusts the representative and does not monitor votes too closely.

Instructed-Delegate View of Representation

A legislator that mirror the views of the majority of the constituents who elect them regardless of personal beliefs.

Service to Constituents

Congress represents the people of the United States. Members serve their constituents, the people who live in the district from which they are elected. The old adage that “all politics is local” applies to Congress: Members must please their constituents if they want to stay in office, and every issue must therefore be considered from the perspectives of those constituents. There are three theories of representation, or how people choose their representatives: trustee representation, sociological representation, and agency representation.

This function usually takes the form of caseworks (personal work for constituents). Act as an ombudsperson (person who investigates complaints against government agencies or employees). S/he must spend as much time in their districts as possible, performing community service, attending the openings of new businesses, and meeting with local leaders to discuss key issues.

Ex: tracking down a missing Social Security check, explaining the meaning of particular bills, promoting a local business interest, interceding with a regulatory agency on behalf of constituents, recommendations for military academies, signing up for Medicare.

 

Oversight

Oversight is the process by which Congress follows up on laws it has enacted to ensure that they are being enforced and administered in the way Congress intended. Congress reviews actions of the executive branch and makes sure that its laws are carried out properly. Oversight creates a constitutional struggle between Congress and the executive branch.

Public Education

Congress keeps in touch with their constituents and educate them on the issues through mailings and websites.
Congress holds public hearings, exercises oversight over the bureaucracy, or engages in committee and floor debate on major issues and topics such as immigration, global warming, aging, illegal drugs, and the concerns of small businesses. Congress decides what issues will come up through a process known as agenda setting (determining which public-policy questions will be debated or decided).

Conflict Resolution

Congress tries to resolve the differences among competing points of view (from racial, religious, economic, ideological groups) by passing laws to accommodate as many interested parties as possible.