School of Arts and Sciences




 Course Number

  POL 320 A

Course Title

  The Congress

 Fall Semester


 Spring Semester


Summer Semester

Credit Hours


Name of Instructor

 William Miller

Meeting Day, Time, and Room Number
 Wednesday, 3:30-6:15pm, Rowley G207

Final Exam Day, Time, and Room Number

 Wednesday, December 14, 2016; 3:00pm; Rowley G207

Office Hours, Location, Phone

 Tuesdays & Fridays, 1:00-2:00 and 3:30-4:00pm; Wednesdays and other times by appointment. Ireton, G107, (703) 284-1687. Always email ahead of time!

 E-mail and Web Site Email is always the best way to reach me! All announcements and assignments are posted here, not on Canvas.

Course Description

A review of the history of Congress and a description of its functions, its structure, and the legislative process. The course examines current and historical issues that relate to the proper role of Congress in the American scheme of government. Prerequisites: a grade of C or better in POL 104 or POL 305, and a grade of C or better in POL 250 or its equivalent, or permission of instructor. Liberal Arts Core/University Requirements Designation: SS-2. (3)




By accepting this syllabus, you pledge to uphold the principles of Academic Integrity expressed by the Marymount University Community. You agree to observe these principles yourself and to defend them against abuse by others. Items submitted for this course may be submitted to for analysis.


For the benefit of current and future students, work in this course may be used for educational critique, demonstrations, samples, presentations, and verification.  Outside of these uses, work shall not be sold, copied, broadcast, or distributed for profit without student consent. 

Please address any special challenges or needs with the instructor at the beginning of the semester. Students seeking accommodations for a disability must complete the required steps for obtaining a Faculty Contact Sheet from the Office of Student Access Services (SAS). Students are then responsible for meeting with their instructors at the beginning of the semester to review and sign the Faculty Contact Sheet and develop a specific plan for providing the accommodations listed. Accommodations cannot be granted to students who fail to follow this process. Appointments with the SAS director can be scheduled through the Starfish "Success Network" tab in Canvas. For more information, check the SAS website, e-mail, or call 703-284-1538 to reach the SAS director or an academic support coordinator.


When students are absent due to a crisis situation or unexpected, serious illness and unable to contact their individual instructors directly, the Division of Student Affairs can send out an Emergency Notification. To initiate an Emergency Notification, students should contact the Division of Student Affairs 703-284-1615 or Emergency Notifications are NOT appropriate for non-emergency situations (e.g. car problems, planned absences, minor illnesses, or a past absence); are NOT a request or mandate to excuse an absence, which is at the sole discretion of the instructor; and are NOT a requirement for student absences. If a student contacts instructors about an emergency situation directly, it is not necessary to involve the Division of Student Affairs as arrangements are made to resolve the absence.

For non-emergency absences, students should inform their instructors directly. 


Copies of your work in this course, including copies of any submitted papers and your portfolios, may be kept on file for institutional research, assessment, and accreditation purposes. All work used for these purposes will be submitted anonymously. 


Weather and Emergency closings are announced on Marymount’s web site:, through MUAlerts, area radio stations, and TV stations. You may also call the Weather and Emergency Hotline at (703) 526-6888 for current status. Unless otherwise advised by local media or by official bulletins listed above, students are expected to report for class as near normal time as possible on days when weather conditions are adverse. Decisions as to inclement closing or delayed opening are not generally made before 6:00 AM and by 3:00 PM for evening classes of the working day. Emergency closing could occur at any time making MUAlerts the most timely announcement mechanism. Students are expected to attend class if the University is not officially closed. If the University is closed, course content and assignments will still be covered as directed by the course instructor. Please look for communication from the course instructor (e.g., Canvas) for information on course work during periods in which the University is closed.



A review of the history of Congress and a description of its functions, its structure, and the legislative process. The course examines current and historical issues that relate to the proper role of Congress in the American scheme of government. In light of the elections that will take place during the semester, we will pay particular attention to congressional campaigns and elections, past and present.

2.  COURSE OBJECTIVES:  Upon successful completion of this course students will be expected to:


 Liberal Arts Core Outcomes (general and discipline-specific)


General Learning Outcomes – Skills – Analysis, Critical Reasoning and Problem-Solving 

·   Students will practice analytical discourse, critical reasoning and problem-

solving through examination of the structure and function of the Congress as they pertain to the resolution of conflict and/or process of policy development available to the lawmaking body.


The outcome will be measured by performance on short and long answers on tests and the research paper.


General Learning Outcomes – Attitudes – Civic Responsibility

·   Students will apply their appreciation of the relation among individual choices, social issues and global concern through analysis of the lawmaking function of the United States Congress as exercised by its members.


The outcome will be measured by class participation demonstrating knowledge of the reading and performance on tests.


          Course-Specific Outcomes


Upon successful completion of this course students will be expected

(1) to demonstrate familiarity with the problems faced by contemporary congressional campaigns and with the techniques used to address and solve those problems;

(2) to demonstrate a general knowledge of the legislative process;

(3) to demonstrate an understanding of the major institutional changes and the development of Congress since 1789;

(4) to demonstrate familiarity with several of the significant issues presently facing the institution and the members of Congress; and

(5) to be able to analyze the structure of discursive writings about Congressional issues and to write and defend a short thesis on a topic relating to Congress.


These outcomes will be measured by class participation and in written papers and exams.




Lectures, discussion, and several student presentations.



          Friday, September 30, 2016, is the last day to withdraw from a class without academic record.

          Friday, November 4, 2016, is the last day to withdraw from a class with a grade of W.


The final grade will consist of the following components:


25%           Exam on Oleszek text

20%           Exam on congressional elections

20%           Research Paper on issue raised in Oleszek or Dodd and Oppenheimer texts

20%           Class Presentations and Reports

10%           Quizzes

  5%           Active participation in class discussions


Attendance: Beginning with the second week of classes, students are allowed a total of five absences, excused and/or unexcused. Students who miss six or more classes for any reason whatever will receive an “F” in the course.   

Each unexcused absence beyond two—up to the absolute limit of five—will result in a lowering of the final grade by one percentage point. To be excused, an absence must be documented, unless I indicate otherwise. Excused absences are typically medical-, legal-, or job-related excuses. Acceptable documentation typically consists of a statement or form on official stationery (1) signed by a third party (doctor, police, judge, supervisor) that (2) refers specifically to the day of absence from class and (3) the reason for the absence.


Occasionally coming to class late—even really late once or twice—is not considered an absence. Coming to class without hard copies of the text for the day, leaving the classroom for most of the class-time, or leaving class early without the prior permission of the instructor, however, is considered an unexcused absence.


Merely informing me ahead of time that you will be absent from class does not mean I excuse the absence, though I appreciate your courtesy. I will not excuse your absence because you are simply not feeling well or because you choose to do something worthwhile other than come to class even if you inform me ahead of time. If you are coughing and sneezing and coming down with a cold or the flu, and you don't want to spread your virus to your classmates, your fellow students and I salute you! Staying home may be the right thing to do, but it is not an excused absence. You all get three unexcused absences to use as you see fit, and it is your decision to use them to stay home when you don't feel well or want to attend some other event or need to prepare for another class instead of going to my class. Use them for good reasons: that's what they are for.


The limit of five total absences recognizes that excessive excused absences may also be a problem. You should discuss such situations with me well before the last month of the semester. This is not a distance learning class. Any absence prevents you from participating in the class, but if your job or an illness keeps you away from class, it will significantly affect the class participation component of your grade and may be a good reason to drop the course and take it another time. All of us find ourselves in these situations from time to time and have to deal with them appropriately. You also have an obligation to report this to a University office (see the section titled “Attendance” in the University Catalogue).


When in doubt about any of these policies, please come and talk to me. They have been formulated with our substantial commuter and working student population in mind and are intended to be fair to everyone. You should also review the University's policies on absenteeism in the section titled “Attendance” in the University Catalogue.


Make-up Exams and Papers: The same basic rules about excused absences apply to taking mid-terms and presenting seminar papers. My policy of giving makeup exams on the same day as the final does NOT mean that you may choose to take the mid-term exam on that day rather than on the regularly scheduled day: it is not an alternative test date. To be eligible for a makeup, you must qualify for an excused absence, and this you should do a reasonable time before the day of the mid-term, if that is at all possible. You may be excused from taking a mid-term if you are certifiably sick or your job prevents you from attending class or you have a legal, family, or personal emergency on the day of the test. If one of these applies, and I am informed in a reasonable time before the exam, and you have written documentation to support your request, you may take the exam on the same day as the final exam. If none of these reasons apply, you may not take the exam at another time, and you will get a zero for the exam. Travel plans will never excuse an absence. If you are late for the exam because of events outside of your control, let me know immediately or as soon as possible that day, and I will let you take the exam later that same day if possible.


The seminar papers that you present in class are intended to provoke discussion, questions and comments by fellow students, that are part of your grade and that you must participate in. An unexcused absence on a day you are scheduled to present a paper results in a zero for the paper. An excused absence with advanced notice to me allows you to present the paper the following week. More than one such excused absence requires a discussion with me.




The following topics and dates of discussion are approximate and are subject to change due to cancelled classes, guest speakers, and so on. I shall try to maintain the due dates for papers and exams as they are listed below. Plan on about seventy-five pages of reading a week and a short quiz every class.


WEEK 1 (8/31) Introduction to the course; some basic political history; outline of the legislative process;  overview of congressional campaigns and elections.

WEEK 2 (9/7) Campaigns and Elections; Jacobson

WEEK 3 (9/14) Campaigns and Elections; Jacobson

WEEK 4 (9/21)  The Legislative Process—Contemporary Practices: Sundquist, Oleszek

WEEK 5 (9/28) The Legislative Process in the House—Contemporary Practices: Oleszek


Friday, September 30, 2016, is the last day to withdraw from a class without academic record.


WEEK 6 (10/5) The Legislative Process in the Senate—Contemporary Practices: Oleszek

WEEK 7 (10/12) The Legislative Process—Contemporary Practices: Oleszek

WEEK 8 (10/19) The Legislative Process—Contemporary Practices: Oleszek


WEEK 10 (11/2) Campaigns and Elections


Friday, November 4, 2016, is the last day to withdraw from a class with a grade of “W”.


WEEK 11 (11/9) Campaigns and Elections

WEEK 12 (11/16) Legislative Issues—Dodd and Oppenheimer   

WEEK 13 (11/23) Legislative Issues—Dodd and Oppenheimer

WEEK 14 (11/30) Legislative Issues—Dodd and Oppenheimer

WEEK 15 (12/7) Legislative Issues—Dodd and Oppenheimer


The mid-term and the final exam will be given only at the regularly scheduled times. If you cannot take the mid-term at the regularly scheduled time, you may take it on the day of the final exam. The final exam is scheduled for Wednesday, December 14th , at 3:00pm. Please make your travel plans accordingly.




  Dodd, Lawrence C., and Bruce I. Oppenheimer. Congress Reconsidered. 10th ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2012.


  Oleszek, Walter J. Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process. 10th ed. (9th ed. Is acceptable) Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2014.





Sundquist, "Endemic Weaknesses of Congress" in Decline and Resurgence of Congress (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1981).


Ornstein, Norman, Thomas Mann, and Michael Malbin. Vital Statistics on Congress. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, (latest edition in library).


In addition to the required texts listed above, I shall also hand out several articles to be assigned throughout the course.


Older books on Congress (many of which are excellent for comparison with contemporary accounts):

Bolling, Richard. House Out of Order. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1966. A call for the radical reform that followed.

Fiorina, Morris. Congress: Keystone of the Washington Establishment. Rev. ed. New Haven: Yale, 1989. A classic study of Congress, and a classic model of a research paper.

Fiorina, Morris. Divided Government. 2d ed. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1996.

Jacobson, Gary, and Jamie Carson. The Politics of Congressional Elections. 9th ed. Rowman and Littlefield, 2015. Contains excellent bibliographical references.

Kettl, Donald F. Deficit Politics: The Search for Balance in American Politics. 2d ed. New York: Longman, 2002.

Mayhew, David. Congress: The Electoral Connection. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974. Compare to Fiorina’s Keystone.

________. Divided We Govern: Party Control, Lawmaking, and Investigations, 1946-1990. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. Compare to Fiorina’s Divided Government.

Schick, Allen. The Federal Budget: Politics, Policy, Process. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2000.

Sinclair, Barbara. Unorthodox Lawmaking. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2012.

Straus, Jacob R., ed. Party and Procedure in the United States Congress. 2d.ed. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016.

Sundquist, James L. Decline and Resurgence of Congress. Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1981.

Wilson, Woodrow. Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics. First published in 1885. Transaction Pubs., 2002. Public domain. Kindle Edition, 2011.



On the Internet:

An excellent source of information about Congress is the website of the Library of Congress, . This source makes available the texts and status of legislative measures for the past several congresses as well as the daily text of the Congressional Record.

Congressional Elections, 1900 to Present.

Electoral College Calendar

For material on the congressional incumbency advantage, see Incumbency Re-election Rates (Thirty-Thousand Org.), Incumbency Re-election Rates (Center for Responsive Politics)

Gallup Polls

Rasmussen Political Polling Reports



For the benefit of the class and your classmates, the following rules regarding electronic devices also apply to this course:


1. Turn your cell phones off during the class. If you are expecting an important call, put your phone on “Vibrate,” sit near the door, and, when the call comes, answer it outside the classroom.

2, It follows from the foregoing rule, but it must be separately stated: no talking and no texting on cell phones during class. If you do not follow this rule, I will publicly ask you to leave the room for the remainder of the class and will do my best to have you removed from the course for the rest of the semester.

3. No open lap-top or other computers are allowed in class without my prior permission. Devices such as tablets, Ipads, Kindles, Kobos, and Nooks that lie flat on the desk and on to which the readings can be loaded are permitted if approved by me, but hard copies of the readings are better. You can mark them up and take notes on them in class.

4. Be sure to check your Marymount email address regularly! This is Marymount’s and my principal way of contacting you with important information. Perhaps you rely mostly on Yahoo, gmail, or some other provider, but check your mail daily to make sure you do not miss school information.


These rules are necessary to foster a suitable learning environment in the classroom during class. There are enough distractions with lawnmowers, air conditioners, and other outside forces to combat during lectures and discussions without these controllable distractions within the room.