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Organization of the U.S. Congress. Organization of Congress. Party Organization of the Senate President of the Senate VP of the United States President Pro Tempore Has most seniority in majority party Serves as presiding officer when VP not there Majority Leader and Minority Leader

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Organization of the U.S. Congress

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organization of congress
Organization of Congress
  • Party Organization of the Senate
    • President of the Senate
      • VP of the United States
    • President Pro Tempore
      • Has most seniority in majority party
      • Serves as presiding officer when VP not there
    • Majority Leader and Minority Leader
      • Elected by respective party members
      • Majority Leader schedules Senate business (usually in consultation with Minority leader)
    • Party Whips
      • Keep leaders informed
      • Round up votes, make sure party members are voting “correctly”
      • Counts noses (see how many votes there are)
organization of congress1
Organization of Congress
  • Party Organization of the Senate (cont.)
    • Committees
      • Each party has a policy committee to schedule Senate business and prioritize bills
      • Committee assignments handled by a group of Senators, each for their own party
        • Democratic Steering Committee
        • Republican Committee on Committees
      • Assignments are especially important for freshmen
      • Assignments emphasize ideological and regional balance
      • Other factors: popularity, effectiveness on TV, favors owed
senate leadership
Senate Leadership

President Pro Tempore

Daniel Inouye

(D- Hawaii)

President of the Senate

Joseph Biden

Majority Leader

Harry Reid


Minority Leader

Mitch McConnell


Majority Whip

Richard Durbin


Minority Whip

Jon Kyl


organization of congress2
Organization of Congress
  • Party Structure in the House
    • Speaker of the House: leader of majority party, presides over House
      • Recognizes people to speak on the floor
      • Rules on relevance of motions
      • Assigns bills to committees (subject to some rules)
      • Influences which bills are brought to a vote
      • Appoints members to special and select committees
      • Has some informal powers
    • Majority Leader and Minority Leader
      • Leaders on the Floor
    • Party Whips
organization of congress3
Organization of Congress
  • Committees
    • Assignments and legislative schedule set by each party
    • Democrats have the Steering and Policy Committee,
    • Republicans divide the task: the Committee on Committees (assignments) and the Policy Committee (schedule legislation)
    • Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees
house leadership
House Leadership

Majority Leader

Eric Cantor


Minority Leader

Nancy Pelosi

(D- California)

Speaker of the House

John Boehner


Majority Whip

Kevin McCarthy

(R- California)

Minority Whip

Steny Hoyer

(D- Maryland)

strength of party structures
Strength of Party Structures
  • Loose measure is the ability of leaders to get members to vote together to determine party rules and organization
  • Tested in 104th Congress- Gingrich with party support for reforms and controversial committee assignments
  • Senate contrasts the House
    • Senate has changed norms rather than rules
    • Senate now less party-oriented; more hospitable to freshmen, more heavily staffed, more subcommittee oriented
party unity
Party Unity
  • Measure party polarization in voting by votes in which a majority of Dems and Republicans oppose one another
  • Party voting and cohesion more evident in 1990’s than in 1960’s-80’s
  • Today splits often reflect deep ideological difference between parties or party leaders
    • In the past, splits were result of party discipline
    • Focus was on winning elections, dispensing patronage, keeping power
party unity1
Party Unity
  • Why is there party voting given party has little electoral influence?
    • Ideological orientation is important to members (increasingly so to voters as well)
    • Cues given by and taken from fellow party members
    • Rewards from party leaders go to those who follow the party line
organization of congress4
Organization of Congress
  • Caucuses
    • Association of members created to advocate a political ideology or a regional or economic interest
    • Republicans passed legislation making caucus operations more difficult in 1995
    • Types of Caucuses
      • Intra-party caucus- members share similar ideology
      • Personal interest caucus- members share an interest in an issue
      • Constituency caucus – established to represent groups, regions, or both
organization of congress5
Organization of Congress
  • Committees:
    • Legislative committees the most important organizational feature of Congress, and where all of the real work is done
      • Consider bills and legislative proposals
      • Maintain oversight of executive agenda
      • Conduct investigations
    • Types of Committees
      • Standing committees- permanent, with specific legislative responsibilities
      • Select committees- appointed for limited purpose and duration
      • Joint committees- both reps and senators serve on committee
      • Conference committees – joint committee appointed to resolve differences in Senate and House versions of the same legislation before final passage
organization of congress committees
Organization of Congress: Committees
  • Committee Practices: number of committees has varied
    • Cuts in 1995
    • Majority party has majority of seats on committees and names chair
  • Assignments
    • House members usually serve on two standing committees or one exclusive committee
    • Senators usually serve on two “major” committees and one “minor” committee
  • Chairs are elected
    • Usually the most senior member of the committee
    • Seniority has been under attack by both parties in recent decades
organization of congress6
Organization of Congress
  • Subcommittee Bill of Rights of 1970’s changed several traditions
    • House committee chairs are elected by secret ballot in party caucuses
    • No one may chair more than one committee
    • All House committees with more than 20 members are to have at least 4 subcommittees
    • House and Senate committees gained larger staffs
    • All meetings open to the public unless members voted to close them
organization of congress subcommittees
Organization of Congress: Subcommittees
  • Decentralized reforms made House more inefficient and chairs utilized controversial practices to gain control
  • House Republican rule changes of 1995 therefore modified Subcommittee Bill of Rights (similar changes made in Senate)
  • Certain committees tend to attract particular types of legislators
    • Policy-oriented = finance or foreign policy
    • Constituency-oriented = small business or veterans’ affairs
organization of congress staffs
Organization of Congress: Staffs
  • Tasks of staff members
      • Constituency service- 1/3 of staff works in the district
      • Legislative functions- devising proposals, negotiating agreements, organizing hearings, meeting with lobbyists and administrators
      • Advocates for employers- entrepreneurial function
      • Members of Congress can no longer keep up with increased legislative work and must rely on staff
    • Larger staff means:
      • More legislative work done in the chamber
      • More individualistic Congress – less collegial, less deliberative b/c members interact through staff who become their negotiators
organization of congress7
Organization of Congress
  • Staff Agencies
    • Work for Congress as a whole; provide specialized knowledge (equivalent to what Pres has)
    • Major agencies
      • Congressional Research Service (CRS)
      • General Accounting Office (GAO)
      • Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)
        • abolished in 1995
      • Congressional Budget Office (CBO)