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McCourt School of Public Policy

Congressional Politics and Policies: What Works, What Doesn't, and why

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About the course

Congress is defined by Article One of the Constitution for a reason: it was designed to be the primary policy-maker in the federal government of the United States, but the public rarely gets to see what actually goes into getting things done on Capitol Hill. From the scribbles on the final piece of the tax reform package the Senate passed in the middle of the night to Committee deliberations, leadership fights, elaborate negotiations and the political repercussions of it all, Congressional success and failures are determined not just by good policy or smart politics but by so much more.

This course focuses on the nuts and bolts of passing legislation into law – from serving in Congress, to staffing an office, writing a bill, the Congressional Leadership and Committees, the Budget and Appropriations processes, Whip operations, the mechanics of the House and Senate Floors, Conference Committees, and dealing with the White House.

With more than two decades of bipartisan, bicameral experience in some of the biggest Congressional battles of the Bush and Obama eras, we will take course participants inside “the rooms where it happens” – where the deals that set the course of our country’s history come together or fall apart.

Course Goals

By the end of the class, students will be able to:

Understand the ins and outs of how Congress works from practitioners' perspectives;

  • Identify the various pieces of Congress, from leadership to committees and more, and illustrate how the pieces work separately and how they fit together;
  • Analyze past Congressional battles, the current state of play on the Hill, fights to come and more; and
  • Explain how Congress works, but how to apply those valuable lessons to other facets of life.

Who should attend

This course is taught by two professors with longstanding front-row seats to Congressional action -- and inaction -- who are eager to share those experiences and those lessons with students. While many studied Congress in school or follow developments in the news, this is a primer of a different sort: real lessons on how Congress works and how it doesn't. From how Congressional offices function to how the Senate and House floors work to how votes are actually whipped to working with reporters and getting a message out, this is Congress at its essence. If you like following developments in politics, policy or Congress and always wanted to learn more, this is the course for you.

Trust the experts

Scott Mulhauser

Scott Mulhauser (L ’05) is founder of Aperture Strategies, a strategic advisory and communications firm that works with corporations, coalitions, nonprofits and more to navigate public affairs, communications and management challenges and advise them on developments in Washington and across the g...

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Michael Steel

After nearly two decades working in journalism, on Capitol Hill and for political campaigns, Michael Steel joined Hamilton Place Strategies, where he advises a range of clients on strategic communications and public policy. Most recently, he was a senior policy and communications advisor for G...

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