Congress Review

If progress is the advancement of
society, what is congress?
• Don’t forget to review the worksheet that I
gave you regarding powers of the
branches…answers are online.
Founders’ Intentions
1. Strongest branch
2. Separation of lawmaking power from
3. Bicameralism balances large/small states
• House – more connected to people (2 yr term)
• Senate – allows for independent thinking (6 yr term)
Important Differences
• 435 members (Public
Law 62-5)
• 2 year term
• 7 year citizen
• Initiate impeachment
• Revenue bills
• Strict debate rules
• 100 members
• 6 year term
• 9 year citizen
• Tries impeachment
• Approve presidential
• Approve treaties’
• Loose debate rules
Constitutional Powers
Article I, Section 8
• To lay and collect taxes, duties, imports
• To borrow money
• To regulate commerce (states and foreign)
• To establish rules for naturalization
• To coin money
• To create courts (except Supreme Court)
• To declare war
• To raise and support an army and navy
Evolution of Powers
Elastic clause has extended Congress powers
• Oversight of budget – can restrict the fed.
budget prepared by executive branch
• Appropriations – set amount of money made
available for various activity in a fiscal year
• Investigation – Congress can launch
investigations (Watergate, Clinton-Lewinski
hearings, Steroids in baseball)
House Leadership
Senate Leadership
• Majority party controls the most significant
leadership positions
• House - Speaker of the House
Allows people to speak on floor
Assigns bills to committees
Influences which bills are brought to a vote
Appoints members of special and select committees
• Senate – Majority Leader
• Schedules Senate business
• Prioritizes bills
Who’s in Congress?
110th Congress (2007-2008)
• 85% male
• 85% White
• 40% Lawyers
109th Congress (2005-2006)
• 29 accused of spousal abuse
• 7 have been arrested for fraud
• 19 arrested for writing bad checks
• 117 have bankrupted at least 2 businesses
• 8 have been arrested for shoplifting
• In 1998 alone, 84 were stopped for drunk driving
• House members directly elected
• Senators directly elected after 17th Amend
• House Incumbent advantage – Why?
– Name recognition
– Proven track record
– Franking privileges – free mailing
Ga Districts
• Malapportionment – unequal population in
– Wesberry v. Sanders (1963) – found unequal
district pop. unconstitutional – 14th amend
• Gerrymandering – district boundaries are
redrawn in strange ways to make it easy
for candidate of one party to win
– Easley v. Cromartie (2001) – redistricting for
political ideology was constitutional, led to
increase in minority reps
• 11,059 bills were introduced in 2007-2009
How A Bill Becomes a
• Create legislation, make laws
• Founders believed in a SLOW process
• Founders believed efficiency was a trait of
an oppressive government
Step 1 – Introduce Bill
• Introduced in Senate or House (except tax)
• Single or multiple reps can introduce bill
Step 2 - Committee
1. Bill is assigned to a particular committee
in its category (Ex. Tax bill – Ways and
Means Committee, Farm bill – Agriculture
2. Bill is then placed in sub-committee
3. Bills are debated and “marked up”
4. Most bills die in committee, committee
can vote to “report out” a bill
Step 3–Rules Committee
• Before bill can go to floor in House, it must
first set time limits and amendment
– Closed rule – sets time limits, restricts
– Open rule – permits amendments
– Restrictive rule – permits some amendments
Step 4 – Floor Debate
Senate Debate
• Less formal, no speaking limit
• Filibuster – practice of stalling a bill w/
• Cloture – 3/5 of the Senate vote to stop
House Debate
• More formal, no filibuster, strict rules
Step 5 - Voting
• Majority passes
• If the bill passes, it must go through the
same process in the opposite chamber
with a sponsor
• If the bill passes one house and fails the
other, it must start over
• If the Senate and House cannot come to
agreement over two versions, it goes to
Conference Committee to fix it and
resubmit the bill
Presidential Action
• Sign – bill becomes law
• Veto – bill returns to origin
• Override – 2/3 vote in both houses can
override veto
• Pocket Veto – President has 10 days to
act on a piece of legislation. If he receives
the bill within 10 days of the end of the
Congressional session, and doesn’t sign, it
Committees and
• Most real work happens here
• Bills are passed, changed, ignored, or
Types of Committees
• Standing committee
– handle bills in different policy areas
– (ex. Appropriations, Agriculture, Armed
Services, Science, etc.)
– most important and have been “standing”
(existing) for a long time
• Select committee
– formed for specific purposes and usually
temporary – run investigations (ex. Aging,
Types of Committees
• Joint committee
– consist of both House and Senate members
– similar in purpose to Select committee
– Meant to draw attention to issues
• Conference committee
– consist of both House reps and Senators
– formed to hammer out differences between
House and Senate versions of similar bills
• Congressional Committees and
Committee Membership
• Controlled by majority party, committee
membership divided proportionally
• Committee Chairman
– Senior member of committee
– Controls membership and debate
Work of Committees
• 11,000 bills introduced yearly, most die
• Committees can…
– Report out favorably/unfavorably
– Pigeonholed/table (do not discuss)
– Amend / “mark up” (change or rewrite)
Congressional Caucuses
• Groupings of members pushing for similar
• Ex. – Sunbelt, Northeast-Midwest,
Congressional Black, Women’s,
Democratic Study Group, Boll Weevils,
Criticisms of Congress
• “Pork” – aka “pork-barrel legislation” – bills to
benefit constituents in hope of gaining their
• Logrolling – Congress members exchange
votes, bills might pass for frivolous reasons
• Christmas-tree bill –bill with many riders (pork)
– in Senate, no limit exists on amendments, so
Senators try to attach riders that will benefit their
home state
Term-limits Debate
No current limit on how many terms
members of Congress can serve
1. Some argue this has weakened popular
control of Congress, reps might be
unresponsive to their constituents
2. Some argue most experienced reps have
the expertise to bring home more
benefits (pork, riders, etc.)
• The term “pork barrel” refers to legislation
specifically designed to
A. encourage a balanced federal government
B. ensure the careful inspection of farm goods
and other foodstuffs
C. distribute excess produce to the poor
D. provide funding for local projects that are
intended to benefit constituents
E. equalize representation between farming and
non-farming states
The details of legislation are usually worked
out in which of the following settings?
A. a party caucus
B. the majority leader’s office
C. the floor of the House
D. legislative hearings
E. a subcommittee
Most of the bills introduced in the House and
Senate are then
A. passed by one chamber but not in the other
B. passed by both chambers, but never sent to
the full Congress
C. referred to committee but never sent to the full
D. voted down during the amendment stage of the
floor debate
E. killed in the Rules Committee

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