The rules that determine how Congress works were designed to produce slow, careful lawmaking based on compromise that can often seem motionless to an impatient public.
When citizens are looking to Congress to produce policies that they favor or to distribute national resources, the built-in slowness can look like intentional foot-dragging and partisan squabbling, especially when those behaviors are also taking place.
Americans have forgotten.
Our legislators' struggle to keep their jobs while meeting national expectations and our own frustration with Congress' institutionalized slowness will take us a long way toward understanding our mixed feelings about our national legislature.
We look at who gets the results they want from Congress and how the rules of legislative politics help or hinder them in this chapter.
Representation and lawmaking have traditionally been performed by our elected representatives in the House and Senate.
By representation, we mean that those who are elected should look out for our interests and carry out our will.
In a mediated age, representatives might have to respond to people who are informed and passionate.
Legislators are expected to address the country's social and laws that serve the interest of the entire nation.
Because the roles of representation and lawmaking often conflict, scholars have long noted that members of Congress favor their roles as representatives since the way they get reelected is by pleasing voters in their districts.
National problems are not addressed while local problems are.
The tension between representation and lawmaking is complicated by the fact that members of Congress have to be responsive to all of their parties.
The loyalty to a party that helps shape how members see the world, how they define problems, and how they determine appropriate solutions has been an important part of how members of Congress identify and organize themselves.
They have juggled a commitment to the party with the need to represent voters and solve national problems, creating some kind of balance among the three.
Voters and politicians will see in each other.
Representation means working on behalf of one's constituency, the people back home in the district who voted for the member, as well as those who did not.
Political scientists talk about four types of representation in order to help us understand the job.
House members and senators from states that produce oil can be predicted to vote in ways that favor the oil companies, while members from states that don't produce oil try to protect subsidies for wheat farmers.
It is rare for a member to champion a national interest since he or she will face reelection, but some members focus on issues such as foreign policy, campaign finance reform, or the environment.
Such perks used to be called " or.
These are provisions in the budget that direct funding for specific purposes, for example, highway construction or the establishment of a research institution.
They are popular because they look free to the district and the costs are spread to all taxpayers.
There is a food tent for striking workers outside of Fairpoint Communications in Portland.
Congress splits their time between Washington, D.C. and their home districts, just as they have to divide their attention between national and local needs.
Problems that involve the federal bureaucracy are some of the individual problems that senators and representatives take care of.
This representation includes things such as helping with immigration and naturalization problems, sending a flag to the U.S. Capitol, or finding out why a Social Security check hasn't shown up.
To promote their work, members maintain web pages and send information to the homes of voters through more traditional channels.
The member of Congress tries to represent many of the positive values Americans associate with public life and government without seeming too political.
Members are happy to speak at high school graduations or attend town meetings to explain what is happening in Washington.
Even if they are not from the South, members can still present themselves to their districts with "y'all" even if they are not from the South.
These appearances are part of a member's " home style" and help to symbolize the message "I am one of you" and "I am a representation can be in person or virtual--communication around patriotic and regional messages is easy and inexpensive online."
Being a critical constituent means more than being angry with Congress.
Knowing what your representatives are doing will allow you to evaluate how well they represent your interests.
You have access to your representatives in Congress, and to information about what they are up to.
You can help your representatives get to know you by using a number of effective ways.
Congress members have a presence on social media.
If you want to know what your representatives are doing, how they voted on specific bills, or what your congressional district looks like, their official web sites are great starting points.
Most of the time, they have Facebook pages and other social media accounts.
Most social media feeds are public relations pages managed by staffers, so you need to take them with a grain of salt.
It's a good idea to do an independent investigation, since your friend can help you find out what kind of record they have.
Members come home for long weekends to keep in touch with their friends and family.
Staff will be happy to reply to your phone call or email to let you know about upcoming town meetings or visits to district offices.
Most citizens can meet with their U.S. representative with just a bit of effort.
Most congressional social network feeds are carefully managed, but that doesn't mean you can't use them to your advantage.
A well-worded post tagged to your senator or representative can get their attention for an issue or cause that's important to you.
You should get a form letter response if you send an email.
A number of well-run web sites run fact-checks to see if our representatives are stretching, bending, or breaking the truth.
Although big, sweeping legislation is national news, bills that could affect you and your neighbors are often ignored by large news organizations.
Your local newspaper or news site will pay close attention to the activities of your congressional representatives, and may offer editorials that can help you decide how well they are serving your community.
It's a good idea to follow your state and local representatives on social media to keep up with what's happening at city hall and in your state capitol.