Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Party Leadership in Congress

Matthew Dittmer
Pol 411
                                                Party Leadership in Congress
Party leadership is a vastly important concept in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.  The party leaders are in charge of the scheduling and are the faces of the party.  The party leadership consists of the president pro tempore, the leader, the whip, the Conference Chair, the Policy Committee Chair, and the Conference Secretary for the Senate.  The House has the Speaker, the Leader, the Whip, the Conference or Caucus Chairman and the Policy Chairman. Also the Democrats added an assistant leader.  Currently, the Republicans control the House and the Democrats control the Senate.  These leaders have many responsibilities to uphold.  They are a very intricate part of how the senate works today and it is almost inconceivable to look at the Congress without them but the first congress to have party leaders was the 56th Congress for the House of Representatives and the 66th for the Senate.  Thus, they did not formally exist until the turn of the 20th Century. (senate.gov)

The party leaders are first elected by the party’s Committee or Caucus.  In the case of the Speaker, the House of Representatives votes between the majority and minority candidate for Speaker.  A partisan vote ensues in which the majority party’s candidate becomes Speaker.  The majority party’s candidate could lose but the vote is always partisan so it is highly unlikely.  The Caucus or Committee also votes on the Majority and Minority Leaders, Whips and Chairmen. The Committee or Caucus then puts those members into the party leadership.  In the last election, representative Heath Shuler challenged Nancy Pelosi for the Minority Leadership position and lost.Pelosi decided to run after watching her party lose the majority under her leadership as Speaker.  Losing the majority has caused many Speakers to resign from their party’s leadership, though this has not been the only reason that Speakers and Speaker candidates have resigned from their positions in the past. (house.gov)

Before 1899, in the House of Representatives, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee was the floor leader for the majority party.  Usually the majority leader goes on to become the Speaker of the House or at least the minority leader when their predecessor steps down or loses a bid at reelection.  The only situations in which this was not the case was in the instances of Hale Boggs, who died in a plane crash, and Dick Armey who decided not to run for Speaker of the House.  In 1998, Dennis Hastert became the Speaker.  He was a compromise candidate for Speaker after the fallout from the Bob Livingston Scandal.  Bob Livingston, a potential Speaker candidate, resigned because of the revealing of his sultry past after he spoke out harshly against Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky ScandalThe Speaker of the House is the most powerful in command for the party in power followed closely by the House Majority Leader.  The current Majority Leader is Eric Cantor and he represents the Majority Party on the floor.  His responsibilities include helping to plan the agenda, advancing the goals of the Majority Party, and monitoring floor activities.  The Minority Party in the House of Representatives is the Democrats.  The Minority Leader is Nancy Pelosi. She represents the Minority Party on the floor.  The Minority Leader is responsible for protecting the rights of the minority and attempting to maximize the influence of the Minority Party on legislation.  The Minority Leader is also responsible for developing policy alternatives and serving as the spokesperson for the party.  The Minority Leader serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence along with the Speaker.  Though the Majority Leader holds more power in rank than the Minority Leader it is not impossible for the underdog to get the upper hand.  (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/108th/bio_hastert.html) (senate.gov)

In the Senate leadership roles were always assumed position of strong leading members of the Senate; however, in the 66th Congress the Democrats selected the first Minority Leader.  The Republicans followed suit in the 68th Congress when Charles Curtis became the first Majority Leader of the Senate.  In the Senate, the Minority Party Leader is in charge of controlling the agenda as the Majority Leader is given priority on the floor.  The Minority Leader is responsible for protecting the rights of his or her party as the minority party. The Minority Leader is in line to become Majority Leader if his party comes to power in the SenateThe current Majority Leader is Harry Reid and the Minority Leader is Mitch O’Connell, which puts the Senate in the control of the Democrats. (senate.gov)
            There are many other important actors in the leadership of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  These actors have various responsibilities as well.  In the House of Representatives the Speaker of the House is the most obvious member.  The Speaker of the House is second in line to succeed the president and is elected by the whole House of Representatives in a usually partisan vote.  The Speaker presides over the House of Representatives and is the leader of the Majority Party.  Most Speakers rarely vote and vote only on issues that are close or issues that affect their districts.  The duties of the Speaker take up most of their time.  The current speaker is Rep. John Boehner.  He succeeded Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker for the 112th Congress. (house.gov)
The House Whips are another important entity in the party leadership.  The majority whip is responsible for making sure that members vote a particular way or making sure that a piece of legislation that is important to the party has the necessary votes to pass the House of Representatives.  It is the Whip’s duty to maintain communication between the leadership of the party and its members.  Whips also report Whip notices and advisories based on the agenda to advise members as to when votes will occur.  Whips are responsible for the deputy and assistant Whips, who provide diversity.  The Minority Whip does the same thing for the Minority Party.  The House of Representatives Whips for the 112th Congress are Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

            Other members of the leadership include the chair of the Democratic Caucus, the Chair of the Republican Policy Committee, the Chair of the Republican Conference and the Assistant Democratic Leader.  These leaders are the heads of the bodies that help mold the parties’ views and support the ideals of their parties.  Right now these heads are Republican Conference Chairman, Jeb Hensarling; Republican Policy Committee Chairman, Tom Price; Democratic Caucus Chairman, John Larson; and Assistant Democratic Leader, James Clyburn.  This group finishes up the heads of the House Party Leadership.  Some important positions in the Senate’s leadership include the President Pro Tempore and the Senate Whips. (senate.gov)

            In the Senate the President Pro Tempore is considered the presiding member.  The President Pro Tempore is usually the longest standing member of the Majority Party in the Senate.  The current residing President Pro Tempore is Daniel Inouye.  He has been a member since 1962.  The President Pro Tempore is behind only the Vice President and Speaker of the House in the order of succession.  The President Pro Tempore is responsible for making appointments to committees and is an ex-officio member of the Majority Party.  The President Pro Tempore is responsible to preside jointly with the Speaker of the House when the two houses hold a joint session or a joint meeting.  Though not as powerful as the President Pro Tempore, the Senate Whips also hold duties vital to the Senate.  (senate.gov)

The Senate Whips have responsibilities that are very similar to that of the House Whips.  They are responsible for gathering votes, rounding up party members for votes, and becoming the acting floor leader if their party leader is absent.  On top of all of that, they also have their duties as Senators and they need to run the regional, or zone whips that are beneath them.  The Senate whips for the 112th Congress are Majority Whip Dick Durbin, and Minority Whip Jon Kyl.  Other posts in Congress include the Conference leaders, the Policy Committee leaders, and the Conference Secretaries.   Democratic Conference Chair, Harry Reid and Republican Conference Chair, Lamar Alexander head the Conference of their respective parties.  The Democratic Policy Committee Chair, Charles Schumer and the Republican Policy Committee Chair, John Thune head the Policy Committees of their respective parties.  The Conference Secretaries, Patty Murray(Democrat) and John Barrasso(Republican) are responsible for keeping the minutes of the party conferences. (senate.gov)(sourcewatch.org)

In Congress leadership, seniority is very important.  Seniority allows a Senator or Representative to get onto better committees and gives them a much better chance of becoming a chairman of a committee or a ranking member of the committee.  Becoming the head of a committee of importance heightens the likelihood of a Senator or Representative becoming a part of the leadership.  This is due to the fact that heading a committee raises your profile inside of your party.  The most important factors for leadership in congress are party loyalty, seniority, and being charismatic.

Establishing Party Leadership is important because even though the two-party system was not a part of the Constitution it has been adopted and the parties need leadership to promote the goals of the party.  The leadership allows votes to be partisan and allows for fair circumstances in the two-party system.  The leadership helps the member stay better informed and helps unify the party behind a group of individuals as to promote the good of the group.  The concept of party leadership is important to Congress because it allows for the bureaucratic process to be shown on a grand scale.

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