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

  • AQA Component 3.2, Section The legislative branch of Congress

Background: what you need to know 

This article discusses the frustration of President Biden’s legislative programme as a result of the deep divisions in US political life, which have created a stand-off between Congressional Democrats and Republicans. The situation is fraught because, although the President’s party narrowly controls the House of Representatives, the Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with vice-president Kamala Harris possessing the casting vote. Two key figures are the rightward-leaning Democrat senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema – both untypical of their party today – who may vote with Republicans against their own party on some issues.

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

A slow, painful death’: Biden’s domestic agenda withers as he jets abroad

Make sure that you can discuss some of the policy areas highlighted in the article, describing how legislative progress has been hampered by political polarisation. The article focuses on investment in infrastructure, which links to the differing economic policies of the two main parties.

The article also refers to disputes over voting rights, gun control, energy policy and the gender pay gap. You should also be familiar with two key terms, linked to procedure in the Senate, that are mentioned in the article: the use of the ‘filibuster’ to block legislation and the use of ‘reconciliation’ to expedite its passage.

Using the information in the article, and other sources available to you, answer one of the following questions, depending on which exam board specification you are following.

Question in the style of AQA Politics Paper 1

  • ‘The effectiveness of Congress has been reduced by the polarisation of US politics.’ Analyse and evaluate this statement. [25 marks]

Question in the style of Edexcel Politics Paper 3

  • Evaluate the view that the effectiveness of the US Congress has been limited by the growth of political partisanship.

    You must consider this view and the alternative to this view in a balanced way. [30 marks]

Graham Goodlad, St John’s College

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