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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:

Function and Purpose

legislative committees function purpose1
2. Maintain oversight of executive agenciesLegislative 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. Conduct investigationsLegislative 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
  • 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
house standing committees


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


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
  • Joint Economic Committee
  • Joint Committee on Printing
  • Joint Committee on Taxation

Joint Committee on Taxation hearing


Title: Resolution Artist: Bob Gorrell

Date: 12/28/06 Source:


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

Date: 1/18/07