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How Congress Works Part I. Structure, Organization, & Legislative Process. Who’s in Congress?. Age Groups. Party. Ethnicity. Gender. Demographic Profile of the 111th Congress. Source: House 435 members; 2 yr terms

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How congress works part i
How Congress WorksPart I

Structure, Organization,

& Legislative Process

Demographic profile of the 111th congress

Age Groups




Demographic Profile of the 111th Congress


House senate differences


435 members; 2 yr terms

Low turnover

Speaker bill referral hard to challenge

Scheduling/rules controlled by majority party with powerful Rules Committee (controls time of debate, amends., etc)


100 members; 6 yr terms

Moderate turnover

Referral decisions easily challenged

Scheduling/rules agreed to by majority & minority leaders

House-Senate Differences

House senate differences1


Debate limited to 1 hour

Members policy specialists

Emphasizes tax & revenue policy

More formal & impersonal


Unlimited debate unless cloture invoked

Members policy generalists

Emphasizes foreign policy

More informal & personal

House-Senate Differences

Party leadership
Party Leadership

Bicameral Democratic Leadership

110th Congress

Senate Republican Leadership

110th Congress

House leadership

Minority Party


  • Minority Leader

  • Minority Whip

  • Chairman of the Caucus

  • Steering & Policy Committee

  • Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

Minority Leader

Nancy Pelossi (D-CA)

Minority Whip

StenyHoyer (D-MD)

House leadership1


  • Majority Leader

  • Minority Whip

  • Chairman of Conference

  • Policy Committee

  • Committee on Committees

  • National Republican Congressional Committee

  • Research Committee

Speaker of the House

John Boehner (R-OH)

Majority Leader

Eric Cantor (R-VA)

Senate leadership

President of the Senate (Vice President)

President Pro Tempore (majority party)


  • Majority Leader

  • Majority Whip

  • Chairman of Conference

  • Policy Committee

  • Steering Committee

  • Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

President Pro Tem

Daniel Inouye (D-HI)

President of the Senate

Joe Biden (D-DE)

Majority Whip

Richard Durbin (D-IL)

Majority Leader

Harry Reid (D-NV)

Senate leadership1


  • Minority Leader

  • Minority Whip

  • Chairman of Conference

  • Policy Committee

  • Committee on Committees

  • Republican Senatorial Committee

Minority Leader

Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Minority Whip

Jon Kyl (R-AZ)

Strength of party structure
Strength of Party Structure?

  • Measure of party strength:

    • Ability of leaders to control party rules and organization

    • Extent to which party members vote together in the House and Senate

  • Senate: less party-centered and leader oriented

Party unity
Party Unity

  • Lower today than 100 years ago, but…..

  • Ideology important variable explaining party voting (members vote with their party 80% of the time)

  • Party polarization - vote in which majority of democrats oppose majority of republicans

  • Polarization trends:

    • 1976 HR = 36%; S = 37%

    • 1995 HR = 73%; S = 69%

    • 2000 HR = 43%; S = 49%


  • Groups (may be bipartisan) meeting to pursue common legislative objectives

  • Rivals to parties in policy formulation

  • Examples: Democratic Study Group, Congressional Black Caucus, Tuesday Lunch Bunch, Human Rights, Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, Out of Iraq Caucus,

    Rural Caucus, Travel & Tourism Caucus, House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children

"Congress in session is Congress on public exhibition, whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”

- Woodrow Wilson

Legislative committees
Legislative Committees: whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”

Function and Purpose

Legislative committees function purpose

1. whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”Consider bills(a.k.a. “mark-up” bills)

Legislative Committees:Function & Purpose

A bill with a member’s mark-up notes

Legislative committees function purpose1

2. whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”Maintain oversight of executive agencies

Legislative Committees:Function & Purpose

Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testifies before a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing re: the Department of Defense Budget (May, 2006)

Legislative committees function purpose2

3. whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”Conduct investigations

Legislative Committees:Function & Purpose

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Hurricane Katrina (Feb., 2006

Types of committees
Types of Committees whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”

  • Standing Committees- permanent panel with full legislative functions and oversight responsibilities

    • Subcommittees – formed to tackle very specific tasks within the jurisdiction of the full committees

  • Select or Special Committees- groups appointed for a limited purpose and limited duration

  • Joint Committees - includes members of both chambers to conduct studies or perform housekeeping tasks

  • Conference Committee - includes members of House & Senate to work out differences between similar bills

Standing committees
Standing Committees whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”

House standing committees

Agriculture whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”


Armed Services


Education & Workforce

Energy & Commerce

Financial Services

Government Reform

House Admin.

International Relations





Small Business

Standards of Official Conduct

Transportation & Infrastructure

Veterans Affairs

Ways & Means

House Standing Committees

Senate standing committees

Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”


Armed Services

Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs


Commerce, Science, Transportation

Energy & Natural Resources

Environment and Public Works


Foreign Relations

Governmental Affairs

Health, Education, Labor & Pensions


Rules and Administration

Small Business and Entrepreneurship

Veterans Affairs

Senate Standing Committees

Special select committees

House Select Committee on Energy Independence & Global Warming

Senate Select Committee on Ethics

House & Senate Select Committees on Intelligence

Special, Select Committees

Gen. Michael Hayden is sworn in during a full committee hearing of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on his nomination to bedirector of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Joint committees
Joint Committees Warming

  • Joint Economic Committee

  • Joint Committee on Printing

  • Joint Committee on Taxation

Joint Committee on Taxation hearing

Title: Resolution Artist: Bob Gorrell Warming

Date: 12/28/06 Source:

Artist: R.J. Matson, WarmingNew York Observer & Roll Call

Date: 1/18/07