Chapter 7
Congress
American Government: Continuity and Change
9th Edition
to accompany Comprehensive, Alternate, Texas, and Essentials Editions
O’Connor and Sabato
Pearson Education, Inc. © 2008
The Constitution and the Legislative
Branch of the Government
 Article I describes structure of
Congress
 Bicameral legislature
 Divided into two houses
 Each state sends two Senators regardless
of population
 Number of representatives each state
sends to the House is determined by state
population
The Constitution and the Legislative
Branch of the Government
 Constitution sets out requirements for
membership in the House and Senate
 House – 25 years of age; reside in U.S.
at least 7 years; serve 2 year terms
 Directly elected, thus more responsible to
the people
 Senate – 30 years of age; reside in U.S.
at least 9 years; serve 6 year terms
 Congressional members must be legal
residents of their states
Apportionment and Redistricting
 Apportionment
 Proportional process of allotting
congressional seats to each state following
the ten year census
 Redistricting
 Redrawing of congressional districts to
reflect increases or decreases in seats
allotted to the states, as well as population
shifts within a state
 1929: House size fixed at 435
Constitutional Powers of Congress
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The authority to make
laws is shared by both
chambers of Congress
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Other shared powers
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Bill
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A proposed law
No bill can become a
law without the
consent of both houses
Each chamber also has
special, exclusive
powers as well.
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Declare war
Raise an army and navy
Coin money
Regulate commerce
Establish the federal courts and their
jurisdiction
Establish rules of immigration and
naturalization
Make laws necessary and proper to
carrying out the powers previously listed
Special powers
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House – origination of revenue bills
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Mandate has blurred over time
Impeachment authority (but Senate
tries; 2/3 vote)
Senate – treaties, presidential
appointments
How Congress is Organized
 New Congress is seated every two years
 Elect new leaders
 Each house has a hierarchical leadership structure
 Political Parties
 Organization of both houses of Congress closely tied
to political parties and their strength in each
chamber.
 Majority Party
 Minority Party
 Role in the committee system
 Controlled by the majority party
 Party caucus or conference
 Variety of roles and specialized committees
The House
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Always the larger of the two chambers
 Organized more tightly; increased role for party leadership
Speaker
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Presides over House
Official spokesperson for the House
Second in line of presidential succession
House liaison with president
Great political influence within the chamber
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Henry Clay, first powerful speaker (1810)
Joe Cannon (1903-1910), was so powerful, that a revolt
emerged to reduce powers of the speakership.
Newt Gingrich (1995)
Dennis Hastert – replaced Gingrich; wrestling coach and social
studies teacher; largely unknown Republican
With Democrats taking control of the House, Nancy Pelosi
(CA), became the first woman Speaker of the House.
Other House Leaders
 Majority Leader
 Elected leader of the party controlling the most seats
in the House or the Senate
 Second in authority to the Speaker—in the Senate, is
the most powerful member
 Minority Leader
 Elected leader of the party with the second highest
number of elected representatives in the House of
Representatives or the Senate
 Whips
 Keep close contact with all members and take nose
counts on key votes, prepare summaries of bills, etc.
 Party caucus or conference
 A formal gathering of all party members
The Senate
 The Constitution specifies the vice president
as the presiding officer of the Senate.
 He votes only in case of a tie.
 Official chair of the Senate is the president
pro tempore (pro tem).
 Primarily honorific
 Generally goes to the most senior senator of the
majority party
 Actual presiding duties rotate among junior
members of the chamber
 True leader is the majority leader, but not as
powerful as Speaker is in the House
The Senate
 Senate rules give tremendous power
to individual senators
 Offering any kind of amendment
 filibuster
 Because Senate is smaller in size
organization and formal rules have
not played the same role as in the
House
Committee System
 Organization and specialization of committees
is very important in the House due to size
 Subcommittees allow for even greater specialization
 Institutionalized system created in 1816
 More committees added over time
 1995 Republican committee system reform
 Result may have weakened the committee system
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How chairs are appointed
Devaluation of seniority
Shift of power from chairs to party leaders
Reduction in resources to subcommittee chairs
Imposition of term limits on committee chairs
Committee System
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Standing Committees
 Continue from one Congress to the next—bills referred here
for consideration
 Powerful
 Discharge petitions
Joint Committees
 Includes members from both houses of Congress, conducts
investigations or special studies
Conference Committees
 Joint committee created to iron out differences between
Senate and House versions of a specific piece of legislation
Select (or special) Committees
 Temporary committee appointed for specific purpose, such
as conducting a special investigation or study
Committee Membership
 Members often seek assignments to
committees based on
 Their own interests or expertise
 A committee’s ability to help their prospects for
reelection
 Pork/earmarks: legislation that allows
representatives to bring home the “bacon” to
their districts in the form of public works
programs, military bases, or other programs
designed to benefit their districts directly
 Access to large campaign contributors
Committee Chairs
 These individuals have tremendous power
and prestige.
 Authorized to select all subcommittee chairs
 Call meetings
 Recommend majority members to sit on
conference committees
 Can kill a bill by not scheduling hearings on it
 Have staff at their disposal
 Seniority still important in the Senate
The Members of Congress
 Find the job exciting
 Relish the work
 Recent impact of partisanship
 Makes work more stressful, intense
 Can make more money in private sector
 Must work to appease two constituencies
 Home
 Washington
Running for Office and
Staying in Office
 Incumbency
 The fact that being in office helps a person stay
in office because of a variety of benefits that go
with the position
 Name recognition
 Access to free media
 Inside track on fund-raising
 District drawn to favor incumbent
 1980 to 1990, an average of 95 percent of
incumbents who sought reelection won their
primary and general election races.
Congressional Demographics
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Members tend to be:
 Better educated than the population in general
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Richer
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All but three are college graduates; over 2/3’s have advanced
degrees.
Nearly 200 are millionaires; 21 Senators are worth at least 3.1
million. 29 House members worth that much as well.
Male
White
Average age is 60 for Senators; 54 for House members.
Adam Putnam (R-FL) elected in 2000 at age of 25. Still the
youngest member of Congress.
John Sununu (R-NH) is the youngest Senator (41)
Minorities in the House and Senate
Occupations
 No longer overwhelmingly lawyers
Theories of Representation
 Trustee
 Role played by elected representatives who
listen to constituent’s opinions and then use
their best judgment to make final decisions
 Delegate
 Role played by elected representatives who vote
the way their constituents would want them to,
regardless of their own opinions
 Politico
 Role played by elected representatives who act
as trustees or as delegates, depending on the
issue
How Members Make Decisions
 Party
 Divided government
 Constituents
 Colleagues and Caucuses
 Logrolling (vote trading)
 Interest Groups, Lobbyists, and PACS
 Staff and Support Agencies
How a Bill Becomes A Law
 Only members of the House or
Senate can submit a bill.
 Once a bill is introduced: usually a
dead end
 Of about 9,000 or so bills introduced
during a session of Congress, fewer than
10 percent make it into law.
 System of multiple vetoes; power is
dispersed as the Framers intended.
How a Bill Becomes a Law: The
Textbook Version
 Introduction (sponsorship)
 Sent to clerk of chamber
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Bill printed, distributed, and sent to appropriate
committee or committees (referred by Speaker in
House)
 Committee refers bill to one of its subcommittees
 Subcommittee researches bill and decides on hearings
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Hearings provide opportunity for both sides of issue to
voice their opinions
 Bill then revised in subcommittee and vote is taken
 If vote is positive, the bill is returned to full committee
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Markup
 Full committee either rejects bill or sends it to House
or Senate floor with a recommendation
How a Bill Becomes a Law:
Textbook Version
 Next stage of action takes place on the floor
 In House, goes to Rules Committee, given a rule,
placed on calendar (but not budget bills)
 Rules limit debate and determine what kind, if any,
amendments are allowed
 House may choose to form a Committee of the Whole
 Allows for deliberation with only 100 members
present
 On the floor, bill debated, amendments offered, and a
vote taken
 If bill survives, it is sent to the Senate for
consideration—if it was not considered there
simultaneously.
How a Bill Becomes a Law:
Textbook Version
 In the Senate, bill may be held up by:
 A hold – a tactic by which a senator asks
to be informed before a particular bill is
brought to the floor
 A filibuster – a formal way of halting
action on a bill by means of long
speeches or unlimited debate on the
Senate
 Cloture: Mechanism requiring sixty senators
to vote to cut off debate
How a Bill Becomes a Law:
Textbook Version
 Third state of action takes place when the
two chambers of Congress approve
different versions of the SAME bill
 Conference committee
 Returns to each chamber for final vote. If it
does not pass in each chamber it dies
 If the bill passes, it is sent to the president.
How a Bill Becomes a Law:
Textbook Version
 President can either sign it or veto it.
 The president has 10 days to consider a bill.
 Four options:
 Can sign the bill, at which point it becomes law
 Can veto the bill; congress can override the veto with
a 2/3 vote in each chamber
 Can wait the full ten days, at the end of which time
the bill becomes law without his signature IF
Congress is still in session
 If Congress adjourns before the ten days are up, the
president can choose not to sign the bill. The bill is
then pocket-vetoed.
 Bill would have to be reintroduced and go through the
entire process again in order to become a law
Congress and the President
 Constitution envisioned that Congress and
the president would have:
 Discrete powers
 One branch would be able to hold the other in
check
 Since the 1930s, the president has had the
upper hand
 But Congress still has ultimate legislative
authority to question executive actions and
 Congress can impeach and even remove him
from office
Shifting Balance of Power
 Congressional Oversight
 Congressional review of the activities of an
agency, department, or office
 Foreign Policy and National Security
 War Powers Act
 Passed by Congress in 1973: Limits the
president in the deployment of troops overseas
to a sixty day period in peacetime unless
Congress explicitly gives its approval for a
longer period
 Confirmation of Presidential Appointments
 The Impeachment Process
Congress and the Judiciary
 Congress exercises its control over the
judiciary in several ways.
 Can establish the size of the Supreme Court, its
appellate jurisdiction, and the structure of the
federal court system
 Senate also has the authority to accept or reject
presidential nominees for the federal courts
 Senatorial courtesy: process by which
presidents, when selecting district court judges,
defer to the senator in whose state the vacancy
occurs