The United States Congress. I’m so confused! If the opposite of “ pro ” is “ con ,” does that mean that the opposite of progress is Congress ?. The United States Congress. The first branch of government, Article I of the Constitution; main
I’m so confused! If the opposite of “pro” is “con,” does that mean that the opposite of progress is Congress?
The first branch of government,
Article I of the Constitution;main
roles—legislate, oversee the performance of government agencies, provide services to constituents
Students, I am Speaker of the House, John Boehner. Why were the results of the 2010 United States congressional elections, taken as a whole, considered an earthquake?
GOP took 60 seats from Democrats in
House of Representatives
Democrats <200 seats
GOP took 6 Senate seats from Democrats
What factors can explain those significant Democratic losses in 2010?
I’m former Speaker and now Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi. There are two of the four reasons indicated below.
Here are the final two reasons.
Form into small groups and discuss the constitutional foundations of the modern Congress.
Article I, Section 8—enumerated powers and the
Article I, Section 9--limitations
Article I, Section 8: “Congress shall
have Power 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
The Constitution prevents the Senate from doing several things. For example: Congress cannot pass ex post facto laws, bills of attainder or suspend the writ of habeas corpus.Can anyone define those terms?
Ex Post Facto Law:
a law that applies to an
action that took place before the law was
Bill of Attainder:
a law that punishes a
person who has not been convicted in a
court of law
Writ of Habeas Corpus:
a court order
requiring police to bring all persons
accused of a crime to court and to show
sufficient reason to keep them in jail
I am Senator Daniel Inouye from Hawaii. Every 6 years since 1962 the people of Hawaii have elected me to the United Stated Senate—I am now, at age 87, the longest serving member of the Senate. Because I am also in the majority party, I am the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.Why did the Founders specify that senators be elected by state legislatures and not the people?
The United States Congress
The objective was to insulate one
house of Congress from popular pressures
and to make it a seat of deliberation and
The use of the Senate is to consist in its proceeding with more coolness. . . And with more wisdom than the popular branch.
Members of the House earn $174,000 a year and are given office space both in Washington and in their districts and allowances to hire an office staff based on the distance from Washington to the center of the district.I am also given money for stationery, supplies and other necessary items.
I am Senator Diane Feinstein, from California. Senators differ considerably from Members of the House in many areas, although their salaries are the same.ButSenators serve for 6 years, must be 30 years old, and must have been a citizen of the U.S. for 9-yearsbefore they can be elected.
I am Senator Barbara Boxer, also from California. There are no term limits on members of Congress, although many states, like California, have them on their state legislators.
One of the key issues of being
a legislator: are you a delegate
or a trustee?
British author Edmund
delegate—always vote the
way the majority of your
constituents want you to;
trustee—people elect you
to vote in line with your
trust you to make the
Burke favored the trustee
Students, please tell us some aspects of the demographic backgrounds of members of Congress.
Despite recent gains, women and racial
Hispanics—largest minority group in US—
very low representation
Women—1992 “year of the woman”
111th Congress: 77 H; 17 S
Better educated than rest of population
75% legal or business backgrounds
Most career politicians/civil servants
Women: introduce more bills related to
I am Dennis Cardoza, the Member of Congress representing California’s 18th District. How does your textbook define the terms constituents?
Constituents are residents of a Member’s
district or state—they can be citizens or
non-citizens; voters or non-voters; adults
Hello constituents. Jeff Denham again. Many of you live in my district. Who can tell me how state representation in the House is determined?
The 19th District, like all districts, was determined based on the census and apportioned by Congress.
What is a census?
What does apportioned mean?
Census: the official
Apportioned: House seats are distributed based on the census; reapportioned
every 10 years
Since the 1910 census, there have been435 votingmembers of Congresswithat least one from each state.Again, House membership per state is based on population. Right now, our California delegation has 53 seats. There are also5 non-voting seats: Puerto Rico, Guam, the American Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Washington, D. C.
On the average, each Memberof the House of Representativesrepresents about 646,952 people. State legislatures draw the districtsin the state, trying to average around 650,000 people per district. Based on reapportionment, state legislatures redistrict every 10 years—change district boundaries.
Barbara Boxer again. Sometimes state legislatures create weird-looking congressional districts in order to preserve the majority party’s power in Congress. The technique for drawing such boundaries is called gerrymandering, named after the founding father,
Elbridge Gerryof Mass.
Chief Justice John Roberts again. How has the Supreme Court weighed in with regard to district boundaries?
Baker v. Carr (1962)
Voters have the right to
challenge how state
legislatures allocate legislative
seats and such questions could
be considered in federal courts.
Essentially, we have gone along
with the old adage: “to the
victor belong the spoils.”
I am former Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas. What does the phrase “cracking a district” mean?
A party does not want a district with too great of
a majority (wastes votes). It chooses to draw
congressional district boundaries to spread its
popular strength across two or more districts in
hopes of winning more seats in the state’s
congressional delegation. Validated by United
Latin American Citizens v. Perry (2006)
Edward Greenberg, one of your textbook’s authors again. What is incumbent-protection re-districting and what have been its affect has been on House membership
Majority parties in state legislatures redrawing
congressional district boundaries to protect incumbents of a particular party. It has become so extensive that in 2008, only about 75 out of 435 seats were competitive—winning margin 5% or less (100/435 in 2010). Has contributed to partisan divide in Congress.
Thank you, Dr. Greenberg. So what are majority-minority districts and how did the Supreme Court’s decision in Hunt v. Cromartie(2001) affect them?
Majority-minority districts are congressional
districts drawn to ensure that a racial minority
comprises the majority of voters. Today there are 15 with African-American majorities and 9 with Hispanic majorities. Hunt v. Cromartie(2001) ruled that race can be a significant factor in drawing district lines “so long as it is not the dominant or controlling one.”
Since World War II, on average, 93% of House incumbents and 80% of Senate incumbents have won re-election. So incumbents definitely have advantages. What are some of them?
Name recognition, the redistricting process,
franking privileges (free postage), time spent in the district*, and political “war chests”—built-up contributions from people, organizations and Political Action Committees (PAC)—committees
focusing on particular issues that back
*Most congressional business: Tue-Thu
Hello, I amSenator Mitch McConnell and I am the Republican, or Minority, Leader of the Senate.Another advantage incumbents have is case work. What is that?
Members of Congress receive more than
200 million pieces of mail each year.These
Requests for flags flown over the capital
Opinions on issues facing Congress/
urging the member to vote a certain way
Requesting help with the Federal bureaucracy
Military or veterans issues
Asking for a Congressional Record insert
Senator Daniel Inouye again. Incumbents can also use pork barrel legislation. What is that?
Pork-barrel legislation: federally funded projects designed to bring to the constituency jobs and public money for which Members of Congress can claim credit. They are also referred to as “earmarks.”
Some of you may know that I worked as an aide for Senator John Warner of Virginia from December 1994 until August 1996. During that time, I worked several constituent issues. I’ll now share some of those with you. Often people ask for the Member to put something in theCongressional Record—the official and verbatim(exact)record of what is said each day in both houses.
To begin this second section, I’m going to ask you the last question first. After reading the entire section what can you summarize about who makes things happen in both houses of Congress?
Over the years, congressional party leaders have
amassed the vast majority of power in Congress.
Therefore, decisions as to who becomes Speaker, Majority Leader and even Minority Leader are very important.
I am Senator Harry Reid from Nevada, the Majority Leader of the U. S. Senate. In the same vein as what Speaker Boehner just asked, what is the role of the party conference (party caucus)?
All the members of a political party in a given house of Congress meet at the beginning of a session (January) and elect leaders, approve committee assignments (including committee/
subcommittee chairs) and reach agreement on the legislative goals for the session.
I am Senator Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, the Minority Leader of the U. S. Senate. How partisan is congressional voting today?
Congressional voting is highly partisan. Party affiliation is the best predictor for voting behavior in Congress. Partisanship has been rising steadily since the early 1970s and is evident today in about 90% of votes. Consequently, bipartisan agreements is becoming more difficult.
So Harry, members closely adhere to party lines.
Mitch, exactly why is partisanship increasing in Congress?
Changing regional bases of parties--for example, the Deep South now predominantly GOP
Partisan conflict is on the rise nationally—the electorate is more divided along party lines
Ideology is a major reason—the fundamental ideas of the parties conflict.
Some history on Congress before
Prior to 1958: Conservative coalition era
Oligarchy of senior leaders
Southern Democrats &
Republicans of NE & NW
Powerful committee chairs
Hostile to activist presidents
(Truman & Civil Rights)
1958 election: More liberals
Lyndon Johnson rose to leadership
of Democratic (majority) Party
Johnson began a “power
Power of old seniority system cut
1965-1978: Reform Era
Post Vietnam & Watergate
Leadership & decision-making open
to a wider circle of players
New House & Senate rules
Folkways of Senate revamped
Today: Post Reform Congress
I’d like to discuss with you congressional leadership.
What arefloor leaders and whips in the House of Representatives?
House floor leaders:
Speaker: presiding officer of the House;
elected by whole House but reflects the
majority party; second in line to presidency.
John Boehner of Ohio. Extraordinary power.
Majority leader: assistant to the Speaker
and is the second-most-influential member
of the House. Eric Cantor of VA
Minority leader: the minority party’s chief
Spokesperson. Nancy Pelosi of CA
What are party whips in Congress?
Party whips are Members whose
main function is to monitor and
influence how the party members
vote on legislation. They form an
intelligence network for the leaders.
Republican: Kevin McCarthy
Democratic: Steny Hoyer of
How the House is structured
The most powerful member of the Senate is the Majority Leader. The most important member of the minority party is the Minority Leader.
Majority Leader: Sen. Harry
Reid of NV. Minority Leader:
Sen. Mitch McConnell of KY
Our power is more informal—powers of persuasion and such.
Yes, but remember my power is less visible. I don’t have nearly the power of the House Speaker. I have some influence on committee assignments and scheduling the business of the Senate, and over certain administrative matters.
How the Senate is Structured
Let’s discuss committees. Why has there been “a dramatic decline in the power of committees and of committee chairs in the legislative process?”
As partisanship rose, more power became centered in the hands of the House Speaker and, to a lesser degree, the Majority Leader of the Senate. One major power in that regard is who is appointed as committee chairs and committee members. Those members are therefore beholden to the Speaker/Senate Majority Leader.
Muchof the work of Congressmen and Senators is done in the various committees of each house.Why does Congress have committees?
Students, I am Vice President Joe Biden, a former senator from Delaware. Congress has committees to help process the huge flow of business. Committees are also islands of specialization, where members and staff develop the expertise to handle complex issues and to meet executive branch experts on equal terms.
There are two basic types of congressional committees: authorizing and appropriations. Each house has many authorizing committees, but only one appropriations committee. What are appropriations (not in book)?
Authorizing committees authorize government programs to exist while funding must come from the appropriations committee. That’s why almost all members really want seats on the appropriations committee of their respective house.
There are also 4 other categories of
committees: standing, select, joint, and conference. There are also subcommittees. Discuss each.
What are standing committees and how many of them are there in each house?
Standing committees are the
permanent committees in each house.
In theHousethere are24 standing committees.
Here they are. In theSenatethere are20
standing committeesand here they are.
Students, I am Senator Joe Lieberman, from Connecticut. You may recall that I was Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate in 2000. What are select committees?
Committees that deal with special
issues not covered by standing
committees. They have no power to send bills
To the floor of either house, usually focus on
investigations and are generally temporary.
The most famous select committee was the
Senate’s Watergate Committee in the mid-1970s.
Good. How about joint committees?
up of members of
both the House and
OK—how about conference committees?
Temporary bodies appointed to
work out a compromise between
House and Senate versions of a
bill that has been passed by both
Houses. More about these later.
I am Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine—the only Greek-American in the Senate.Remember two standing committees—intelligence and budget—limit membership to 7 years.
What are subcommittees?
Subcommittees are divisions of standing committees, that give Members and Senators a chance to specialize in certain areas. There
are about 175 subcommittees in Congress.
Party leaders in Congress assign members to committees. Of course, most want seats on the Appropriations Committees and not all can have seats. Other popular committees are the Budget Committees, in the House, the Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and, in both houses,
The Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees. Leaders often assign members to committees based on political needs. One guideline for selection is seniority.
The United States Congress
As one of our local representatives,
Congressman Denham serves on
the Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure, the Committee on
Natural Resources and the Committee
on Veterans Affairs
Congressman Cardoza is a Blue Dog Democrat who serves on the powerful Rules Committee as well as the Agriculture Committee and is on the
sub-committee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture the subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy & Poultry
Senator Boxer serves on:
Commerce, Science & Transportation;
Environment and Public Works;
Foreign Relations; Chair of the
Committee on Ethics; and 9 sub-
Senator Feinstein serves on:
The Judiciary Committee;
The Appropriations Committee;
Chair of the Intelligence Committee
The Rules & Administration Com.
2 minor committees & 11 sub-coms;
Chair of 4 subcommittees
Committee chairs have a great deal of power. All chairs are from the majority party and are based on seniority.
Senior members have great
expertise—they are experts on
committee business.Also, the
seniority situation has changed
since the Reform Congress of the mid-1970s,
when more junior members could become chairs. The ranking minority member is the
most influential committee member from the minority party.
Don’t forget that in the Senate, seniority is an important criterion for appointing committee chairs, while in the House the Speaker appoints chairs based on the needs of the party agenda. Chairs must be attentive to what their party wants, or they may be removed from the chairmanship.
Now we are going to discuss the rules and norms in the House and Senate. Discuss the concept of reciprocity as it pertains to Members of Congress.
Members have been expected to become specialists in some area or areas of policy and to defer to the judgment of other specialists on most bills. Of course, the principle of reciprocity is declining in recent years in favor of deferring to the wishes of party leaders.
In Alaska, this is what we call log rolling. What does the term mean in Congress?
A member may vote with a colleague
in the expectation that the colleague
will later return the favor.
Mr. Speaker, the textbook says that legislative life is much more “rule-bound” in the House of Representatives, as opposed to the Senate? Why?
Compared to the Senate, and with 440 members, the House is very large. House leaders: more power; majority party: more control over legislative affairs; procedures: much more structured
Suspending of ordinary rules
by 2/3 vote
Immediate action by unanimous consent
Informal procedures as Committee of the Whole
More differences when we discuss how a bill
makes its way through Congress
How does the Senate differ from the House?
Thank you, Mr. President Pro Tempore. Let’s focus on the fact that in the Senate there usually is no limit on the length of debate.
The Senate also has some expressed powers not held by the House.
Treaties—must be approved by a
2/3 vote of the Senate
The Senate also approves all major
appointments made by the President: Supreme
Court justices, cabinet officers, military officers,
etc.These approvals are by majority vote.
V. P. Joe Biden here. As a senator from Delaware, I served, in 1991, as the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. As such I presided over one of the most acrimonious and controversial confirmation hearings of all time—that for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The Senate also has the power to confirm.
Begins in appropriate committee
Nominees appear before the committee to
Typically, nominees meet with key senators
prior to hearings
Called the Advise and Consent powers
How does the way bills are scheduled for floor debate differ between the House and the Senate?
Unanimous consent: business can be blocked by a single dissenter.
In that same vein, what is a hold?
Any senator may temporarily block
the consideration of either a
legislative bill or a presidential
nomination. Holds are regulated
only by the majority leader, who
may decide on whether to grant
holds and how long they can be
The rule that allows unlimited debate can lead to a stalling tactic to try to prevent a vote on a bill that is unique to the U. S. Senate.
Sometimes, if a party or individual members
want to prevent a vote they can filibuster—a
delaying tactic in which Senators just keep
talking and talking and then yielding the floor
to other senators who support the filibuster.
Today: much more informal—senators simply
can announce a filibuster and consideration of
the bill is stopped. No wasting time with talk.
The only way to stop a filibuster is by a vote of cloture, although often party leaders meet outside the chamber to work out compromises that end the filibuster. Other times, the bill’s sponsors simply have to pull the bill—remove it from consideration. So what is the definition of cloture?
Cloture is a vote of 3/5 of the Senate,
or 60 members to halt debate on a bill and
Here we are—all the major leaders of our government: Speaker Bohner, Leader Pelosi, Leader Reid and Leader McConnell. How does a bill get through Congress to me, the President?
Before moving on, let’s discuss, for a few minutes, the major roles of Congress. The top roleof Congress is to enact laws; but more and more, that role meansreviewing the annual President’s Budget and thencreating, discussing and passing a Federal Budget for a fiscal year, which runs from 1 October to 30 September.
Students, I amRepresentative Steny Hoyerfrom Maryland. I am presentlythe Democratic, or Minority, whip. Membersof Congress spendmostof theirtime debating the federal budget and most of the lawsthat we enact aresomehow associated with the budget.
Congress isthereforecalled a deliberative
body—they deliberate about, or discuss, issues
before making decisions by voting.
Now, students, let’s talk about how a bill becomes law.
Only members of Congress may
introduce legislation. Often times,
A member of the Executive Branch
may write a bill, but if the President
wants a bill introduced, a member of the House or Senate must do it for him. In the House:
placed in the hopper; in the Senate: announced
on the floor.
And Senator Feinstein, let’s not forget that all revenue (tax) bills must originate in the House of Representatives. Any other bill can begin in either house.
Next, the body’s presiding officer refers a bill to the appropriate committee. For example, in the House, tax bills are referred to the Ways and Means Committee.
Committee chairs can refer a bill
to a subcommittee or keep it for
the full committee. The appropriate
chair can then schedule hearings on the bill. In
hearings, important people come to testify before
the pertinent committees. The witnesses make
opening statements and then the members ask
questions. No one really tries to fool anyone
else with trick questions.
Hearings are usually open to the public.
After the hearings have been completed,
members, their personal staffs, and committee
staffs go into markup sessions. Markup
sessions are done behind closed doors and
important decisions are made about the bills
in those sessionsincluding the insertion of
pork barrel projects.
Pork-barrel spending awards projects and
grants, or “pork,” from the government
“barrel” to a member’s home district or state.
Also called “earmarks.”
A discharge petition is a
petition that, if signed by a
majority of the members of
the House, will pry a
bill from committee and
bring it to the floor for
consideration. Can prevent
a bill from dying in
committee, but rarely
I am Congressman David Dreier of California. I am the chairman of the important House Rules Committee. My committee devises rules that determines the conditions for debate and amendments in the House. The House has so many members that the length of debate must be limited to get through business. The Rules Committee sets the length of debate.
Three main types of rules
Open—any amendments that relate to the
bill’s subject can be proposed
Closed—prohibits any amendments
Modified—some parts of a bill can be
amended while other parts cannot.
Usually bills are debated for 40 minutes, one hour or an hour-and-a-half, with time evenly divided between parties (or “sides of the aisle”)
Both houses must pass a bill for it to go to
the president to signed into law. Both versions
must be identical. If they are not, then
members of both houses meet in a conference
committee to make the bills identical. After
that is done, both houses must vote on the
version agreed upon by the conference
Once both houses of Congress have passed
the final version of the bill, it becomes known
as an act. To become a law, it must be signed
by the president.
Once he receives the bill, the
Sign the bill
Veto the bill
Keep the bill for
10 days without signing it.
If Congress is in session, the
bill becomes law without the
president’s signature. President
Grover Cleveland used this technique in 1892
when he wanted a tariff but not increased taxes.
I can also exercise a pocket veto. Who can tell me what that is?
If the president receives a bill
within 10 days of Congress’s
adjournment, he or she may
hold the bill without signing it, and the bill
does NOT become law
Several small bills, such as the list of new
Army lieutenants in the Senate, are passed
by a voice vote (all those in favor say “Aye”
and all those opposed say “No.”)
In both houses, important votes are done as
roll-call votes—each member is called on
individually to declare his or her vote. The
procedure in both houses is different, however.
As you read, the second major jobof Congress isoversight.
Oversight involves conducting investigations
of agency actions and programs.
To help carry out this important function, theCongress sponsors the General Accounting Office (GAO)
In addition to the General
Accounting Office, the Congress
also sponsors theCongressional
Budget office, to oversee the
President’s Budget, the
Congressional Research Service,
and other smaller offices to
help with oversight.
In the past 25 years, investigations by
Congress have increased greatly, due to
tight budget restrictions and several
past abuses and scandals.
The oversight function also includes
a series of hearings, which are not
exercises. They can send clear signals to the
Executive Branch and other entities.
I am the lateSenator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.My brother, John, was our nation’s 35th president.Congress began serious investigations with the Watergate Scandal.We also found we had to investigate the military, for example, when we found out the Air Force paid $750.00 for toilet seats and $500.00 for certain hammers.
Another form of the oversight process is impeachment. Here is how that works.
Impeachment—to formally accuse
an office holder of offenses that can lead to their removal from office.
The House of Representatives votes on whether
or not to impeach. If they do impeach, then
the Senate tries the official. The Vice President
acts as judge, unless the President is on trial.
In that case the Chief Justice sits as judge.