The Constitution of the United States
Article I, Section I
“All legislative powers herein granted
shall be vested in a congress of the
Unites States, which shall consist of a
Senate and a House of
will into public
policy in the form
of a law.
Basic Info for BOTH houses
• U.S. Legislative body is bicameral vs.
• Concern is representation via population as
in House, but not Senate.
• Term—is two years, “noon on Jan. 3rd” of
every odd numbered year.
• Sessions—there are 2 for each term, one
• Congress adjourns each session as they see
fit. Prior to WWII, most session were 4-5
months. Now, most of year.
• One House cannot adjourn without consent
Size and Terms of HOUSE
• Today, 435 seats. Number can change, not in Constitution.
New law, from 1929 allowed census bureau to decide seats for
each state and within 60 days if neither house rejects the plan,
it become effective.
• Seats are apportioned by population. Each state gets a
minimum of one.
• D.C., Guam, Virgin Islands, American Somoa, and Puerto Rico
have a delegate but not a member of the House.
• Terms are for two years—election are always just around the
corner to maintain focus on constituents back home.
• Reapportionment is directed by Constitution to redistribute
seats every 10 years based on the census.
• Single-member districts—voters in each district elect one of
the State’s representatives. At-large voting was outlawed in
Wesberry v. Sanders, 1964
• Outlawed Gerrymandering, districts
that have been drawn to the
advantage of the political party or
faction that controls the government.
• The court ruled that, “as nearly as
practicable one man’s vote in a
congressional election is to be worth as
much as another’s.”
• 25 yrs. Old, citizen for seven years,
resident of U.S.
• Custom, not in Constitution, requires a
representative live in district he/ she
Size and Term of SENATE
• Many Representatives become Senators but rarely
• Senators serve terms of six years. As with the
House, can be re-elected any number of times.
• 1/3 expire every two years (33 or 34). Therefore
called a continuous body.
• Six years intended to make Senators less subject to
pressures of public opinion and special interest
groups (lobbyists). Ideally focused on big picture
than on small locality.
• Qualifications—30 yrs. Old, citizen for nine years,
and inhabitant of state in which elected.
Duties of Congress
For $169,500/ yr.
1. Legislators—law makers
2. Committee members
3. Representatives of their constituents
4. Servants of their constituents!! Help them
with problems in their state.
6. Screen proposed bills to see if they should
make them to the floor
7. Oversight function of various agencies in
Four Voting Options
• Trustee—vote independently based on
• Delegates—ignore own views for those
• Partisans—vote based on party
(majority influenced by this)
• Politicos—Balance all of the above with
the particular issues of the moment
• By specific design, the powers of Congress are
limited, unless specifically stated in the Constitution
(expressed powers), reasonably deducted from the
Constitution (implied powers), or by being a part of
a Federal Government (inherent powers).
• History has shown that the U.S. has been very
liberal in its interpretation of the Constitution.
Based on the changing demands of our society;
war, economic crisis, changes in transportation,
communication, and technology, have forced the
government to play a larger role than originally
• Power to Tax • Foreign Relations Powers
• Direct Tax • Derived from 2 sources– 1)
• Paid by person whom it is war powers & regulation of
imposed on– income tax foreign commerce. 2) U.S.
• Indirect Tax as sovereign state gives
• First paid by one person congress inherent powers to
but passed onto another— act on matters of national
cigarette tax/ gas tax security.
• Power to Borrow • War Powers
• Commerce Power • Naturalization
• Regulate interstate $ • Postal Power
• Copyright and Patents
• Currency Power
• Weights and Measures
• Power over Territories
• Eminent Domain
• Judicial Powers
• Necessary and Proper Clause (“elastic”)
Necessary & Proper Clause
The Power to Tax is expressed– the power to
punish for tax evasion is implied (elastic)
The Power to Raise Armies and Navies= the
power to draft (elastic)
The Commerce Power= the power to fix
minimum wages & maximum work hours
• Constitutional Amendments
• 2/3 vote in each house (happened 33 times)
• Electoral Duties
• House elects president when 270 is not reached in electoral
college/ Senate then chooses V.P.
• House brings charges (impeach)--majority
• Senate judges the accused– 2/3 for guilty
• If President on trial, Chief Justice of Supreme Court must
• Executive Powers
• Majority approval of appointments/ 2/3 approval of those
present for treaties
• Investigatory Power
• Ex. MLB steroid use
• Ex. Federal Attorney dismissals by A.G. Gonzales
The Need for Committees
• 35, 000 people work for legislative branch
• Amount of work is so great, a division of
labor is necessary.
• House committees have between 10 and 62 members each.
• Senate has 9 to 28 members each.
• When a bill is introduces, Speaker or president of Senate refer bill to appropriate standing
• Majority party always holds a majority of seats on each committee, while minority party is
• Standing committees—all similar bills are sent here.
• Select committees—special group set up for specific purpose and usually a limited time.
• Joint committees—are composed from members of both houses.
• Conference committees—temporary joint body, created to produce a compromised bill
that is agreeable to both houses. Reason: before a bill can be sent to President, must be
passed in identical form by each house. (Rarely does either house reject the work
of a conference committee. 2 reasons; membership of conference committees is typically
powerful, report usually comes as congress in a rush to adjourn.)
• Subcommittees—division of existing committees formed to address specific issues. 140
in House, 90 in Senate.
Current Committees: Examples
Standing Committee Special Committee
Appropriations Indian Affairs
Armed Services Select Committee on Ethics
Banking, Housing, Urban Select Committee on Intelligence
Development Select Committee on Aging
Energy & Natural Resources Additional ones added or removed
Finance as needed
Homeland Security & Gov’t Affairs Joint Committees
Judiciary Joint Committee on Taxation
Veterans Affairs Joint Economic Committee
And Many More… Additional ones added or removed
House of Representatives
• Not a continuous body; causes slow
start to new sessions.
Speaker of the House
The Speaker is by far most important and influential member of HOR.
Speaker is member of majority party in congress and chosen by
members of that party.
Two duties: preside and keep order.
No member may speak until recognized by the speaker.
Speaker names members of committees.
Speaker may debate or vote, but must name Speaker pro tempore.
Speaker usually doe NOT vote, but must vote to break a tie.
Because a tie vote defeats a question, speaker can vote to cause a
Other House Leaders
• Floor Leaders: There is a Minority and
Majority Floor Leader.
• Next to the Speaker, the most important officer
• They are legislative strategists attempting to get
their parties values passed through legislation
• The Whip: Again both Maj. & Min.
• Job is to assist floor leaders and influence party
members on a particular vote. Then pass the
numbers of “yea” votes on the floor leader before
a vote so they can be prepared for the outcome
• A continuous body, allows for smooth
start to new sessions.
President of the Senate
President of the Senate is not a member of the Senate.
V.P. of U.S., much less powerful than Speaker position in the
Not necessarily member of majority party in Senate.
V.P. CANNOT speak or debate.
V.P. may ONLY vote to break a tie, not a cause a tie.
President pro tempore acts in the V.P.’s absence and is
elected by the Senate itself and always a leading member of
the majority party.
Facts about Bills
• As many as 10,000 bills proposed between both houses in a term. Less than
10 % become law.
• Where do they start?
• Most bills originate somewhere in the executive branch.
• Ideas for bills can come from private citizens.
• Many originate in standing committees.
• How are they introduced?
• Only members introduce bills.
• According to Constitution, “All bills for raising revenue shall originate in
• Two types of Bills:
• Public Bills: measures applying to the nation as a whole.
• Private Bills: measures that apply to certain persons or places, not the
Passing a Bill in the House
Bill Becomes a Law in the House
• Most bills die in committee; they are pigeonholed.
• An important or controversial bill can involve holding public hearings that
question interested persons, special interest groups, and government officials
who testify at an informational gathering. If necessary, a committee can force a person
to testify under threat of imprisonment.
• When a subcommittee has completed its research, the measure goes to
full committee. The committee chooses one of the following courses of action:
• Report the bill favorably with a “do pass” recommendation.
• Refuse to report the bill—pigeonhole it.
• Report the bill in amended form.
• Report the bill with an unfavorable recommendation—rare.
• Report a committee bill—new bill, substituted for original bill.
• Debate in House is limited because of size. No member can hold floor for more than
one hour without unanimous consent. Speaker can force a member who strays from
subject to give up floor.
• Voting in House
• A bill may be voted on several times. Each amendment is voted on separately.
• After approval the speaker signs it and a page (legislative aide) takes it to the Senate
and places it on the Senate president’s desk.
Passing a Bill in the Senate
Bill Becomes a Law in the Senate
• Also committee work.
• Debate is unrestrained in Senate. Members may speak as
long as they please and do NOT have to limit it to subject of
bill. Intention is to encourage fullest possible discussion of
matters on the floor.
• Filibuster is a stalling tactic.
Strom Thurmond (R., S.C.) held floor for 24 hrs. and 18
minutes in an unsuccessful, one man effort to prevent the
Civil Rights Act of 1957.
• Cloture Rule-- Senate check on the filibuster. Limits debate,
but difficult to enact. Many senators hesitate to support a
motion for cloture because 1) dedicated to tradition of free
debate, 2) frequent use of cloture will undermine filibuster
they may one day want to use.
How a Bill Becomes a Law
Presidents Five possible Actions to a
passed congressional bill:
• Sign the bill and become law.
• Veto—return it to house it originated in and 2/3 of
each house can vote it in.
• Does not act on it for 10 days—becomes law.
• Pocket veto—congress adjourns session within ten
days of submitting bill to President, before
President acts on it, bill dies.
• “Line-item veto”—can reject one or more money
items in Appropriations bills.
Major issue: Ethics in Public Policy
Interest Groups: Influencing
• All interest groups share a desire to affect government policy
to benefit themselves or their cause. It could be a policy that
exclusively benefits group members or one segment of society
(e.g., government subsidies for farmers) or a policy that
advances a broader public purpose (e.g., improving air
quality). Interest groups are a natural outgrowth of the
communities of interests that exist in all societies, from the
narrowest groups such as the Japan Eraser Manufacturers
Association to broader groups such as the ACLU to very broad
organizations such as the military in authoritarian countries.
Interest groups exist at all levels of government—national,
state, provincial, and local—and increasingly they have
occupied an important role in international affairs.–