Term Paper Assignment for PS426
The Legislative Process
The purpose of this paper is to allow you to demonstrate your newly acquired knowledge about the U.S. Congress. You are to play the role of a chief legislative staffer for a member of Congress (you can choose either the House or the Senate). You will pick a bill that is currently being considered by Congress on any topic that interests you (energy policy, immigration reform, repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” legislation to help the housing market, etc.) and give your boss some keen insight and advice about the position that she or he should take on the bill. Oh, one thing I forgot to mention - your boss is a new member of Congress who has no previous political experience, so you have a lot of explaining to do.
Organization of the Paper
This paper should accomplish several things. First, you should briefly explain the nature of your issue. What is the problem, and what are the main arguments for and against the specific piece of legislation you are examining? You may find it useful to read the floor debate on the topic to gain a better understanding of the pros and cons. In this introductory section you should include a brief explanatory footnote (to me, rather than your boss) describing the nature of the district or state that your representative or senator is from. Also, tell me a bit about your boss (gender, race, party, ideology, previous experience, etc.). All of this can be made up, or you can choose a real member of Congress if you like. Second (this is the core of the paper), you should explain to your representative or senator the reasons that he or she should support or oppose the bill and what is likely to happen to the bill (will it pass, die in committee, get killed in the Senate, etc.?). While the merits of the bill are important to mention, I want you to primarily focus on the broader issues of representation and the legislative process. Stake out a position on the general question of how your member should represent the district (delegate/trustee or responsiveness/responsibility) and defend it. Also indicate how that view of representation would apply in this specific case. If racial representation comes into play on your issue, make sure that you defend your position in terms of various theories of racial representation. What insights can you provide your boss about the committee system, the role of parties, the role of the president, or the importance of leadership to help justify your position? How can the member explain this issue to his or her constituents and what role is the position on this issue likely to play in the next election? If you think your boss is up to it, you may want to explain the position you are recommending in terms of rational choice theory. Finally, you should provide a brief conclusion that summarizes your main arguments.
You don't need to address all of these questions. This is just the range of things that you could consider. At a minimum you should address the question of representation and at least three other aspects of the legislative process or links to constituents. The first part of the paper should be about two to three pages long, the second part about six or seven pages, and the conclusion, will be one page or less. Overall I expect the papers to be about ten pages long (double-spaced, typed – a bit longer is fine, but no more than 12 pages).
To receive honors credit for the course you will do a similar paper with several extensions. First, I want you to address all of the questions above that are suggested for the second part of the paper (representation, legislative process, and the implications for the constituency). Second, I want you to include an appendix that is a speech that your boss can give to a group of voters explaining his or her position on the issue. The speech should be about two pages long (the voters have a relatively short attention span). Third, you should include a section on rational choice theory, explaining some aspect of your issue in terms of the spatial model or some other aspect of rational choice theory. The honors papers will be about 20 pages long.
You will need to consult a range of outside sources for the first part of the paper. Once you pick your bill, there are a variety of resources available in the University Libraries, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the Internet that will provide useful information on your issue. The following sources are suggested:
A) The Internet - You will want to start your research at http://www.house.gov, http://www.senate.gov, or http://thomas.loc.gov. The latter, which is the Library of Congress site, is my favorite. It has full text of all the bills, searchable floor debates from the Congressional Record, and much more (note, there is no "www" in the address for the thomas site). You can find a bill at any of these sites. You also should consult your member’s web site (if you pick an actual member)
B) Reference Works--Several weekly and annual reports on government activity are available in the government publications room of the Wisconsin Historical Society (some of these materials are also available in Helen C. White, Memorial, or the Law School libraries). They provide detailed accounts of legislation and the legislative process. Congressional Quarterly has an especially useful "special reports" on various issues and weekly summaries of the legislative agenda that provide good background information on legislation. Several excellent non-partisan sources that focus on Congress include: Congressional Quarterly Weekly Reports, Congressional Quarterly Almanac, and National Journal.
C) Periodicals - Additionally, you could consult sources that provide in-depth and sophisticated coverage of issues concerning national policy. The library has hard copies of the following (in addition to hundreds of others) and many of them are available on ProQuest, an online database that is available from the library terminals: Atlantic Monthly, Nation Harper's, Public Opinion Quarterly, New Republic, Commentary, Congressional Digest, Public Interest, and National Review.
D) Newspapers - For some recent topics the major newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, LA Times) are good sources for basic information. These papers may all be found on the Internet or you may do subject searches through Nexis/Lexis. Some of the newspapers' web site charge you for access to archived articles, so Nexis/Lexis is the best bet if you run into that problem.
E) Course readings - For the second part of the paper you can primarily rely on the readings for the course, but you could also consult outside sources here if you feel like you need some additional information.
A) The paper should be about 10 pages in length (double-spaced pages with a 12 font and one-inch margins).
B) Papers are due on December 7th in class. Late papers will be penalized five points a day. On a 100-point scale this is about a half a letter grade per day, so you can see it is to your advantage to get them done on time.
C) Grades for the paper will be based on the clarity of your presentation, the consistency of your analysis and conclusion, and the range of sources consulted.
D) Documentation is required. All sources you use in writing the paper should be listed in a bibliography and all references and quotes cited in the text of the paper. You may use any standard form of citation: footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citations; if you are not sure about how this works see the UW Writing Center's web page, "FAQs About Documenting Sources," http://www.wisc.edu/writing/FAQ/documentation.html). You should have at least ten sources total (more is obviously fine).
E) Needless to say, this is to be your own work, which means that plagiarism of published work or of your peers' work is obviously not allowed. If you have any questions about what constitutes plagiarism see the UW Academic Misconduct Guide (http://www.wisc.edu/students/amsum.htm), the Writing Center (http://www.wisc.edu/writing), or ask me for help. Plagiarism is a very serious offense and may be grounds for failing the class or other disciplinary action, including expulsion from the University.