How Congress is Organized Mrs. Cox Civics Paisley IB 6 Bicameral Legislature The House of Representatives and the Senate, the bicameral, or twopart, legislative branch of the federal government is called Congress. Congress begins a new term, made of two sessions, every two years. Joint sessions of Congress occur when the House and the Senate meet together. Bicameral Legislature The larger body of Congress is the House of Representatives. The House has 435 members who are allotted to states on the basis of population. Every ten years, a population count called a census is used to decide the number of representatives from each state. Bicameral Legislature Each state is divided into districts and each district has about the same number of constituents, or people. Each district elects one representative every two years. The Senate has 100 members, two from each state. Senators serve six-year terms and represent the entire state. How Congress is Organization The Majority party of the house or Senate is the party to which more than half the members belong. The other party is the minority party. The leaders of the majority party in the House is called the Speaker. The Speaker has a great deal of political power. How Congress is Organized The vice president of the US is the leader of the Senate but only votes to break a tie. The floor leaders in each house are also powerful. One of their goals is to influence legislation that will help their political parties. Committee Work In Congress, small groups called committees do much of the work. Committees work on bills before the full House or Senate discusses them. Standing committees are permanent committees. Some examples are veterans’ affairs and agriculture. Committee Work Congress has other types of committees. Both the House and the Senate can form select committees to work on special topics. Select committees meet for only a limited period of time. Joint committees work on specific issues and include members of both houses. Committee Work Members of Congress want to work on committees that relate to their constituents’ interest. Party leaders make committee assignments. Several things can influence committee assignments, including a member’s expert knowledge, loyalty to the party, and seniority. Committee Work Seniority refers to the number of years of service in Congress. Senior members typically get assigned to more important committees. The person with the most seniority on the committee usually becomes the chairperson. Chairpersons decide when committees will meet and what bills they will study. Committee Work Some people support the seniority system. These people claim that it is good to have a chairperson with experience. Others think the seniority system is not fair. They think that talented leaders may be overlooked because they are not senior committee members. Changes have been made in the seniority system because of this debate. A senior member is no longer guaranteed to become committee chair. Powers of Congress Legislative powers are the powers to make laws. These powers belong to Congress. Some of these powers are written in the Constitution. They are called expressed powers and include the power to coin money and declare war. Legislative Powers Congress also has implied powers, which are not written in the Constitution. Clause 18 of the Constitution gives Congress implied powers to do whatever is necessary to carry out the powers that are expressly stated in the Constitution. Clause 18 is also called the elastic clause because it allows Congress to stretch its powers. Legislative Powers The Constitution does not say that Congress should create an air force. The elastic clause lets Congress create an air force as part of its expressed powers to support an army and navy. Legislative Powers Most of the powers held by Congress are used for making laws. Congress makes laws about raising and spending government money, managing business that happens between states and with foreign countries, and making military and foreign policy decisions. Non-legislative Powers Congress has duties that are not related to making laws. These are non-legislative powers. The House and Senate approve appointments to many government positions. The Senate must approve the president’s choices for Supreme Court justices, federal judges, and ambassadors. Non-legislative Powers The Constitution also allows Congress to remove federal officials from office. The House may impeach an official, even the president. Impeaching someone means accusing that person of wrongdoing. The Senate tries an impeached official. Two-thirds of the Senate must agree to remove an official from office. Non-legislative Powers The Constitution also says what Congress may not do. Congress cannot pass laws that go against the Bill of Rights or other individual freedoms. Congress cannot stop the writ of habeas corpus. This order makes sure prisoners are told why they are being held. Non-Legislative Powers Congress is not allowed to pass bills of attainder. These bills are laws that punish a person before the person has had a jury trial. Congress also cannot pass ex post facto laws. These laws make an act a crime after the act has been committed. Non-legislative Powers Congress cannot interfere with many powers of the states. States can regulate their own school systems. Congress is also restricted by the Constitution’s system of checks and balances. Congress makes laws, but the Supreme Court can decide whether those laws are constitutional. The president can veto bills passed by Congress. Congress, however can override a president’s veto. Representing the People House and Senate members must meet certain requirements before they can be elected to the Congress. Senators must be 30 years old, live in the states they want to represent, and have been US citizens for at least nine years. House members must also live in the states they represent, be at least 25 years old, and have been a citizen for at least seven years. Qualifications and Privileges Being a member of Congress has many privileges, such as the franking privilege. The franking privilege allows them to send work-related mail at no cost. Members of Congress have many helpers. Members’ personal staffers gather information, handle requests from voters, and meet with news reporters. Staffers also deal with lobbyists, or people who are hired to influence government decisions. Members’ offices hire interns and pages. Interns help with research and office duties. Pages deliver messages and run errands. Qualifications and Privileges Congressional committees have staff members to draft bills, to gather information, and to manage the process of making laws. Support services such as the Library of Congress provide information to members of Congress. The General Accounting Office watches how federal agencies spend government money. The congressional Budget Office estimates how much programs will cost. Congress at Work Congress operates in time periods called sessions. Sessions begin January 3 and run throughout most of the year. The main job of senators and representatives is to represent the people in their districts or states. Congress at Work Members of Congress do this job in three primary ways. One major job of Congress is making laws. Members write bills, work on committees, and talk about the bills on the floor of the Congress. Congress at Work Another major job of Congress is casework. Constituents often ask members of Congress for help. This help is called casework, and it may require solving problems, providing information, and answering letters and e-mail. Members’ staffs often do much of the work. Congress at Work The third main part of a member’s job is to protect the interests of his or her home state or district. Sometimes a senator or representative will work to get more money for projects benefiting his or her state or district. States that have timber industries may want more projects focusing on logging in their states. Congress at Work Some government projects create many jobs or add money to the local economy. Projects that significantly benefit a congressional member’s home district are called pork-barrel projects. These projects are the rich “fat” given to the home state. This “fat” is pulled from the “pork barrel” called the federal treasury. How a Bill Becomes a Law Congress’s job is to pass laws that work for the good of the nation. Lawmaking is a long process that takes patience. More than 10,000 bill make it through the legislative process and become laws. How a Bill Becomes a Law Bill come in two categories. Private bills deal with individual people or places. They often involve claims that people make against the government. Public bills apply to the entire country. These bill address issues of concern to the nation, such as taxation. How a Bill Becomes a Law Congress also considers resolutions. Resolutions are formal statements that present lawmakers’ opinions or decisions. Some resolutions do not exist as laws. A resolution allowing a ceremony in the Capitol would be this type of resolution. Resolutions that are passed by both houses of Congress are called joint resolutions. Bills Congress Considers Such resolutions become laws if the president signs them. A constitutional amendment must be presented as a joint resolution. From Bill to Law A bill must go through many steps before it becomes a law. Every bill starts with an idea. Ideas come from many places: private citizens, the White House, or organizations called special-interest groups that work for a common cause. Senators and representatives are the only people who can introduce bills in Congress. From Bill to Law Each bill as a title and a number. These show where and when the bill was introduced. The first bill in the Senate is labeled S.1. The first bill in the House is labeled H.R. 1. Bills then move into the committee action phase. Standing committees decide whether a bill has any chance of becoming law. From Bill to Law Standing committees can pass a bill or make changes and suggest that it be passed. Standing committees can also replace the bill with a new bill. They can ignore the bill and let it die, or they can kill the bill by voting against it. The next step is to debate the bills approved in the committee. Representatives and senators discuss the good and bad points of proposed bills. In the House, members may also debate amendments related to the bill. Senators also consider unrelated amendments called riders. Often committees will attach a rider with additional things onto an existing bill. From Bill to Law Senators may try to kill a bill by filibuster, which means that a senator will talk so long that the bill will be withdrawn. To end a Senate filibuster, three-fifths of the members must vote for cloture, which limits the time people can speak. From Bill to Law Members may vote on a bill in several ways. In the House and Senate, members often use a voice vote. They say “Yea” or “No” to the bill. Sometimes members stand to be counted in favor of or against a bill. In the Senate, members may speak their votes as their names are called in a roll-call vote. House members may use computers to record their votes electronically. From Bill to Law If a bill passes in one house, it is sent to the other. Bills must pass both houses in identical form. If one house makes changes to the bill, a conference committee with members of both houses must meet to discuss the differences. From Bill to Law After both houses have passed the bill, it is sent to the president. The president may also ignore the bill. After ten days, an unsigned bill becomes law if Congress is in session. IF Congress is not in session, the bill dies. This strategy is called a pocket veto. Congress can try to override vetoes, but this does not happen very often.