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How Congress Works Chapter 13. Structure, Organization, & Legislative Process. Who’s in Congress?. Age Groups. Party. Ethnicity. Gender. Demographic Profile of the 111th Congress. House 435 members 2 yr terms 25 years old Speaker presented bills r hard to challenge

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How congress works chapter 13
How Congress WorksChapter 13

Structure, Organization,

& Legislative Process

Demographic profile of the 111th congress

Age Groups




Demographic Profile of the 111th Congress

House senate differences


435 members

2 yr terms

25 years old

Speaker presented bills r hard to challenge

Scheduling/rules controlled by majority party with powerful Rules Committee


100 members

6 yr terms

30 years old

Bills more easily challenged

Scheduling/rules agreed to by majority & minority leaders

House-Senate Differences

House senate differences1


Debate limited to 1 hour

Members policy specialists

Emphasizes tax & revenue policy

More formal & impersonal


Unlimited debate unless cloture invoked

Members policy generalists

Emphasizes foreign policy

More informal & personal

House-Senate Differences

House leadership

Speaker (majority party)


  • Majority Leader

  • Majority Whip

  • Steering & Policy Committee

  • Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

Speaker of the House

Nancy Pelossi (D-CA)

Majority Whip

James Clyburn (D-SC)

Majority Leader

Steny Hoyer (D-MD)

House leadership1


  • Minority Leader

  • Minority Whip

  • Chairman of Conference

  • Policy Committee

  • National Republican Congressional Committee

  • Research Committee

Minority Leader

John Boehner (R-OH)

Minority Whip

Eric Cantor (R-VA)

Senate leadership

President of the Senate (Vice President)

President Pro Tempore (majority party)


  • Majority Leader

  • Majority Whip

  • Chairman of Conference

  • Policy Committee

  • Steering Committee

  • Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

President Pro Tem

Robert Byrd (D-WV)

President of the Senate

Joe Biden (D-DE)

Majority Whip

Richard Durbin (D-IL)

Majority Leader

Harry Reid (D-NV)

Senate leadership1


  • Minority Leader

  • Minority Whip

  • Chairman of Conference

  • Policy Committee

  • Committee on Committees

  • Republican Senatorial Committee

Minority Leader

Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Minority Whip

Jon Kyl (R-AZ)

Strength of party structure
Strength of Party Structure?

  • Measure of party strength:

    • Ability of leaders to control party rules and organization

    • Extent to which party members vote together in the House and Senate

  • Senate: less party-centered and leader oriented

Party unity
Party Unity

  • Lower today than 100 years ago, but…..

  • Ideology important variable explaining party voting (members vote with their party 80% of the time)

  • Party polarization - vote in which majority of democrats oppose majority of republicans

  • Polarization trends:

    • 1976 HR = 36%; S = 37%

    • 1995 HR = 73%; S = 69%

    • 2000 HR = 43%; S = 49%


  • Caucus: an association of members of Congress created to advocate a political ideology or a regional or economic interest

  • Intra-party caucuses: members share a similar ideology

  • Personal interest caucuses: members share an interest in an issue

  • Constituency caucuses: established to represent groups, regions or both

  • Examples: Congressional Black Caucus, Human Rights, Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, Rural Caucus, Travel & Tourism Caucus

"Congress in session is Congress on public exhibition, whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”

- Woodrow Wilson

Legislative committees
Legislative Committees: whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”

Function and Purpose

Legislative committees function purpose

1. whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”Consider bills(a.k.a. “mark-up” bills)

Legislative Committees:Function & Purpose

A bill with a member’s mark-up notes

Legislative committees function purpose1

2. whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”Maintain oversight of executive agencies

Legislative Committees:Function & Purpose

Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testifies before a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing re: the Department of Defense Budget (May, 2006)

Legislative committees function purpose2

3. whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”Conduct investigations

Legislative Committees:Function & Purpose

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Hurricane Katrina (Feb.2 006)

Types of committees
Types of Committees whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”

  • Standing Committees- permanent panel with full legislative functions and oversight responsibilities

    ~Subcommittees – formed to tackle very specific tasks within the jurisdiction of the full committees

  • Select or Special Committees- groups appointed for a limited purpose and limited duration

  • Joint Committees - includes members of both chambers to conduct studies or perform housekeeping tasks

  • Conference Committee - includes members of House & Senate to work out differences between similar bills

Standing committees
Standing Committees whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”

House standing committees

Agriculture whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”


Armed Services


Education & Workforce

Energy & Commerce

Financial Services

Government Reform

House Admin.

International Relations





Small Business

Standards of Official Conduct

Transportation & Infrastructure

Veterans Affairs

Ways & Means

House Standing Committees

Senate standing committees

Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.”


Armed Services

Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs


Commerce, Science, Transportation

Energy & Natural Resources

Environment and Public Works


Foreign Relations

Governmental Affairs

Health, Education, Labor & Pensions


Rules and Administration

Small Business and Entrepreneurship

Veterans Affairs

Senate Standing Committees

Special select committees

House Select Committee on Energy Independence & Global Warming

Senate Select Committee on Ethics

House & Senate Select Committees on Intelligence

Special, Select Committees

Gen. Michael Hayden is sworn in during a full committee hearing of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on his nomination to bedirector of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Joint committees
Joint Committees Warming

  • Joint Economic Committee

  • Joint Committee on Printing

  • Joint Committee on Taxation

Joint Committee on Taxation hearing

Title: Resolution Artist: Bob Gorrell Warming

Date: 12/28/06 Source:

How congress works
How Congress Works Warming

The Legislative Process

A bill v a law

Bill Warming- a proposed new law introduced within a legislature that has not yet been passed, enacted or adopted

A Bill v. A Law

A bill v a law1

Law Warming- a bill or act passed by a legislative body

A Bill v. A Law

Step 1 an idea for a bill
Step 1: An Idea for a Bill Warming

Members of Congress


Interest Groups

Federal Agency



White House

Step 2 writing introduction of bill

Senate: Warming

Bill formerly read aloud on floor

Bill then given to clerk

Referred to committee by Steering Committee


Bill dropped in hopper

Referred to committee by the Speaker

Step 2: Writing & Introduction of Bill

Step 3 committee action
Step 3: Committee Action Warming

  • House & Senate committees conduct public hearings

  • Experts testify

  • Markup of bills

  • Committee vote: report favorably, unfavorably, or table bill

House Armed Services Committee

Step 4 floor action senate
Step 4: Floor Action - Senate Warming

  • Party leaders schedule bills for floor debate on the calendar

  • Unlimited debate

  • Filibuster - member(s) keep talking to block debate on a bill

  • Cloturevote by 3/5 of Senators (60) can end filibuster

  • Floor vote: Roll Call, Standing, Voice

Senator Strum Thurman still holds the record for the longest filibuster - 24 hrs 18 min. on the 1957 Civil Rights Act

Step 4 floor action house
Step 4: Floor Action - House Warming

  • Rules Committee schedules bills on calendar & decides whether amendments may be added

  • Limited debate

  • Floor vote: Recorded, Standing, Voice

Step 5 approved bill crosses over to other house
Step 5: Approved Bill WarmingCrosses Over to Other House

  • Approved bill must pass each chamber by a simple majority

Step 6 conference committee
Step 6: Conference Committee Warming

  • Members from each chamber meet to reconcile differences in the two bills

Senate-House Conference Committee works out details of the 2003 Healthy Forest Restoration Act

Step 8 president considers bill
Step 8: President Considers Bill Warming

President can:

  • Sign the bill into law

  • “Do nothing” law

  • Veto bill

  • Pocket veto

Note: Congress can override veto with 2/3 vote in each house; only 4% of vetoes have been overridden

City of New York v. William J. Clinton