POSC 205 – Spring 2003

Congress and the Presidency


Bert Johnson


Office: x7170

Home: 645-6338 (not after 10pm please)


Office Hours, Willis 413

Tuesdays 10am-12:00noon; 4:00pm-6:00pm

Thursdays 4:00pm-6:00pm

and by appointment


Congress and the Presidency stand at the heart of the American system of government.  The president is arguably the most powerful person on earth, and many have cited Congress as one of the greatest examples of democracy in our time.  Yet Congress is consistently unpopular among members of the public, and some scholars seriously question whether the presidency functions successfully as an institution.  Furthermore, power-sharing between the two branches is often a contentious and vitriolic affair.  Each new president enters Washington with a vow to end, in George W. Bush’s words, “excessive partisanship and finger-pointing” and leaves the city years later having failed to do so. 


What accounts for the conflict between these two branches?  The method of selection in each branch?  The internal governance structure?  Or the modern political environment?  Under what conditions does each branch function effectively? 


This term, we will examine these and other pertinent questions.  This will require a significant amount of dedication and effort on all of our parts.  Just as you should expect thorough preparation from me, I expect the same of all of you.  Therefore, it is important that everyone complete the assigned readings and come to class prepared to discuss them. .


Evaluation this term will be based on a scale of 1000-possible points, distributed as follows.  1) Regular participation - 250 points.  2) Four 2-page response papers based on the readings – 300 points.  3) Two simulation papers: 400 points.  4) Success in simulation: 50 points. 


A major component of this course will be a simulation of the presidential-congressional politics of Medicare reform.  More details on this will follow, but as part of the simulation you will write two 5-page papers: 1) a background and strategy document based on your assigned role (due Monday, April 28); 2) a post-mortem assessment of the simulation, along with insights about the application of political science theories of Congress and the presidency (due June 4). 


Response papers should be based on a reading or readings assigned for the day students hand them in (though they may incorporate insights from other readings) – you are not expected to do outside research for these short papers!  You are free to choose what to write about, although papers should make an argument (more than one argument is probably too much for a short paper).  You have some degree of choice over when to write these papers, but you must write your first by the end of week two (April 11), your second by the end of week four (April 25), your third by the end of week six (May 9), and your fourth by the end of week eight (May 23).  I will grant extensions only in cases of serious emergencies beyond a student's control; late papers drop 4% of the grade for each day, or portion thereof, that they are late.


Books available at the Carleton College Bookstore:


Other materials are either available online, or are on reserve (RR) at Gould Library. 



1 – Monday, March 31 – Introduction


Perspectives on Presidential/Congressional History


2 – Wednesday, April 2


3 – Friday, April 4

·         Nelson, Chapter 5: Stephen Skowronek, “Presidential Leadership in Political Time”


4 – Monday, April 7

·         Dodd & Oppenheimer, Chapter 15: Joseph Cooper, “The Twentieth Century Congress”


Simulation Day: Medicare Background

5 – Wednesday, April 9


Presidential Power


6 – Friday, April 11

·         Neustadt, Chapters 1, 2


7 – Monday, April 14


8 – Wednesday, April 16


Elections and Constituencies


9 – Friday, April 18


10 – Monday, April 21


11 – Wednesday, April 23


12 – Friday, April 25


Simulation Day: Position-Taking

13 – Monday, April 28


Institutional Growth and Structure


14 – Wednesday, April 30


15 – Friday, May 2


Monday, May 5 (MID-TERM BREAK)


Parties and Interest Groups


16 – Wednesday, May 7


17 – Friday, May 9


19 – Monday, May 12


Polarization and Power Struggles


20 – Wednesday, May 14


21 – Friday, May 16


22 – Monday, May 19


23 – Wednesday, May 21


Simulation Day: Committee Markup

24 – Friday, May 23


Simulation Day: Final Vote

25 – Monday, May 26


Public Policy in a Separated System


26 – Wednesday, May 28


27 – Friday, May 30


28 – Monday, June 2




29 – Wednesday, June 4