Organization of congress
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Organization of Congress. Congress’ Constitutional responsibilities. To provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States … …Lay and collect Taxes… …Borrow Money; …Regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

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Organization of Congress

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Organization of Congress

Congress’ Constitutional responsibilities

  • To provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States…

  • …Lay and collect Taxes…

  • …Borrow Money;

  • …Regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

  • …Coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures

  • …Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, …

  • …To constitute Tribunals (Courts)…

  • …Declare War etc..

The “Elastic” Clause

…To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

House special powers

  • Originate all tax bills

  • Impeach (charge) presidents and judges

Senate special powers

  • Try impeachments

  • Confirm ambassadors, public ministers, judges

  • Ratify treaties (2/3 vote)

Why might it be hard for 435 Representatives and 100 Senators to write all of the laws that “provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare?”

How does Congress cope with those problems? How does it fulfill its Constitutional responsibilities?

Institutions to overcome obstacles

  • Committee System

  • Party organization

  • Floor Procedure

  • Staff

Committee System

What do committees do?

  • They write, revise, and approve the bills that become laws.

Who sits on committees and how do they get there?

  • Members of Congress sit on committees.

  • They sit on committees that deal with policy that especially concerns their constituents

    • They ask for those assignments

    • Party leaders grant them

  • Committees composed of members of each party in proportion to the party’s share of seats in the House.

House committees

  • Agriculture

  • Appropriations

  • Armed Services

  • Budget

  • Education and the Workforce

  • Energy and Commerce

  • Ethics

  • Financial Services

  • Foreign Affairs

  • Homeland Security

  • House Administration

  • Judiciary

  • Natural Resources

  • Oversight and Government Reform

  • Rules

  • Science, Space, and Technology

  • Small Business

  • Transportation and Infrastructure

  • Veterans’ Affairs

  • Ways and Means

  • Intelligence

Senate committees

Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Appropriations Armed Services Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Budget Commerce, Science, and Transportation Energy and Natural Resources Environment and Public Works Finance Foreign Relations Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Judiciary Rules and Administration Small Business and Entrepreneurship Veterans' Affairs

Subcommittees: House Agriculture Committee

  • Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Rural Development and Research

  • Jurisdiction: Soil, water, and resource conservation; small watershed program; agricultural credit; rural development; rural electrification; farm security and family farming matters; agricultural research, education and extension services; plant pesticides, quarantine, adulteration of seeds, and insect pests; biotechnology.

  • Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management

  • Jurisdiction: Program and markets related to cotton, cottonseed, wheat, feed grains, soybeans, oilseeds, rice, dry beans, peas, lentils; Commodity Credit Corporation; crop insurance; commodity exchanges.

  • Subcommittee on Specialty Crops and Foreign Agriculture Programs

  • Jurisdiction: Peanuts; sugar; tobacco; honey and bees; marketing orders relating to such commodities; foreign agricultural assistance and trade promotion programs, generally.

  • Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Dairy, Nutrition and Forestry

  • Jurisdiction: Agency oversight; review and analysis; special investigations; dairy; food stamps, nutrition and consumer programs; forestry in general, forest reserves other than those created from the public domain; energy and biobased energy production; dairy.

  • Subcommittee on Livestock and Horticulture

  • Jurisdiction: Livestock; poultry; meat; seafood and seafood products; inspection, marketing, and promotion of such commodities; aquaculture; animal welfare; grazing; fruits and vegetables; marketing and promotion orders

How a bill becomes a law

  • Introduced by a member in either chamber


  • Referral to the committee(s) with jurisdiction

    • Committee assignments and makeup

    • Committee (and subcommittee) chairs

  • After referral to subcommittee

    • Into the Garbage can

    • Hearings

    • Markup

    • Vote

  • Same process at full committee level

  • Before it goes to the floor: Rules committee

How a bill becomes a law

  • Same process in the other chamber


  • Referral to the committee(s) with jurisdiction

    • Committee (and subcommittee) assignment

    • Committee (and subcommittee) chair

  • After referral to subcommittee

    • Into the Garbage can, hearings, Markup, Vote

  • Same process at full committee level

  • Floor procedure

    • Unlimited debate, filibuster, cloture

    • Powers of the Majority leader

Floor procedure

An analogy

  • How is a carpool different than a bus line?

House floor procedure

  • Limited debate

  • The Rules Committee

  • Open and closed rules

  • The “bus line”

  • Note: conditional party government: when a party is more unified, it will have more rigid, centralized rules

Senate floor procedure

  • No rules committee

  • Unlimited debate

    • Filibuster

    • Cloture Rule

  • Complex Unanimous Consent Agreements

  • “The car pool”


What do parties do?

  • Elect organizational leadership that…

  • Hands out committee assignments

  • Hands out committee chairmanships

  • Controls Rules Committee (Speaker)

  • Influences distribution of pork

  • Can help with campaigns

Other institutions

  • Staff

    • (provides information)

  • Decorum

    • (regulates conflict)

  • Seniority system

    • (reduces incentive to free ride)

Differences between the House vs. Senate

  • Prominence of constituents and reelection

  • Degree of Specialization

  • Hierarchy

  • Protection of partisan minorities

How a bill becomes a law

  • Bill that passes both houses goes to Conference Committee

  • Re-passage of identical bill in both houses

  • President’s Desk for veto or signature

  • 2/3 vote in both houses to override

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