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The US Constitution describes the powers and limitations of Congress, but says surprisingly little about how Congress should be organized, how bills should become laws, or what roles political parties should play. All of these questions have been answered over time as new legislative problems have emerged.
Each group will be presented with problems that Congress has faced and will come up with a reasonable solution. The class will then discuss how closely that relates to how Congress now operates.
The House consists of 435 people smart and ambitious enough to get into Congress, the Senate 100 people who are smart, ambitious, and even more politically experienced
With so many ambitious leaders in one place – who leads these hundreds of leaders?
Speaker (only in the House) – elected by the members (always a member of the majority party) Nancy Pelosi
Majority leader (in House and Senate) -- elected by the members (always a member of the majority party) Steny Hoyer/Harry Reid
Minority leader (in House and Senate) -- elected by members of the minority party – John Boehner/Mitch McConnell
As society becomes increasingly complicated and technical, members of Congress often find that they do not have the expertise to consider some legislation.
Specialized committees in both the House and Senate are established to handle bills in specific subject areas.
(egs bills of farming go to the Agriculture Committee, bills on taxation go to Way and Means, spending bills go to the Appropriations Committee)
Members often stay in the same committees for years
Members all want to be on the most-powerful committees. The most sought-after committees have to do with spending (appropriations) and taxing (ways and means).
The majority party allocates committee seats according to party (with the majority party giving itself more than 50 percent of the seats in every committee – example the House Ways and Means committee has 24 Republicans and 17 Democrats)
Members then request what committees they would like to be on
The House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader allocate seats to majority party members
The Minority Leaders (in the House and Senate) allocate seats to minority party members
Members of Congress submit far more bills than can be voted on by the entire House or Senate.
Bills are first assigned to a committee where they are first debated and voted on -- most of them die in committee
If the bills get out of committee, they are then scheduled by:
House – Order of bills appearing on the floor set by Speaker
Senate – informal negotiations with party leaders, committee chairs and bill sponsors
If a bill is scheduled too late in a session it may never be voted on by the whole Congress and will die
So many members want to speak on important legislation for prolonged periods that fewer bills are being considered.
In the House (with 435 members) debates before the whole House could last weeks so the Speaker (through the Rules Committee) schedules how long bill be debated. Main advocates/opponents for bill specify specifics
In the Senate (with 100 members) the tradition is that Senators may speak as long as they would like (so long as recognized) -- creates the filibuster where a Senator stalls a vote on a bill by refusing to give up the floor for a vote
In 1790 there was one member of the house for every 33,000 citizens, but as the US grew that became unworkable (The US House would have about 9,000 members if something hadn’t been changed)
The number of house seats was fixed at 435 in 1911
But to make sure the number of house seats allocated to each state reflects their population we have a three-step process
Census – How big is each state?
Reapportionment – How many states should each state get (about 1 per 700,000 people)?
Redistricting – How can the boundary lines be drawn so each district contains roughly the same number of people