Political Primer

Introduction To Congress

House of Representatives

Senate

  • 435 members serving two-year terms
  • Speaker’s referral of bills to committee is hard to challenge.
  • Rules Committee powerful; controls time of debate, admissibility of amendments.
  • Committees almost always consider legislation first.
  • Debate usually limited to one hour.
  • Non-germane amendments may not be introduced from floor.
  • 100 members serving rotating six-year terms
  • Referral decisions easy to challenge.
  • Rules Committee weak; few limits on debate or amendments.
  • Committee consideration easily bypassed.
  • Unlimited debate unless shortened by unanimous consent or by invoking cloture.
  • Non-germane amendments may be introduced (riders).

Getting Elected

House of Representatives

Senate

  • Must be 25 years of age (when seated, not when elected).
  • Must have been a citizen of the United States for 7 years.
  • Must be an inhabitant of the state from which elected.
    (NOTE: custom, but not the Constitution, requires that a representative live in the district that he or she represents.)
  • Must be 30 years of age (when seated, not when elected).
  • Must have been a citizen of the United States for 9 years.
  • Must be an inhabitant of the state from which elected.

Congressional Leadership

House of Representatives

Senate

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE
Selected by the majority party.
 
Majority Leader
Leads the party.
 
Majority Whip
Assists the leader, rounds up votes, heads large group of deputy and assistant whips.
 
Chairman of the Caucus
Presides over meetings of all members of the majority party.
 
Steering and Policy Committee
Schedules legislation, assigns members of the majority party to committees.
 
Republican/Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
Provides funds, advice to Republican/Democratic candidates for the House.
 
Minority Leader
Leads the party.
 
Minority Whip
Assists the leader, rounds up votes, heads large forum of deputy and assistant whips.
 
Chairman of the Conference
Presides over meetings of all members of the minority party.
 
Committee on Committees
Assigns members of the minority party to committees.
 
Policy Committee
Advises on party policy.
 
Research Committee
On request, provides information about issues.
PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE
Selected by majority party. Usually most senior member of the Senate majority party.
 
Majority Leader
Leads the party.
 
Majority Whip
Assists the leader, rounds up votes, heads group of deputy whips.
 
Chairman of the Conference
Presides over meetings of all members of the Senate majority party.
 
Policy Committee
Schedules legislation.
 
Legislative Review Committee
Reviews legislative proposals and makes recommendations to senators of the majority party.
 
Steering Committee
Assigns Senators of the majority party to committees.
 
Republican/Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Provides funds, assistance to Republican/Democratic candidates for the Senate.
 
Minority Leader
Leads the party.
 
Assistant Minority Leader
Assists the leader, rounds up votes.
 
Chairman of the Conference
Presides over meetings of all senators of the minority party.
 
Policy Committee
Makes recommendations on party policy.
 
Committee on Committees
Assigns Senators of t he minority party to committees.

Congressional Authority

The powers of Congress are found in Article 1, section 8, of the Constitution.
The following is a brief summary:

  • The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence [sic] and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

  • To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

  • To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

  • To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

  • To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

  • To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

  • To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

  • To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

  • To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

  • To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences [sic] against the Law of Nations;

  • To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

  • To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

  • To provide and maintain a Navy;

  • To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

  • To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

  • To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

  • To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;—And

  • 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 Officer thereof.

If you want more information on the House or Senate, check out: 
Congress.gov ­ Contains information on current legislation, the Congressional Record, congressional committees and current members of Congress. 
Senate.gov ­ Contains information on current members and legislation in the Senate. 
House.gov ­ Contains information on current members and legislation in the House.

(excerpted from votesmart.org)

Election of the Senate

Originally, the Senate was elected by the state legislature of each state who appointed the two senators. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution changed this and now the Senate is elected directly by the people in largely the same fashion as the House of Representatives. This change was enacted in time for the 1918 elections.

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