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How Congress Works
Oftentimes, people have questions about how Congress works. To help answer those questions, I have put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the U.S.
How Congress Works
Oftentimes, people have questions about how Congress works. To help answer those questions, I have put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the U.S. Congress. If your question is not answered here, please feel free to contact me.View the Constitution.What does a member of Congress do?
Members of Congress represent the people of their district in the United States Congress by holding hearings, as well as developing and voting on legislation. All bills must pass Congress before they can go to the President to be signed into law.
In order to provide the best representation for Michigan’s 7th District, I spend many hours each week meeting with people in South Central Michigan to discuss my current activities in Congress and listen to their concerns and ideas regarding a variety of issues.
In addition, I am also available to help you if you are experiencing difficulties dealing with a federal agency. To see how I can help you, click here.What are the qualifications to run for office in the House of Representatives and Senate?
The required qualifications are found in Article 1 of the Constitution:House of Representatives
25 years of age
A citizen of the United States for at least 7 years
At the time of election, be a resident of the stateU.S. Senate
30 years of age
A citizen of the United States for 9 years
At the time of election, be a resident of the stateHow many members of Congress are there?
There are a total of 535 Members of Congress. 100 serve in the U.S. Senate and 435 serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.How long do members of Congress’ terms last?
Members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms and are considered for reelection every even year. Senators however, serve six-year terms and elections to the Senate are staggered over even years so that only about 1/3 of the Senate is up for reelection during any election.How many members of Congress come from each state?
Each state sends two Senators to represent their state in the U.S. Senate. However, in the House of Representatives, a state’s representation is based on its population. For example, smaller states like Vermont and Delaware have one representative while large states like California have 53 representatives.
Currently, the Michigan Congressional Delegation is composed of 14 representatives in the House and two Senators in the U.S. Senate.How many people do congressmen and senators represent?
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives each represent a portion of their state known as a Congressional District, which averages 700,000 people. Senators however, represent the entire state.How do the House and Senate chambers differ?
In the House of Representatives, the majority party holds significant power to draft chamber rules and schedule bills to reach the floor for debate and voting. In most cases, House rules will limit debate so that important legislation can be passed during one legislative business day.
In the Senate however, the majority has the power to schedule when various bills come to the floor for voting but a single Senator can slow legislation from coming to the floor for a vote. Since debate in the Senate is not concluded until 60 senators vote for a cloture motion to approve a bill for consideration, the majority must also coordinate with the minority part to set the rules for debate on legislation. Under this system, legislation can be debated for one or two weeks on the Senate floor alone.Why does Congress use the committee system?
Congress deals with a broad variety of different policy issues and it is more efficient to have work done at the committee level than on the House or Senate floor. In addition, this system allows members to gain expertise in specific issue areas they are interested in. Throughout history, committees have been created to address particular issues before Congress. The House has 23 committees while the Senate has a total of 20 committees.How does a bill become a law?
Passing legislation into law is a complicated and lengthy process between the House and Senate before the bill is presented before the President to be signed into law. For a thorough explanation of the legislation process, please see the How a Bill Becomes a Law section on the House website.Do Members of Congress pay into the social security system?
YES. Since January 1, 1984, all Members of Congress participate in the Social Security system and are required to pay Social Security taxes.What kind of retirement plan do Members of Congress have?
Members of Congress who were elected after 1984 are automatically enrolled in the Federal Employees' Retirement System (FERS). For more information on FERS, please visit the FERS handbook for details.What kind of health care do Members of Congress receive?
As written into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, P.L. 111-205), on January 1, 2014, Members of Congress are no longer eligible for health plans offered to federal government employees. They instead must enroll in the District of Columbia’s Health Exchange in order to obtain employment related health plan coverage.
The Legislative Branch
The United States Congress is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Learn more about the powers of the Legislative Branch of the federal government of the United States.
The Legislative Branch
The United States Congress is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Learn more about the powers of the Legislative Branch of the federal government of the United States
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Established by Article I of the Constitution, the Legislative Branch consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which together form the United States Congress. The Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to enact legislation and declare war, the right to confirm or reject many Presidential appointments, and substantial investigative powers.
The House of Representatives is made up of 435 elected members, divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. In addition, there are 6 non-voting members, representing the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and four other territories of the United States: American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. The presiding officer of the chamber is the Speaker of the House, elected by the Representatives. He or she is third in the line of succession to the Presidency.
Members of the House are elected every two years and must be 25 years of age, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and a resident of the state (but not necessarily the district) they represent.
The House has several powers assigned exclusively to it, including the power to initiate revenue bills, impeach federal officials, and elect the President in the case of an Electoral College tie.
The Senate is composed of 100 Senators, 2 for each state. Until the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, Senators were chosen by state legislatures, not by popular vote. Since then, they have been elected to six-year terms by the people of each state. Senators’ terms are staggered so that about one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years. Senators must be 30 years of age, U.S. citizens for at least nine years, and residents of the state they represent.
The Vice President of the United States serves as President of the Senate and may cast the decisive vote in the event of a tie in the Senate.
The Senate has the sole power to confirm those of the President’s appointments that require consent, and to provide advice and consent to ratify treaties. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule: the House must also approve appointments to the Vice Presidency and any treaty that involves foreign trade. The Senate also tries impeachment cases for federal officials referred to it by the House.
In order to pass legislation and send it to the President for his or her signature, both the House and the Senate must pass the same bill by majority vote. If the President vetoes a bill, they may override his veto by passing the bill again in each chamber with at least two-thirds of each body voting in favor.
The Legislative Process
The first step in the legislative process is the introduction of a bill to Congress. Anyone can write it, but only members of Congress can introduce legislation. Some important bills are traditionally introduced at the request of the President, such as the annual federal budget. During the legislative process, however, the initial bill can undergo drastic changes.
After being introduced, a bill is referred to the appropriate committee for review. There are 17 Senate committees, with 70 subcommittees, and 23 House committees, with 104 subcommittees. The committees are not set in stone, but change in number and form with each new Congress as required for the efficient consideration of legislation. Each committee oversees a specific policy area, and the subcommittees take on more specialized policy areas. For example, the House Committee on Ways and Means includes subcommittees on Social Security and Trade.
A bill is first considered in a subcommittee, where it may be accepted, amended, or rejected entirely. If the members of the subcommittee agree to move a bill forward, it is reported to the full committee, where the process is repeated again. Throughout this stage of the process, the committees and subcommittees call hearings to investigate the merits and flaws of the bill. They invite experts, advocates, and opponents to appear before the committee and provide testimony, and can compel people to appear using subpoena power if necessary.
If the full committee votes to approve the bill, it is reported to the floor of the House or Senate, and the majority party leadership decides when to place the bill on the calendar for consideration. If a bill is particularly pressing, it may be considered right away. Others may wait for months or never be scheduled at all.
When the bill comes up for consideration, the House has a very structured debate process. Each member who wishes to speak only has a few minutes, and the number and kind of amendments are usually limited. In the Senate, debate on most bills is unlimited — Senators may speak to issues other than the bill under consideration during their speeches, and any amendment can be introduced. Senators can use this to filibuster bills under consideration, a procedure by which a Senator delays a vote on a bill — and by extension its passage — by refusing to stand down. A supermajority of 60 Senators can break a filibuster by invoking cloture, or the cession of debate on the bill, and forcing a vote. Once debate is over, the votes of a simple majority pass the bill.
U.S. Senate: Qualifications & Terms of Service
Qualifications & Terms of Service
Qualifications & Terms of Service
The Constitution sets three qualifications for service in the U.S. Senate: age (at least thirty years of age); U.S. citizenship (at least nine years); and residency in the state a senator represents at time of election. The details of these qualifications were hammered out by the Constitution's framers during the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Terms of Service
Article I, section 3 of the Constitution requires the Senate to be divided into three classes for purposes of elections. Senators are elected to six-year terms, and every two years the members of one class—approximately one-third of the senators—face election or reelection.
Class I | Class II | Class III
Oath of Office
The Constitution does not provide an oath of office for members of Congress, but specifies only that they "shall be bound by Oath of Affirmation to support this constitution." The oath of office that one-third of the Senate recites every two years is a product of the 1860s, drafted by Civil War-era members intent on ensnaring traitors. The oath-taking, however, dates back to the First Congress in 1789. The first oath served the Senate for nearly three-quarters of a century. The current oath, in use since 1884, is a milder version of the oath adopted in 1862.