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How Congress is Organized 6 Civics

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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.