Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Leadership: Speaker of the House

One of the few details specified by the Constitution over leadership in the House of Representatives is that of the Speaker (Smith 131). Arguably the most visible and powerful member of the United States Congress, the Speaker of the House’s role has changed dramatically in recent years to make the position the true driving force behind the American legislature. While not totally specified by the Constitution that the Speaker must be an actual member of the House, all past speakers have been, and the role of Speaker in today’s Congress is typically held by the majority party’s current leader.
As leader of the majority party, it is the Speaker’s primary role to push the party agenda and work closely with other senior party members to streamline the passing of their legislation. These goals are achieved due to certain powers given to the Speaker. Exercising almost complete control over committee appointments and assignments (especially conference committees where approval of the House is not even required), the strategy of appointments and reassignments is one of the toolsets available to the Speaker to allow for the advancement of party objectives. This appointment power is also coupled with the Speaker’s control over the scheduling of House business day to day. This allows the Speaker the ability to block, delay, or advance any bits of legislation he/she wishes to and adds even more power over the strategy the Speaker weaves for the advancement of party policy areas.
Another interesting facet of the Speaker of the House is their working relationship with the President. While having loyalty to their colleagues within the House and Senate, Speakers, due to Executive involvement in the legislative process outlined in the Constitution, also work with or against (depending on party majorities) the President to advance or delay certain pieces of legislation. While Speakers such as Democrats Thomas O’Neill and James Wright exercised their powers in the 1980s to block and work against the agenda of then President Ronald Reagan, the political climate of the present day sees a great amount of cooperation between Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama. The relationship between the Speaker of the House and the President has created some of the more interesting and intricate political strategies of the last half decade and as a result, has added to the power base of the Speaker on a national political level.

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