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  • AQA Component The legislative branch of government: Congress

  • Edexcel Component 3A: 2.3: Interpretations and debates around Congress: changing significance of parties in Congress

Background: what you need to know 

In their different ways these two articles illustrate the importance of partisan loyalties in Congress. A professed moderate who served as a senator for more than three decades, President Joe Biden has prided himself on his ability to ‘work across the aisle’ with Republicans to pass legislation. So far there is little evidence that this will be possible.

The House of Representatives is still controlled by the Democrats, giving him few problems, but the Senate is evenly split, so that all Democrats must support the President’s agenda if it is to be enacted. Vice-president Harris may be called upon to use her casting vote, as she did in early February to pass a Covid relief budget resolution, paving the way for the bill that is now being debated.

The first article reports on the passage of the administration’s fiscal stimulus legislation, but with not a single Republican voting in favour. The success of the vote hinged on winning the support of centre-right Democrat senator Joe Manchin, involving party managers in intense negotiations. This shows the potential importance of one individual in a closely balanced chamber.

The second article focuses on the practice known as the filibuster, whereby senators can hold up legislation unless a supermajority of 60 members vote to bring the process to a close — a high threshold given the current state of the parties. Progressive Democrats are pressing for the abolition of the filibuster, in order to make it easier to pass legislation, but this would require the approval of Joe Manchin and another moderate Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema, who so far have refused to lend their support.

Click to read the articles below and then answer the questions:

Senate approves Joe Biden’s $1.9tn stimulus legislation

Progressive Democrats are on a mission to bust the filibuster

Question in the style of AQA Politics Paper 2

  • Explain and analyse three ways in which partisanship affects Congress in performing its functions. [9 marks]

Question in the style of Edexcel Politics Paper 3A

  • Evaluate the view that partisanship limits the effectiveness of Congress. You must consider this view and the alternative to this view in a balanced way. (30)

TIP: Excessive partisanship arguably inhibits Congress in its work of passing legislation and scrutinising the work of the executive. On the other hand, it is worth noting that bipartisanship does still occur, especially in foreign policy, and there is evidence that checks and balances still work in US government.

Graham Goodlad, St John’s College

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