The Congress of the United States is a legislative body that consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Depending on the distribution of the two parties, these chambers have always exhibited some degree of polarization (Neal 103). Ideally, the elected officials are supposed to represent the U.S. citizens’ interests. However, most representatives of this federal organ belong to the affluent class, increasing the possibility of raising the concerns of business owners than of an average American (Hertel-Fernandez et al. 16). Moreover, many people believe that Congress is corrupt and not interested in serving the voters (Praino and Graycar 479). For example, the data from an evaluation of the last three decades revealed more than sixteen thousand convictions of corruption in the U.S. (Praino and Graycar 478). I was aware of some tension between the two parties in Congress, but I learned about the extent of the abovementioned problems only when writing this essay. Therefore, this paper’s objective is to discuss the issues of polarization and corruption in the two chambers of Congress that negatively impact U.S. legislation.
Congress is a bicameral governmental body vested by the Constitution of the United States with legislative power. One hundred senators and 435 representatives of Congress are elected every six and two years, respectively (Otala et al. 227). Each state can suggest two candidates for the upper chamber and a particular number of people for the House, depending on each state’s population size. Each member of Congress is supposed to present the interests of one’s voters and protect democracy in the country. Most congresspeople belong to one of the two parties, Democratic or Republican (Neal 111). The two-party system unavoidably leads to ramifications within each chamber, even between members of the same political camp (Neal 111). The polarization in Congress appears to be a perennial issue for American society.
Despite the prevailing belief that Congress is an entirely corrupt governmental body, it is not quite true because it is less significant than polarization. According to Praino and Graycar, the 2013 survey showed that most U.S. citizens replied that most senators and representatives are corrupt (479). Nevertheless, research showed that only 5% of congress members were condemned for this crime from 1972 to 2012 (Praino and Graycar 479). Furthermore, the higher chances of being convicted of corruption were in those members who remained for long-term service and were more powerful, proving the cliché that absolute power corrupts absolutely (Praino and Graycar 488). Still, the corruption in Congress seems to be declining, but the polarization is still present between the chambers. Indeed, according to Neal, hostile relations between and within each section are more common than positive attitudes (107). For instance, the divide was extreme during the 2015-2016 session (Neal 109). I think the rise in this divide between the two political camps during that period happened due to the upcoming Presidential elections. This opposition between lawmakers is unfavorable for the legislative process and citizens.
The election allows to renew the composition of Congress, but since some members may be reelected, it raises the concern of ineffective decision-making in legislation. Indeed, the reelection rate of incumbents in Congress is more than 90% because they know when and how to become attentive to their voters to stay in office (Carson and Williamson 176). Furthermore, according to Carson and Williamson, “they engage in advertising, credit claiming, and position-taking” to win elections (177). Since the chambers can decide on their structure, the House of Representatives is organized in a bureaucratic way, following all the institutional procedures and rules (Rubin 19). In contrast, the Senate follows “entrepreneurial structures” to maintain relative equality and decision-making autonomy (Rubin 19).
Moreover, the intraparty organization of the two chambers plays a critical role in their work, resulting in continuous polarization between the Democrats and Republicans. The House appears to be more dependent on this relation between parties than the Senate because the latter is given the most power (Rubin 21). Still, the divide also threatens Congress’s primary function of protecting democracy in the United States.
In conclusion, the U.S. Congress is a legislative organ consisting of upper and lower chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two-party system creates a relatively intense polarization within the rooms. Moreover, many American citizens believe this governmental body is corrupt and does not correctly present their concerns after being elected. However, the long-term research showed that only a tiny percentage of Congress members were convicted of corruption. Despite voters’ dissatisfaction, the reelection rate is high, indicating that the politicians utilize various effective levers during election campaigns to retain their positions in office. Overall, my exploration of this topic revealed that despite the relative autonomy of the two chambers in the organization and decision-making process, virtually all incumbents of Congress be affected by their political party affiliations. Nevertheless, it does not suggest that the party system should be changed or eliminated. Instead, I believe that lawmakers should understand that their main objective is to protect democracy through legislation, and belonging to a political camp is an attribute rather than defining feature of their core beliefs.
Carson, Jamie L., and Ryan D. Williamson. “Candidate Ideology and Electoral Success in Congressional Elections.” Public Choice, vol. 176, no. 1, 2018, pp. 175-192.
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander, et al. “Legislative Staff and Representation in Congress.” American Political Science Review, vol. 113, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1-18.
Neal, Zachary P. “A Sign of the Times? Weak and Strong Polarization in the U.S. Congress, 1973–2016.” Social Networks, vol. 60, 2020, pp. 103-112.
Otala, Jacqueline, M., et al. “Political Polarization and Platform Migration: A Study of Parler and Twitter Usage by United States of America Congress Members.” Companion Proceedings of the Web Conference, 2021, pp. 224-231.
Praino, Rodrigo, and Adam Graycar. “Does Corruption Follow Opportunity? A Study of the U.S. Congress.” Public Integrity, vol. 20, no. 5, 2018, pp. 478-496.
Rubin, Ruth Bloch. Building the Bloc: Intraparty Organization in the U.S. Congress. Cambridge University Press, 2017.