A Guide to the US Congress


A Guide to Congress

How America’s Legislative Body Conducts its Daily Business.

Make up of Congress
Congress consists of two chambers.  The lower chamber is called the House of Representatives.  The upper chamber is called the Senate. Any member, from either chamber, has the power to propose, or introduce, new legislation as well as amend imperfect legislation to make it better. Both chambers have presiding officers.  The presiding officer of the House of Representatives is the Speaker of the House of Representatives.  The Speaker’s role is to manage the day to day operations of the house and  to decide how many committees a bill would have to go through prior to presenting that bill to all the members of the House of Representatives for either a debate or for a vote. There are 435 members of the House. Currently, Democrats have an 18-seat majority in the House of Representatives.

The Senate, while similar to the House of Representatives in many ways, is in charge of different aspects of government; they are in charge of Presidential appointments to his cabinet and judicial appointments.  The Leader of the Senate is the head of what party has the most seats in the senate.  The leader is the spokesman for the senate as well as the person who controls what items are presented to the full members as well as to the president for debate and approval.  Currently, Republicans  hold an 8 seat majority in the U.S Senate.

House of Representatives:  

The House of Representatives is one of the main legislative bodies in the United States.  Most times legislation is started here and where future laws are drafted.  Before laws are voted on and approved, they are called bills.  Once a bill is drafted in the House, it heads to committee to carefully construct the language of the bill.  After the bill is in committee it will next head to a House subcommittee to make final tweeks . Anyone can introduce legislation or be able to amend legislation once the bill leaves it’s respective committee or respective subcommittee. Once the bill is brought to the floor all it needs is a simple majority of 218 out of 435 approval votes to pass.

The House is also responsible for various oversight measures. Similar to the Senate,  they are able to launch investigations. The House, however, is unable to fill cabinet appointees nor can they filibuster legislation. This means the minority party has even less power in the House of Representatives than the United States Senate.  The Minority party routinely has ranking members on committees to voice opinions of the minority party on the select House committees.

Key House Committees:
House Judiciary Committee:

Chairman: Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)

Ranking Member: Doug Collins ( R-GA)

House Intelligence Committee:

Chairman: Adam Schiff (D-CA)

Ranking Member: Devin Nunez (R-CA)

House Financial Services Committee:

Chairwoman: Maxine Waters (D-CA)

Ranking Member: Patrick McHenry (R-NC)

United States Senate:

The United States Senate is the upper chamber of Congress in the United States. Unlike the House of Representatives whose numbers of members are based on proportional representation to the population of each state, each state gets 2 elected officials to represent their state in the Senate, regardless of that state’s current population.  Congress has 100 Senators in total. The Senate has broader powers that those held by the House of Representatives and that is why they are considered the upper house.

The Senate has similar oversight powers as the House of Representatives to call on and conduct investigations as they see fit. In addition, the Senate has the power to confirm judicial appointments made by the President.  This is done by a simple majority approval of the total number of members. They can also propose legislation for a discussion or debate.  According to the Senate rules, any member of any party has a right to be recognized by the presiding officer of the senate in order for the member to be able to address the full Senate and speak to the members directly. Another difference between the House of Representatives and the Senate is that in the House, a simple majority is needed to pass legislation.  In the Senate there is a “Cloture rule” which means most proposed legislation needs a ⅗ majority to pass the Senate.  Once a bill leaves committee,  it is put to a vote. If 60 votes are reached, the measure passes. For judicial and cabinet appointees, however, only a simple majority is needed for confirmation.  The Majority Leader in the Senate has the option to enact a “nuclear option”. This allows the Majority Leader to rollback votes needed to pass any legislation down from ⅗ majority to a simple majority.  Once a bill passes the approval of both chambers, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate go into conference to amend legislation.

Once the bill is voted on and approved by both Chambers of Congress,  the bill is then presented to the President of the United States for his approval and signature.

Key Senate Committees:

Senate Judiciary Committee 

ChairmanLindsey Graham (R-SC)

Ranking Member: Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Senate Armed Services Committee:

Chairman:  John Brasso (R-WY)

Ranking Member: Jack Reed ( D-RI)

Senate intelligence Committee:

Chairman: Richard Burr (R-NC)

Vice Chairman: Mark Warner (D-VA)

Featured Image: Courtesy of Martin Falbisoner, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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