18 episodes

Congress is the least liked and perhaps least understood part of government. But it’s vital to our constitutional government. Congress is the only branch equipped to work through our diverse nation’s disagreements and decide on the law. To better understand the First Branch, join host Kevin Kosar and guests as they explain its infrastructure, culture, procedures, history, and more.

Understanding Congress Kevin Kosar

    • Government
    • 5.0 • 5 Ratings

Congress is the least liked and perhaps least understood part of government. But it’s vital to our constitutional government. Congress is the only branch equipped to work through our diverse nation’s disagreements and decide on the law. To better understand the First Branch, join host Kevin Kosar and guests as they explain its infrastructure, culture, procedures, history, and more.

    What is the role of the Senate’s majority leader? (with James Wallner)

    What is the role of the Senate’s majority leader? (with James Wallner)

    The topic of this episode is, "What is the role of the Senate’s majority leader?"
    My guest is https://www.rstreet.org/team/james-wallner/ (Dr. James Wallner). He is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute and a lecturer at Clemson University. He is the author of three books on the Senate, including one titled https://www.amazon.com/Parliamentary-War-Partisan-Procedural-Legislative/dp/0472130544 (On Parliamentary War: Partisan Conflict and Procedural Change in the U.S. Senate) (2017). James has worked in the Senate, and also is a cohost of the https://www.politicsinquestion.com/ (Politics in Question podcast).
    Kevin Kosar:
    Welcome to Understanding Congress, a podcast about the first branch of government. Congress is a notoriously complex institution, and few Americans think well of it, but Congress is essential to our republic. It’s a place where our pluralistic society is supposed to work out its differences and come to agreement about what our laws should be. And that is why we are here: to discuss our national legislature and to think about ways to upgrade it so it can better serve our nation.
    I'm your host, Kevin Kosar, and I'm a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC.
    It is to James Wallner that we turn to learn about the role of the majority leader. James, welcome to the program.
    James Wallner:
    Thanks for having me.
    Kevin Kosar:
    First question. Chuck Schumer is the current majority leader in the Senate. How did he get that job? What's the process? Did all the senators get together and vote for him or some other candidate?
    James Wallner:
    Well, that's how it works in the House, where you nominate candidates to be the speaker of the House. Nancy Pelosi is our current speaker. Democrats and Republicans on the floor of the House all cast a vote for the speaker, and the nominee with the most votes becomes the speaker. And so the majority party, in effect, selects the speaker. In the Senate, it's a similar process, but slightly different, because they're not electing a speaker, they're not electing a presiding officer. The majority leader, Chuck Schumer, is merely the floor leader of the party with the most votes — so in this case, the Democrats. And it’s 50–50 right now, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. The vice president is a Democrat, so assuming that the vice president would cast her vote with the Democrats on a tie vote — under the Constitution, she gets to do that — that means that Chuck Schumer has more votes behind him than the leader of the Republican Party, Mitch McConnell, has behind him. So he is the majority leader, McConnell is the minority leader. The way they're chosen is simply by their party colleagues in secret ballot, in a meeting that usually happens right after the election, typically in December following an election before the new Congress meets.
    Kevin Kosar:
    You underlined a point there about the difference between leadership in the House and leadership in the Senate. It sounds, at least ostensibly, that a speaker may make a claim to be the head of the whole of the House, whereas in the Senate, it sounds like the majority leader is just the partisan leader.
    James Wallner:
    Absolutely. Look, party leaders in the Senate have institutional tasks, too. They help to schedule legislation. They do a bunch of different things that institutional leaders in the House, like the speaker, also do. And the speaker is also a partisan leader, in the fact that she is selected by her majority party caucus and really works to advance the agenda of the majority party. So they go hand in hand. But there is no Senate leader. I'm reminding myself of Woodrow Wilson, where he says, "There's no leader in the Senate," and that's something that's really frustrating him. And this is what makes the Senate great. Because there's no one that presides over the Senate, who wields lots of power, whom all senators vote for, the institution has a very...

    • 23 min
    What is the Congressional Review Act? (with Bridget Dooling)

    What is the Congressional Review Act? (with Bridget Dooling)

    The topic of this episode is, "What is the Congressional Review Act?"
    My guest is https://regulatorystudies.columbian.gwu.edu/bridget-ce-dooling (Professor Bridget C. E. Dooling) of George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center. She has a deep background in regulation. Previously, Bridget worked for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget. She also has clerked for an administrative law judge and worked in the U.S. Department of Justice.
    Kevin Kosar:
    Welcome to Understanding Congress, a podcast about the first branch of government. Congress is a notoriously complex institution, and few Americans think well of it, but Congress is essential to our republic. It's a place where our pluralistic society is supposed to work out its differences and come to agreement about what our laws should be. And that is why we are here: to discuss our national legislature and to think about ways to upgrade it so it can better serve our nation.
    I'm your host, Kevin Kosar, and I'm a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC.
    It is to Professor Dooling we turn to learn about the http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid%3AUSC-prelim-title5-chapter8andsaved=%7CKHRpdGxlOjUgc2VjdGlvbjo4MDEgZWRpdGlvbjpwcmVsaW0pIE9SIChncmFudWxlaWQ6VVNDLXByZWxpbS10aXRsZTUtc2VjdGlvbjgwMSk%3D%7CdHJlZXNvcnQ%3D%7C%7C0%7Cfalse%7Cprelimandedition=prelim (Congressional Review Act), a tool for Congress to abolish regulations. Welcome to the show.
    Bridget Dooling:
    Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here.
    Kevin Kosar:
    Before we get into the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, let's start with something basic. What are regulations, and why do they matter?
    Bridget Dooling:
    Regs are great, and studying them is even better. Regulations are everywhere. They shape our world, but not necessarily in obvious ways. Knowing about regulations is like having a decoder ring for why certain things are the way they are. Like, why do you need prescriptions for some things, but you can help yourself to whatever supplements like vitamins that you want? It's because there's a regulatory line there. You can't see it when you're in the drugstore, but it absolutely affects the way you live.
    Kevin Kosar:
    Yeah. Regulations really, to a degree, I guess they're specifications of laws, particular applications. Is that a fair characterization?
    Bridget Dooling:
    Yep.
    Kevin Kosar:
    Now, if listeners want to see these things, these regulations, where should they go? Where can they find a list or collection of regulations?
    Bridget Dooling:
    Yeah, there's a few ways. One is that you can look at legislation, because that's where Congress tells the agencies what they're allowed or required to do. And then you can also look at what the agencies themselves produce. So for rules that are in the process of being made, there's a website called https://www.regulations.gov/ (regulations.gov). That's a great place to start, so if you hear that a rulemaking is coming down the pike, that's a great place to go check its status and see if it's open for public comment, for example. So that's regulations.gov. And for rules that are already on the books, you'd want to look at something called the https://www.ecfr.gov/ (Code of Federal Regulations), which pulls all that regulatory text into one place so you can read it all in one spot.
    Kevin Kosar:
    Excellent. Now our listeners know. So let's turn to the Congressional Review Act. Congress enacted it in 1996. Democrats and Republicans alike voted for it. President Bill Clinton signed it into law. In most basic terms, what is the CRA?
    Bridget Dooling:
    The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to disapprove federal agency rules using fast track procedures, during a special window of time following the rule's issuance. And perhaps the most important of these special fast-track procedures is that resolutions of disapproval can't be filibustered. And if it's

    • 18 min
    How has Congress evolved as an institution? (with Eric Schickler)

    How has Congress evolved as an institution? (with Eric Schickler)

    The topic of this episode is, “How has Congress evolved as an institution?”
    My guest is https://polisci.berkeley.edu/people/person/eric-schickler (Eric Schickler), the author of the book, “https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691049267/disjointed-pluralism (Disjointed Pluralism): Institutional Innovation and the Development of the U.S. Congress”. It is the 20th anniversary of this classic text, which won the Richard F. Fenno, Jr. Prize for the best book on legislative politics. Eric is the Jeffrey and Ashley McDermott Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also an Elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

    • 22 min
    How do legislators raise money to run for Congress? (with Weston Wamp)

    How do legislators raise money to run for Congress? (with Weston Wamp)

    The topic of this episode is “How do legislators raise money to run for Congress?”
    My guest is Weston Wamp, who is the Founder at https://www.millennialdebt.org/ (Millennial Debt Foundation) and a Senior Political Strategist at https://www.issueone.org/ (Issue One). He hails from Tennessee, and ran for Congress in 2014. If his last name is familiar to you, that is because he is the son of former member of the House Zach Wamp, a Republican who represented Tennessee's 3rd congressional district from 1995 to 2011. Weston, like his father, knows a thing or two about how fundraising has come to be a major part of getting to Congress and staying there. And I should add that he is the host of the program, https://www.swampstories.org/ (“Swamp Stories,”) which has examined the effects of fundraising on Congress.

    • 26 min
    How can a new staffer survive Congress? (with Mark Strand)

    How can a new staffer survive Congress? (with Mark Strand)

    The topic of this episode is, “How can a new staffer survive Congress?”
    My guest is Mark Strand, the coauthor of the book, https://amzn.to/3g1xQDg (“Surviving Inside Congress.”) Mark is the President of the https://www.congressionalinstitute.org/ (Congressional Institute), a not-for-profit organization that helps Members of Congress better serve their constituents and that helps constituents better understand Congress. Mark has led the institute since 2007, and prior to that spent nearly 20 years working as a staffer for members and committees in the House of Representatives.

    • 30 min
    What does the Committee on House Administration do? (with Rep. Rodney Davis)

    What does the Committee on House Administration do? (with Rep. Rodney Davis)

    The topic of this episode is, “What does the Committee on House Administration do?”
    And who better to answer this question than my guest, https://rodneydavis.house.gov/biography/ (Representative Rodney Davis). He is the ranking member of the Committee on House Administration, or CHA as it often is called. He has been on the committee since 2014. Rep. Davis currently serving his fifth term in Congress representing the 13th District of Illinois, which covers a 14-county region that includes both urban and rural communities in central and southwestern Illinois.

    • 15 min

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Wonderful, instructive podcast.

A podcast devoted to understanding Congress has never really been tried. And here we finally are, with perhaps the best guide (Kevin Kosar) to its operations in both theory and practice.

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