Essay about Congress Notes

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American Government
Legislative Branch - Chpts 5, 6, 7

Chapter Five – The Organization of Congress

Section 1 – Congressional Membership

1. The United States Congress has two chambers—the House of Representatives and the Senate. a. Each Congress meets for one two-year term divided into two one-year sessions. b. Representatives serve two year terms; Senators serve six-year terms. c. The 100 Senators are elected by all the voters in their state. d. The 435 seats in the House are divided among the states based on population. Every state has at least one seat. Representative elected by voters in their districts 2. Every 10 years the number of seats for each state is recalculated based on census figures—in a process called reapportionment. a. States may then redistrict, or change election district boundaries. b. Occasionally the majority party in state legislatures has abused this power by gerrymandering—using voter information to draw districts for political advantage. c. The Supreme Court has ruled gerrymandering unconstitutional. 3. Members of Congress have constitutional immunity from arrest or law suits arising from their congressional duties. a. But legislators can censure, or formally disapprove, a member’s actions. b. In serious cases, such as treason or bribery, two-thirds vote will expel a member.

Section 2 – The House of Representatives

1. Both the House and Senate have complex rules and leadership structures. The precedents, or past rulings, of each chamber, guide the way business is conducted. 2. The House’s large size makes complex rules necessary. a. Each term, members introduce more than 10,000 bills, but only about 10 percent of them ever go to the full House for a vote. b. Still, legislation must move quickly once it reaches the floor so House rules allow its leaders to make key decisions without consulting other members. 3. Committees do most of the legislative work as they have more time to study and shape bills. a. To serve the interests of constituents in their districts, many representatives specialize in issues important to those constituents. b. Serving on the right committees gives representatives enormous influence. 4. At the start of each session, the majority party in the House meets in caucus, or closed meeting, to select the Speaker of the House—the presiding officer and leader of the House. a. The Speaker appoints committee chairs, which allows the majority party to control the flow of legislation. b. The Speaker also follows the Vice President in succession to the Presidency. c. The Speaker’s top assistant, the Majority Leader, helps plan and move forward that party’s legislative agenda. 5. House bills appear on one of five calendars, or schedules, that are organized by subject and arranged in the order in which they will be considered as possible laws. a. Representatives called Whips help the majority leader organize members into committees. b. The most powerful committee in the House, the Rules Committee, serves as a “traffic officer” deciding which when bills will be looked at, some sooner, some later. i. After a committee approves a bill, it usually goes to the Rules Committee, which can move it ahead quickly, hold it back, or stop it completely. ii. The Rules Committee also rules on jurisdictional disputes among other committees, in other words what bills belong to which committees.

Section 3 – The Senate

1. Although leadership in the Senate parallels that of the House, Senate leaders have less power. 2. The Vice President presides over the Senate, but may not debate issues or vote except to break a tie. a. In the Vice President’s absence, a senior majority party member presides as the Senate’s President Pro Tempore (Latin -