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To Achieve Both Power and Democratic Representation

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While the Constitution intentionally provides checks on congressional power, it also grants Congress significant powers in three important areas: economic affairs, domestic affairs, and foreign affairs. In addition, Congress is granted flexibility in the elastic clause that allows Congress to pass laws that are 'necessary and proper" for executing the powers explicitly assigned to it in Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution.

It is not only the characteristics of congressmen that make Congress an imperfect mirror of the people; many congressmen do not see their job as one of simply reflecting the will of the people. While congressmen in marginal districts may see themselves as delegates of the people, reflecting the will of the majority of their voter; many other congressmen, usually those from safer districts, see themselves as trustees who can and will vote their conscience.

It may appear that whatever role congressmen choose to play, their voters approve, with over ninety percent of incumbents winning re-election. Of course, there are many other factors at work. Incumbents have access to greater amounts of campaign money, media coverage, and have other privileges, for example free use of the postal system. In addition, congressmen do a great deal of casework on behalf of their voters. This may explain why polls consistently find that while Americans disapprove of Congress as a whole, they very much approve of their individual member of Congress.

If the characteristics and roles of congressmen may exclude Congress from being a legislative mirror of the will of the people, the two-chamber design of Congress goes even further to deliberately create obstacles to the passage of legislation. These obstacles slow down the legislative process, leaving it more permeable to the many voices seeking to be heard. Congress is the repository of public opinion, but will be able to avoid domination by any one voice.

The legislative process is somewhat streamlined by a variety of rules and norms. Seniority, political loyalty, civility, and other attempts to smooth the workings of the United States Congress make an unruly body somewhat less so. In addition, there are a number of influences working on congressmen to help them make sense of complicated matters and aid their decision-making when voting on legislation. Party affiliation, voter demands, presidential leadership, interest group lobbying, valued "cue givers," and even their own personal convictions can place complex issues in some meaningful framework.

Candidates for congressional seats can be self-selected or recruited by the local political party. Usually the party attempts to select a candidate that has many of the social characteristics of the population in the district. It is



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