C H A P T E R 12
Congress in Action
C H A P T E R 12
The Federal Court System
Congress Organizes
Committees in Congress
How a Bill Becomes a Law: The House
The Bill in the Senate
Chapter 12
Congress Organizes
•What are the roles of the presiding officers in
the Senate and the House?
•What are the duties of party officers in
•How are committee chairmen chosen, and
what is their role in the legislative process?
Congress Convenes
• New terms begin every two years on Jan. 3rd of odd
numbered years. Each new term follows the general election
in November. Next is January 2015.
• 30,000 men and women work for the legislative branch and it
costs $4 billion per year to finance its operations
• On opening day, rules are adopted and roles are set. In the
House, the Speaker of the House is chosen by the majority
• Beginning new terms in the House is more complicated than
in Senate because all of the 435 members are elected every
two years whereas the Senate is 1/3 of its 100.
The Speaker of the House
•The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the House of
Representatives and the acknowledged leader of the majority party.
•The Speaker names the members of all select and conference
committees, and signs all bills and resolutions passed by the House.
“The House of Representatives shall choose their
Speaker and other Officers…” Article I, Section 2,
Clause 5
No member may speak until he is recognized by
the Speaker. He interprets and applies rules,
refers bills to committee, puts motions to a vote.
John Boehner (R)
The Presiding Officers
The President of the Senate
•Article I of the Constitution makes the Vice President the President of the
Senate. Today, the VP spends most in executive branch assisting Prez.
•The President of the Senate cannot cast votes on legislation. He's not a
member of the Senate and can only vote to break a tie.
VP: Joe
“The Senate shall
choose their other
officers, and also a
President pro
tempore, in the
absence of the Vice
Article I, Section 3
•The president pro
tempore, the leader of
the majority party, is
elected from the
Senate. He follows the
Speaker of House in
succession. Usually
senior member of
majority party.
Leahy (D)
Floor Leaders and Whips
• The Party Caucus “party
conference” is a closed meeting
of the members of each party in
each house.
• The caucus picks floor leaders
and committee members
• Next to the Speaker of the
House, the floor leaders are the
most important officers in
• Floor leaders are legislative
strategists. They try to carry out
the decisions of their parties’
caucuses and steer floor action
to their parties’ benefit. Each is
also the party spokesman.
• Each chamber has a majority
floor leader (more powerful) and
a minority floor leader.
• Each floor leader in both
chambers is assisted by party
whips. Majority whips and
minority whips are assistant
floor leaders.
• Whips serve as a liaison – a two
way link between the party’s
leadership and its rank and file
members and help arrange and
track voting and member
attendance. They are the
second-ranking members of the
party leadership.
Majority and Minority Leaders
House of Representatives
Whip =
Whip =
Richard Durbin
Harry Reid (D)
McCarthy (R)
Eric Cantor (R)
Whip =
Whip =
Mitch McConnell (R)
John Cornyn
Nancy Pelosi (D)
Steny Hoyer
Committee Chairmen and Seniority Rule
Committee Chairmen
Seniority Rule
•The committee chairmen
•The seniority rule, an
are the members who head
the standing committees in
each chamber of Congress.
unwritten custom, holds that
the most important posts will be
held by those party members
with the longest records of
service in Congress.
•The chairman of each of
these permanent committees
is chosen from the majority
party by the majority party
caucus and make all
important decisions about the
committees work.
•The head of each committee
is often the longest-serving
member of the committee from
the majority party
Composition of 113th Congress
Section 1 Review
1. The presiding officer of the House of Representatives is
(a) the President.
(b) the Speaker of the House.
(c) the majority whip.
(d) the president pro tempore.
2. What is the main duty of party whips?
A. whip the floor leaders into shape
B. provide committees with important information
C. assist the floor leaders and serve as liaisons between members and
its leadership
D. Give floor leaders important information from the Vice President
Committees in Congress
•How do the standing committees function?
•What are the duties and responsibilities of the
House Rules Committee?
•What are the functions of joint and
conference committees?
“Congress is a collection of committees that comes together
periodically to approve one another’s actions.”
- Representative Clem Miller (D., Calif.)
“Congress in its committee rooms is Congress at work.”
- President Woodrow Wilson
• The House and the Senate are
both so large and the business
they must complete is so vast
that most of the work in
Congress is done in Committee.
Standing Committees
•Standing committees are permanent panels in
Congress to which bills of similar nature could be
sent (ex: Education, Budget, Armed Services).
•Most of the standing committees handle bills
dealing with particular policy matters, such as
veterans’ affairs or foreign relations.
• The fate of most bills is
decided in committee
rather than the floor of
either house (too many to
bring all bills to floor).
Chapter 12, Section
Permanent Committees of Congress
3 4
Chapter 12, Section
The House Rules Committee and Select
•The House Rules
•The Rules Committee
decides whether and under
what conditions the full
House will consider a
measure. Lots of
competition to get on this
•This places great power in
the Rules Committee, as it
can speed, delay, or even
prevent House action on a
The Select Committees
•Select committees are
panels established to
handle a specific matter
and usually exist for a
limited time.
•Most select committees
are formed to investigate a
current matter – Senate
Watergate Committee, bug
infestation in Pacific
Northwest, etc.
Joint and Conference Committees
•A joint committee is one composed of members of both
•Examples of joint committees include the Joint Economic
Committee, the Joint Committee on Printing, and the Joint
Committee on the Library of Congress – used to make it
easier since they pass the same bills so often.
•A conference committee—a temporary, type of joint body—
is created to iron out differences between bills passed by the
House and Senate before they are sent to the President. A bill
MUST be passed in identical form in both houses before it is
sent off to the President.
Section 2 Review
1. The House Rules Committee
(a) establishes codes of conduct.
(b) determines when and under what conditions the full House will consider a
(c) oversees the execution of bills once they are passed into law.
(d) determines which members of the Senate may vote on a measure.
2. A conference committee is formed to
(a) iron out differences in bills passed by the House and Senate before they are
sent to the President.
(b) hold press conferences.
(c) appoint Supreme Court justices.
(d) determine rules for debate.
How a Bill Becomes a Law: The House
•What are the first steps in introducing a new
bill to the House?
•What happens to a bill once it enters a
•How do House leaders schedule debate
on a bill?
•What happens to a bill on the House floor?
•What is the final step in passing a bill in the
The First Steps
•10,000 measures are introduced in the House and
Senate during each term. Fewer than 10% become
•A bill is a proposed law presented to the House or
Senate for consideration.
•Most bills do not originate in
Example bill – assigned
a number and sent off to
Congress, but rather in the
Executive Branch, from interest
groups, or private citizens.
Congress introduces the bills.
Chapter 12, Section
Only the House Can Introduce Revenue Bills
• According to the Constitution:
“All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the
House of Representatives; but the Senate may
propose or concur with amendments as on other
Bills.” – Article I, Section 7, Clause 1
• If revenue bills originated in the Senate, it could have been
considered “taxation without representation.” Why?
• ALL other bills, dealing with any other topic, can be introduced by either
house of Congress.
Hint: How were Senators originally elected?
The Bill in Committee
Discharge Petitions
Gathering Information
•Most bills die in committee,
•Most committees do their
•If a committee pigeonholes
work through several
subcommittees— divisions
of existing committees
formed to address specific
“pigeonholed,” or put away,
never to be acted upon.
a bill that a majority of the
House wishes to consider, it
can be brought out of
committee via a discharge
•Committees and
subcommittees often hold
public hearings or make a
junket (trip) to gather
information relating to a
measure (ex: subcommittee on
Crime might visit federal prisons,
Forest Subcommittee might go to
Northern CA to study refuge
Example of Committee and Subcommittee
For Instance, a Senator may belong to
the: Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition
and Forestry and the following
• Subcommittee on Rural Revitalization,
Conservation, Forestry and Credit
• Subcommittee on Production, Income
Protection and Price Support
• Subcommittee on Hunger, Nutrition and
Family Farms
Committee Actions
The Bill on the Floor
Committee of the Whole – Expedited Process
•The Committee of the Whole includes all members of the
House, however, they sit as one large committee and not as
the House itself. Most measures are done in this committee.
Only 100 members needed as opposed to 218 in full House.
Allows bills to be considered faster, and without all of the rules
of the full House.
•Severe limits are placed on floor debate due to the House’s
large size.
•Majority and minority floor leaders generally decide in
advance how they will split the time to be spent on a bill.
•Rules prohibit a member from holding the floor for more than
1 hour.
Voting on a Bill
There are several ways of taking votes. The
most common is “yes” or “no.” The Speaker
of the House will take yes or no votes on a
proposed bill.
Once a bill has been approved at second reading, it is
engrossed, or printed in its final form. It is then read for a
third time and a final vote is taken.
***At this point, it can be sent to the President if passed in
identical form in the other house of Congress. If not, it must
go through the whole process again.
The Bill in the Senate
•How is a bill introduced in the Senate?
•How do the Senate’s rules for debate differ from
those in the House?
•What is the role of conference committees in the
legislative process?
•What actions can the President take after both
houses have passed a bill?
Introducing a Bill and Rules for Debate
Introducing a Bill
•Bills are introduced by senators, who are formally
recognized for that purpose.
•Proceedings are much less formal in the Senate
compared to the House.
Rules for Debate
•Unlike the House of Reps, Senators may speak on the
floor for as long as they wish.
•This freedom of debate allows for the fullest possible
discussion of matters on the floor.
Strom Thurmond –
24 hour filibuster
because he was
against the Civil
Rights Act.
Filibuster and Cloture
•A filibuster is an
attempt to “talk a bill to
•A senator may exercise
his or her right of holding
the floor as long as
necessary, and in
essence talk until a
measure is dropped (Can’t
vote if still debating and could vote
against if they bore enough people
into leaving).
Cloture: limiting debate in the Senate. 60
member vote required. Put in place to kill
filibuster. Seldom used, but there in case.
Limits debate to 30 hours max. Then must be
brought to final vote.
Conference Committees
•Any measure enacted by Congress must have
been passed by both houses in identical form.
•If one of the houses will not accept the other’s
version of a bill, a conference committee, a
temporary joint committee of both houses is
formed to iron out the differences.
•Once a conference committee completes work
on a bill, it is returned to both houses for final
approval. It must be accepted or rejected without
amendment in the exact same form.
The President Acts
The President can either veto or approve a
bill. If he approves, it becomes a law. If he
vetoes the bill, it goes back to Congress. If
Congress passes the vetoed bill by 2/3 vote
in both houses, it becomes a law.
1 2 3
Chapter 12, Section
Section 4 Review
1. A filibuster is
(a) a tool used by senators to speed up the process of passing legislation.
(b) the name for a bill once it is signed into law.
(c) a delay tactic in which a bill is talked to death.
(d) an executive privilege that allows for the amending of passed bills.