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Congress

Government
by

Patrick Keating

on 28 February 2017

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Transcript of Congress

Unit III -- Article I
The United States Congress

"The First Branch of Government"
- James Madison

Bicameral
-- two parts of Congress
Historical
British Parliament has two houses - House of Commons, House of Lords
Colonial assemblies bicameral
Practical
Settled conflict between New Jersey and Virginia
Reflects Federalism
Equal number in Senate
Based on population in the House
Theoretical
Act as a check on one another
Makes sure that the legislative branch did not dominate the other branches
Is it fair?
Wyoming -- 500,000 pop. ---- 2 Senators
California -- 35,000,000 pop. --- 2 Senators
Terms and Sessions
Session - period of time that Congress assembles and conducts business
Currently 114th Session of Congress
Adjourns -- suspension unless next session
Cannot adjourn without consent of the other house in Congress
Recess
Prorogue -- power of the President to discontinue session
Has never been used
Special session -- can be called upon by the President when dealing with an emergency situation
26 in history -- most recently by Truman (1948)
Can call one house or both
The House of Representatives
Size and Terms
Number: 435 Representatives
Not a fixed number; set by Congress
Apportioned (distributed) based on population of the states
Some states with one rep.
Two year term -- no limit on number of terms
Reapportionment -- redistribution
Occurs after each census (10 years)
Reapportionment Act of 1929
Set the permanent size of the House at 435
Census determines the number of reps. per state
Census Bureau's plan sent to Congress -- if neither rejects, it is accepted
Congressional Elections
Same day in all states
Off-Year Elections -- non-presidential years
2010, 2014, 2018
Party in power usually loses seats -- why???
Reason 1 -- impatience
Reason 2 -- negative campaigns
Districts
435 separate districts
Two ways to decide:
Single ticket -- selected in each district
At-large -- selected from state as a whole
Unfair -- leads to one party dominating
State legislatures in charge of drawing each district
Contiguous
Compact
Equal
Disregarded for a looooong time
Gerrymandering -- districts drawn to the advantage of the political party that controls the state's legislature
One of two forms:
Concentrate opposition party's voters in one or two districts
Spread opposition thinly to limit their ability to win
Wesberry v. Sanders (1964)
Supreme Court held that states draw congressional district of substantially equal population
s
"One person, one vote"
Qualifications for the House
Formal
25 years old
Citizen for 7 years
Resident of state elected from
Informal
Party ID
Name familiarity
Ethic, gender characteristics
Experience
The Senate
Size

Two from each state -- 100 total
Why?
Election
Originally chosen by the state legislatures
17th Amendment -- directly elected by the people
Made the process more democratic
Term
Six year terms
continuous body -- all of the Senate's seats are never up for election at the same time
Patrick Leahy, D-MA
MOCs -- Members of Congress
Representative of the People
Trustees -- each question they face must be decided on its merits
Vote on conscience, right and wrong
Delegates -- agents of the people; suppress their own views in support of what the people want
Partisans -- one allegiance - their political party
Leading factor on how MOCs vote
Politicos -- try to combine all of the above
Committee Members
Every session, MOCs referred to committees
Screen proposals, decide what goes to the floor
Oversight functions -- checks agencies of executive branch
and makes sure they are acting in line with policies set
Servant of the People
Compensation
of MOCs
$174,000 -- Senate and House of Reps
$223,500 -- Speaker of the House
$193,400 -- President pro tempore; Minority and Majority Floor Leaders
Franking privilege -- do not pay for stamps or mailing anything
$40-50,000/year after retirement
Pension plan
Generous Travel
Free printing
Powers of Congress
The Power to Tax
$2.1 trillion taken in through taxes
A charge levied by government on persons or property to raise money and meet public needs
Can also take form of protective tariffs or licensing of certain products
Limits on Taxing Power
Congress may tax only for public purposes, not private benefit
May not tax exports
Direct tax must be divided amongst the states
Direct tax -- directly to the government by the person on whom it is imposed
(land, buildings, income tax)
No direct tax outside of the income tax
Indirect tax - first paid by one person, but then passed on to another
Cigarettes
Borrowing Power
No constitutional limits on amount Congress can borrow
Public debt -- all of the money borrowed by the Federal Government and not yet repaid, plus the accumulated interest
Deficit Financing -- Fed. regularly spends more than it takes in each year; borrows to make up the difference
Commerce Power
Power to regulate interstate and foreign trade
Vital to welfare of the country
Role of the Articles of Confederation
Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)
Commerce much more than traffic; allowed an expansion of federal power into many facets of life
Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- based on commerce power; prohibits discrimination in access to or services
Limits on Commerce Power
Cannot tax exports
Cannot favor the trade of one state over another
Could not interfere with the slave trade
(1808 ended)
Congress in Action
Presiding Officers
Speaker of the House -- most important and most powerful in Congress
Elected presiding officer; majority party leader
Selection not in the Constitution -- decided upon by Members of the House
Paul Ryan (R - WI)
Duties of SOH
Preside over the House and keep order
Aid in party's legislative goals
Interprets and applies the rules, refers bills to committee, rules on points of order, puts motions to a vote, and decides the outcome of a vote
Follows VP in line of succession
President of the Senate
Vice President -- Mike Pence (R-IN)
Unlike the House:
Senate does not choose presiding officer
Not a member of the Senate
Much less powerful
than SOH
Has many of the same powers as Speaker
Cannot take to the floor to speak; may only vote to break a tie
President pro tempore -- serves in the VP's absence
Elected by the Senate; majority party member
Usually longest serving member of Senate
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Party Officers
Party Caucus -- closed meeting of each party
Meets before Congress convenes and January
Deals with matters of party organization
-- selects floor leaders and questions of committee membership
Floor leaders -- majority and minority
Most important officers in Congress
Legislative strategists -- try to carry out the decisions of party caucuses and steer floor action to their parties' benefit
Chief spokesmen of their party
Majority Leader House -- Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)
Minority Leader Senate -- Charles Schumer (D-NY)
Minority Leader House -- Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
Majority Leader Senate -- Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Party whips -- assist floor leaders
Chosen by party caucus
Serve as liaison between party leaders and the rest of the floor
Committee Chairmen -- members who head the standing committee in each chamber
Important and strategic post
Decide when committees meet, which bills they hear, etc.
Chosen by seniority rule -- unwritten custom
The most important posts will be held by party members who have served the longest
Applied most strictly to the choice of committee chairmen
What are the problems with this???
Criticism of Seniority Rule
System ignores ability, and works to discourage younger members
Focuses on "safe" districts
Committees in Congress
John Dingell (D-MI)
Full transcript