Why a “bicameral” Congress? • Historical Reasons • The British Parliament consisted of 2 houses since the 1300s • Most colonial assemblies and state legislatures were bicameral • Practical Reasons • To settle the conflict between those who favored the Virginia Plan and those who favored the New Jersey Plan during the Constitutional Convention • Theoretical Reasons • One house could act as a check on the other • To diffuse the power of Congress and prevent it from overwhelming the other two branches of government
How long is a “term” of Congress? • A term of Congress lasts 2 years. • The first term began in 1789. We are now in the 113thterm. • 20th Amendment changed the date for the start of each new term in 1933. • Congress’s term used to begin in March because of the delays in communication. (Remember: There were no phones or Internet to spread word quickly, plus travel time was slow because there were no cars or planes) • After 20th Amendment, Congress begins January 3rd at noon of every odd-numbered year unless they appoint a different day
Other important facts • Congress adjourns as it sees fit. Neither house can adjourn for longer than 3 days without the consent of the other house. • The President can prorogue (end) a session if the houses cannot agree on a date to adjourn • The President may call a special session of Congress to deal with an emergency
House of Representatives • Apportioned (distributed) among the states based on population • Each state has at least one representative • A House member serves for only 2 years before they have to run for election again. That way, they have to listen to “the folks back home”.
House of Representatives (con’t) • Constitution says Congress must reapportion the seats after each census (every 10 yrs) • The Reapportionment Act of 1929 set the permanent number of members at 435
How are house members chosen by districts? • We use the single-member district arrangement in which voters in the district elect their own representative • We are in the 10th District and are represented by Paul Broun
Senate • Each state gets 2 senators • Senators serve a 6 year term Saxby Chambliss Johnny Isakson
When are elections? • Constitution allowed for Congress to decide when to hold elections • Since 1872, Congress has required state elections be held on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November of each even-numbered year. • Many times, Congressional elections occur between presidential elections and are called off-year elections. The next Congressional election will be in November 2014.
Gerrymandering • When districts are drawn unusually shaped to give an advantage to the political party that controls the State’s legislature • Wesberry v. Sanders (1964)—Supreme Court ruled that the population differences among Georgia’s congressional districts were so big that it violated the Constitution
Georgia’s Districts • Are any drawn strangely?
Members of Congress Personal Backgrounds • Most members are white, male, married, Protestant, in their 50’s or older, and college-educated. • Many were lawyers before going into politics
The Job I. Representative of the People a. May choose to vote as a trustee, a delegate, a partisan, or as a politico. Trustee—votes independently according to their own judgement Delegate—should vote the way “folks back home” want them Partisan—vote with political party Politico—tries to combine all the roles and balance them all II. Committee Member All in Congress serve on a committee to either screen bills or serve as oversight function of agencies in executive branch III. Servant to Constituents Help people back home with problems such as a passport application, social security benefit, a small business loan, etc.
Compensation I. Salary--$158,000/yr • Speaker of the House--$192,600/yr (same as VP) • Congress can vote to raise their salary; the only obstacle would be the President veto or voters back home getting mad II. Nonsalary Compensation (“fringe benefits”) • tax deduction for 2 residences • Travel allowances • Cheap life and health insurance • Can use any military hospital cheaply • Good retirement plan • Given money to hire staff • Franking privilege—send mail for free (no stamp) • Free parking III. Membership Privileges 1. Free from arrest while Congress is in session 2. May not be questioned in court about a speech or debate given in Congress