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Congress in Action

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  1. Congress in Action

  2. “It is very easy to defeat a bill in Congress. It is much more difficult to pass one.” John F. Kennedy 1962

  3. Convenes • To convene = begin a new term • Happens every 2 years • January 3 of odd numbered years • Follows the general election in the previous November

  4. Opening Day • House of Representatives • Clerk of the House presides • calls to order • takes roll • Members choose Speaker • permanent presiding officer • usually long-standing member of majority party

  5. More Formalities • Speaker takes oath of office • administered by Dean of the House • longest serving member • Speaker swears in everyone else • Dem sit on right of center aisle, Reps on left (from front)

  6. More Formalities 2 • Adopts rules • evolving over 200 years • about 400 pages • readopted each term, with little or no changes • Members of 20 permanent committees appointed • Finished!

  7. Opening Day • Senate • continuous body • newly elected or reelected members sworn in (only 1/3) • Organizational vacancies • Committee assignments • Usually pretty minor

  8. Ready for Business • House notifies Senate that House is organized • Joint committee appointed • Waits “upon the President of the US and informs him that a quorum of each House is assembled…ready to receive any communication...”

  9. State of the Union • Annual address to Congress • Attended by Supreme Court, Cabinet, diplomats, etc. • Reports “State of the Union” • domestic and foreign • legislative recommendations

  10. Presiding Officers: House • Speaker: • powerful position • preside and keep order • no one can speak without Speaker’s recognition • signs bills & resolutions passed by House

  11. Speaker • Debates and votes on bills • temporary presiding officer • only votes to break a tie (House Rules) • Follows Vice President in line of succession to the presidency

  12. President of Senate • Vice President • Recognizes members, put questions to vote, etc. • Cannot take the floor to debate • Votes only to break tie (Constitution)

  13. President pro tempore • Serves when VP is absent • Elected by Senate • A leading member of majority party • Daniel Inouye of Hawaii • Follows Speaker in line of presidential succession

  14. Party Officers-House • Speaker • Majority Leader • Majority Whip • Minority Leader • Minority Whip

  15. Party Officers - Senate • President of the Senate • President Pro Tempore • Majority Leader • Majority Whip • Minority Leader • Minority Whip

  16. Seniority Rule • Unwritten custom going back to late 1800s • Important posts (formal and in the political parties) will be held by party members with the longest records of service in House and Senate

  17. Pros & Cons • Cons: • Ignores ability • Discourages younger members • Usually from “safe” district • Pros: • Experienced leadership • Easy to implement/follow

  18. Committees • Where most of the work in Congress takes place • Standing: permanent • Select: special • Joint & Conference: members of both Houses

  19. Standing Committees • New bills considered here • Fate of most bills decided here not on “floor” • House has ~25 • members serve on 1 - 2 • Senate has ~20 • members serve on 3 - 4

  20. I’m just a bill, yes I’m only... • Up to ~10,000 bills are introduced each TERM • Less than 10% become laws • Bills must be introduced (sponsored) by member of House or Senate

  21. Where do the ideas come from? • Anybody can have an idea • Most originate in executive branch • Special interest groups • Private citizens • Congressional committees • Revenue bills must start in the House

  22. Bills & Resolutions • Bills: public and private • Public bills apply to nation as a whole • tax laws, immigration, medicare • Private bills apply to certain people or places • compensate a farmer for damage done by wildlife in an adjoining national park

  23. Joint Resolutions • Have “force of law” when passed • Deal with unusual or temporary issues • appropriate money for inaugural ceremonies • correct mistakes in laws • propose Constitutional amends

  24. Concurrent Resolutions • House and Senate must act jointly • Do not • have “force of law” • require presidential approval • Used to state a position • like in foreign affairs

  25. Resolutions • Concern only one house • Adopting new rule of procedure • Does not have force of law • Is not sent to president

  26. Nature of Bills • Usually deal with one issue • “Riders” sometimes attached • Provision not likely to pass on its own but added to an important bill certain to pass • Usually tacked on to appropriations bills • “Christmas Trees”

  27. Process • Clerk gives number & short title as each bill introduced • H.R. = introduced in House • S.R. = introduced in Senate • H.R. 3420 = 3,420th bill introduced in the House during the current TERM

  28. Process 2 • Bill entered in House/Senate Journal and Congressional Record • Journal = official record (minutes) of what happened in House or Senate that day. • Congressional Record = account of daily proceedings • stuff often inserted afterwards

  29. In Committee • Pigeonholed Bills: bills that die in committee from lack of attention • Discharge Petition: member can force bill in committee for over 30 days out with motion signed by majority

  30. Subcommittees • Committee work subdivided into specialty areas • Often holds public hearings • May take “junkets” • Field trip to area affected by bill being studies • Paid for with tax money

  31. Subcommittees 2 • Report bill with “do pass” • then debated on Floor • Pigeonhole • Report in amended form • changed or combined with other bills • Report unfavorably • Report a committee bill

  32. Calendars • Calendar of the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union • “Union” Calendar • revenues, appropriations, or government property

  33. Calendars 2 • The House Calendar • For all other public bills • Calendar of the Committee of the Whole House • “Private” Calendar

  34. Calendars 3 • The Corrections Calendar • Bills taken out of order by unanimous consent of House • Usually routine and unopposed • Discharge • for bills being “discharged” from committee

  35. Schedules • Corrections Calendar • First & Third Mondays • District of Columbia measures • Second & Fourth Mondays • Private Bills • Fridays • Calendar Wednesdays • House or Union Calendars

  36. Rules are rules! • Rules Committee • Must approve taking measure from a calendar--set time for Floor consideration • Kills bill if doesn’t rule • Special Rule: • time limit on Floor debate • prohibit amendments

  37. More on Rules • “Privileged” Bills • called up almost any time ahead of other business • most privileged are major appropriations, general revenue, conference committee reports, Special Rules • Expedited or Suspended Rules • Usually Mondays & Tuesdays

  38. Committee of the Whole • Old parliamentary technique • Meet as a whole “committee” not as the House • procedural rules not as strict • quorum is only 100 members not 218 for the full House • things move along much faster

  39. Committee of the Whole 2 • Speaker steps down; another member presides • Bill is “read” section by section • amendments may be offered • “Five Minute Rule”: each speaker only has 5 minutes to make his/her case

  40. Committee of the Whole 3 • Votes taken at each section • When finished, Committee “dissolves” itself • Full House back in session • Speaker resumes the chair • House formally adopts the committee’s work

  41. Rules for Debate • 1841 rule limits holding Floor to 1 hour • 1880 rule allows Speaker to end member’s time if strays off subject • If a member asks to “move the previous question” • only 40 minutes of debate left

  42. Voting • Each amendment voted on • Procedural votes--ie, “table” the issue means put aside • Voice Votes: • most common • Ayes and Nays (based on loudness of voices) • Speaker announces result

  43. More on Voting • Standing Vote: usually asked for if member thinks Speaker made a mistake • Ayes/Nays stand up • called “Dividing the House” • counted by the Clerk

  44. More on Voting 2 • 1/5 Quorum • Committee of the Whole - 20 • Whole House - 44 • Speaker names 1 teller from each party • members walk between tellers to be counted • fairly rare today

  45. More on Voting 3 • Roll-call vote • aka record vote • may be demanded by 1/5 membership present • Electronic Voting • installed in 1973 • replaced Clerk’s roll call votes • usually 15 minutes allowed

  46. Engrossed • Bill printed in final form • Read a third time (by title) • Final vote taken • If approved • Speaker sends to Senate • via a House page • placed on Senate president’s desk

  47. A Day in the life of a Senate Bill

  48. General Differences from the House • Proceedings less formal • Rules of procedure less strict • Only 1 calendar for bills reported out by committees • Bills called to the floor at the discretion of the majority leader

  49. Rules for Debate • “World’s greatest deliberative body” • Floor debate almost unrestrained in Senate • Senators can speak as long as they want • not limited by time • not limited by topic