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Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  235 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
An eye-opening account of how Congress today really works—and doesn’t—that follows the dramatic journey of the sweeping financial reform bill enacted in response to the Great Crash of 2008.

The founding fathers expected Congress to be the most important branch of government and gave it the most power. When Congress is broken—as its justifiably dismal approval ratings sugges
ebook, 448 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2013)
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Bob Price
After reading Robert Kaiser's poorly named Act of Cognress, I have learned two things:

(1) Objective journalism is dead...a fact I already knew but it was reiterated again for me here.

(2) America needs a reboot.

I should note here that my review of this book is a review of the book and not about the legislation whose construction it presents.

The subtitle of the book How America's Essential Institution Works, and How it Doesn't might suggest that this is a book about politics, specifically how Con
Aug 05, 2013 Lobstergirl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the low IQ members of Congress
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: PBS Newshour
Shelves: government

Here’s the hilarious thing: even after reading this 386 page book on the Dodd-Frank law – I still would not be able to give you a list of bullet points of what exactly is in the bill. A ha ha HAHAHAHAHAHA! I could tell you a couple of the main features. But for a full list I would have to go read Wikipedia.

(Actually the Wikipedia entry for the law has a warning label: “This article may be too technical for most readers to understand. Please help improve this article to make it understandable to
Doug Cornelius
Robert Kaiser was granted rare access to the action behind the scenes of the creation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Act of Congress is an enjoyable study of the enactment of that law, used as tool to explore how Congress works, and largely how it it doesn't work.

Kaiser was already an associate editor and senior correspondent with the Washington Post and had just finished a book on lobbying and money in Washington. He proposed to Congressman Frank that Kaiser
Frank Stein
Jun 07, 2013 Frank Stein rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Often frustrating, but just as often fascinating. The author of this book was embedded for almost a year with Rep. Barney Frank and Senator Christopher Dodd as they hammered out the famous or infamous Dodd-Frank Act, 2300 pages, now accompanied by almost 10,000 pages and counting of regulations, that was supposed to cure the nation of the financial ills manifest in the 2008 crash and to re-regulate the financial sector.

The author, like almost every contemporary journalist covering Washington, co
"Act of Congress" is a lot like The Guns of Navarone, without the bullets, and with Republicans and bankers as the Nazis.

This book describes the intense battle to pass the Dodd-Frank Act in both houses of Congress. Robert G. Kaiser, the author, makes it clear from the beginning that he is a supporter of government financial interventions such as Dodd-Frank, and thinks that those who opposed them are ignorant Neanderthals. Moreover, the book appears to be rich with Democratic inside sources (prim
Bonnie Samuel
Sep 07, 2013 Bonnie Samuel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book probably needs a new title. I picked it up thinking it was a general narrative on how Congress operates, but it is actually about how the Dodd-Frank Act on financial regulatory reform came to be passed into law. It's definitely eye-opening for anyone who is genuinely interested in how legislation is developed. You'll see that it takes dozens, if not hundreds of people many hours and a lot of negotiating to put together the final draft of a bill. If it weren't so distressing, it would b ...more
Aug 27, 2013 josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An engaging read on an incredibly complex law enacted by one of the most dysfunctional & politicized entities in our Land - the bicameral Houses of Congress.

In many parts, it read like a novel - driven by characters and intrigue - while maintaining Kaiser's clear journalistic touch to provide background information in a digestible fashion. While this book won't make anyone an expert in financial reform, it will expand one's understanding on the topic, as well as how a bill moves though Congr
May 25, 2013 Roopa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly fascinating and informative segments were on lobbying, the actual legwork required to pass major legislation in this day and age, the financial deregulation that led to the financial crisis and a few more things I can't remember right now. However, there were several segments of this book that were practically comatose. Sometimes overwhelming amounts of dry detail about some really trivial things and/or people. I love learning about our legislative process, and I love the swing of reg ...more
Joseph Muller
Great look into the actual workings of Congress on a major piece of legislation. I definitely learned some useful things as someone who occasionally needs to understand how legislation is made today. At the same time, it was a difficult read not because the material was that hard, but because it wasn't that interesting and I found it hard to force myself to read it. I finish the book feeling that I have only learned a little about the process for one piece of legislation. Perhaps that was the go ...more
Frank Kelly
This book would have been a lot better if it were written three or four years ago. Nothing new here, unfortunately, that I haven't read in three or four other books about the financial crisis already.
Jul 08, 2013 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not as much detail on the policy specifics as I had hoped, but a really interesting dive into the process through which Dodd-Frank became law.
Jul 22, 2013 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For a book about the passage of a bill through Congress, this was pretty good. It also makes you miss Democratic control of both houses.
Congress is interesting. But not as interesting as the author thinks it is.
Nov 20, 2013 PWRL marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-new
Andrew McBurney
Nov 10, 2013 Andrew McBurney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Act of Congress is a work that Americans have needed for a long time. At the end, Robert Kaiser notes, “The way this story unfolded did not follow a civics book model of how Congress should work. Instead the plot line reflected the realities of the modern Congress.”

I teach government and history, and for as long as I’ve been a teacher, every government textbook has its own version of the necessarily convoluted diagram of How a Bill Becomes Law—you know, the one you might mistake for the gameboar
Sep 28, 2016 Stuart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An in depth analysis and description of how the Dodd-Frank legislation was crafted and passed. Eye opening.
Dec 02, 2015 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a single case study of how Congress functions -- following the creation through completion of the Dodd-Frank Act. I definitely recommend this book to people who are interested in the real-life nuts and bolts of the legislative process.

There are two reasons I think this book deserves immense praise. First, it gives the reader a thorough and serious look into the mechanics of legislative creation. The role of staffers is heavily emphasized and by the end it almost seems like the elect
Apr 30, 2016 Rdp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I used Kaiser's book in an upper division, university course on Congress. Using the challenge to craft financial reform legislation, Act of Congress is packed full with interesting and essential information on the legislative body, as well as interesting profiles of the people responsible for designing and debating important laws.
One of the challenges of teaching and learning about Congress is that it does not inspire people. Kaiser rightly hits on some of the key themes of Congress... fear of
Aug 14, 2016 Dominic rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An insight into the process of passing a major piece of legislation, but at times as dense as the bill whose genesis it is describing.

There are heroes and villains from both political parties in this book, although the Democrats generally come off better. What is remarkable is the power of the staffers who work for the members of congress. So few of the members understood the bill that their (generally more experienced) staffers were the ones wring the bill and dictating their bosses policies. A
I find this was a book that comes up short because it tells more of a clinical story rather than offer insights which aren't obvious. I will give Robert Kaiser credit for his attempt to present how congress does and does not work but his choice to go in depth on one bill really gives us the type of dull and uninspired coverage of Congress that is pervasive throughout the media. I find it unsurprising that Kaiser is quite taken with the respective committee heads he deals with. After all he is de ...more
Jeffrey Blake
May 06, 2013 Jeffrey Blake rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eye-opening look at Congress through the eyes of 50 year veteran Washington Post reporter Robert Kaiser. Kaiser uses the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill as the vehicle for highlighting how our most essential democratic institution works, or as the subtitle implies, often doesn't; due in part to pernicious partisanship, endless fundraising, vast special interests, and big money lobbyists. Must read for those who wish to understand how things really get done in Washington today, and more ...more
Feb 28, 2016 Tobias rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A slog at times, but still a compelling look at how, as Kaiser's subtitle suggests, Congress works and doesn't work. It's hard to think of a book that has shown the extent to which Washington, DC is governed by anonymous staffers who do the legwork in the legislative and executive branches. It's possible that Kaiser is too partial to Dodd and Frank, who were his main sources on the process of drafting Dodd-Frank, but I still think it's a) a revealing look into Congress and b) a honest account of ...more
Sue Campbell
Nov 03, 2015 Sue Campbell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very well written but the content was disturbing. Congress no longer makes policy...but spends all it's time dealing in politics. Gone are the days when collaboration, bipartisanship and negotiation was openly displayed and used to create laws that helped the average person. In it's place is partisan warfare where politicians rally against anything that smacks of administrative reform, even if it is sorely needed. This book details the process through which Congress passed a financial reform bil ...more
Edward Moore
Nov 20, 2014 Edward Moore rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a great way to follow a piece of legislation, and begin to understand how a law is created and passed. The author had nearly complete access to Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd as they recounted the passing of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulation Law. I recommend this. The author is clearly in favor of the bill, and he does not paint Republicans very favorably. On the whole, it is pretty balanced. He does have some good points about the rank partisanship crippling government from both ...more
Dec 21, 2013 Don rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
Almost any book about the workings of congress is going to bring out the sausage analogy. This one does, too, and it's well-deserved. It's hard to believe someone would be interested in this book unless they're part of the financial industry. There's not much salacious in here. We see a lot of personality quirks (disorders?) that we knew guys like Frank and Shelby had. But mostly we see hard-working people, both elected and staff--trying to either make or break a major piece of legislation. Well ...more
Fredrick Danysh
This is a very partisan look at how Congress operates and how it circumvents procedural rules. It also looks at how deals are cut and pork added to bills using Frank-Dodds on banking and Obama-care as an example. It is full of jargon and difficult for me to read with a degree in political science. It does not appear to be for the average citizen. I also question the texts of some of the conversations used in the book. You'll get a better understanding from reading the Constitution and a high sch ...more
Michelle Young
Writing is fine, though a bit boring. Other people's comments are right on that this book is not what it purports to be--about how Congress functions overall--and is more following a single major piece of legislation and it's related players. So still a lot to cover, and better to go deeper with a specific thing, but not cool to make it sound like this book is offering a big picture of Congress when it's not necessarily doing so.
Jan 31, 2014 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent behind the scene's look at Congress (warts and all) and the real, methodical work that isn't captured in today's sound bite media of CNN or the noise machine of F*x. Kaiser isn't afraid to punch away at both the failings, triumphs, roundabout deals, and compromises of the congressional system. and yet it contains hope even in this messy system. This is journalism at its best! Also, after reading, I'm impressed by the legislative skills of Frank and Dodd.
Nov 23, 2014 Miriam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kaiser had an inside view of the process that led to Dodd-Frank. He tries to be balanced, but ultimately is fed up with the political orientation that has taken over the Republican party completely and the Democratic party less so. We are left with respect for the work of Congressional staff and amazement that anything gets accomplished despite the myriad ways bills can get scuttled.
Mar 22, 2016 T. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn't expect to enjoy this book nearly as much as I did. While some of it is not easy to understand, mainly because of the complex nature of the bill it deals with, it is fascinating to see the legislative process at work. A great book for anyone who votes, and that should be all of us.
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Robert G. Kaiser is associate editor and senior correspondent of The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1963.

Kaiser began at The Washington Post as a summer intern while still a college student. He has served as a special correspondent in London (1964–67), a reporter on the city desk in Washington, D.C. (1967–69), foreign correspondent in Saigon (1969–70) and Moscow (1971–74). He returned
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