The Legislative Branch
The Legislative Branch is the least popular branch among Americans. You may likely be one of those Americans who disapproves of Congress. They make law, but some would argue that they do nothing (which is good, because then there are fewer laws to follow)! Ironically, We the People elect those who serve in Congress, but we are more dissatisfied than ever. From May 28-June 4, 2020, the Gallup Poll found that 71% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job. Let’s do our own assessment of Congress by learning the civics basics of Congress’ role.
The House of Representatives has a fixed number of 435 people. Seats are apportioned by state populations. The Census determines how many seats each state holds, so representation and districts may change every 10 years.
Qualifications- must be at least 25 yrs. old, a U.S. citizen for at least 7 yrs, and must reside in the state where they are elected. (This information helps us to understand the varied composition of the House of Representatives). Elections for the House are held every two years.
According to Whitehouse dot gov and outlined in Article I of the U.S. Constitution, “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.” This year, you see the House in action with coronavirus revenue bills, impeachment articles against President Trump, and the coming presidential election. They also write, debate, and pass legislation.
The central leadership positions in the House include:
-Speaker of the House (elected by the majority party in the House)
-Majority Leader- (a position held by a majority party vote in the House; helps the Speaker making committee assignments, scheduling bills, and handling the schedule)
-Minority Leader- (leads the opposition party which is the party that holds fewer seats than the majority party; handles the opposition response to the majority party agenda)
-Majority and minority whips- (The majority and minority whips are responsible for mobilizing votes within their parties on major issues).
Committees are where the work begins on a bill if the law even makes it to a committee. (Many don’t). Committees aren’t mentioned in the Constitution, but they are an essential way that Congress’s work is divided up for investigation, debate, and report. Committee types include standing, select, and joint committees (which include both House and Senate members).
The Senate has 100 members-two per state.
Qualifications- must be at least 30 years old, a citizen for at least 9 years, and a resident of the state that elects them. Their term of office is 6 years, with 1/3 of the senators elected every 2 years. Unlike the House, which is elected every 2 years, the Senate has a maximum of 33 or 34 members campaigning to be re-elected during an election cycle. This preserves continuity. A loss of checks and balances could occur if the complete House and the Senate were up for re-election at the same time.
The Senate’s sole powers include holding a trial for an impeached official (impeached official remains in office unless the Senate tries and finds the official guilty as charged), confirming presidential appointments (i.e., Supreme Court nominees) and ratifying treaties. The Senate also writes, debates, and passes legislation.
For a bill to become a law, both houses must pass the exact same document before it is placed on the President’s desk for his/her signature. If it is not exactly the same, the bill must start the process over or “die.”
The central leadership positions in the Senate are:
-The Vice-President of the United States (serves as the President of the Senate and only votes if there is a tie)
-President Pro-Tempore (leads the Senate in the absence of the Vice -President and is a member of the majority party)
-The Majority and Minority Leaders (leaders from their respective parties and form the agenda for the Senate)
-The Majority and Minority Whips- like the House, garner support for legislation to be voted on for passage (I like to think of the Whips as “getting Congress in line” to support or defeat particular legislation).
Committees in the Senate (see description above for the House)
Knowing the above information, you can learn:
-why Madison Cawthorn, aged 24, was able to compete in the North Carolina primary. (He will be 25 before the November 3 election)
-the Vice-President is the President of the Senate
-the division of labor in Congress as they serve on standing, and/or select and joint committees
-that congressional committees have a lot of power
-on which committees your representative and senators serve and if those committees serve the interests of your state/district
-what the role the Majority and Minority Leaders and Whips play in Congress
-the job descriptions of the two Houses
-that your Representative spends time getting elected and doing the work of Congress while raising money and campaigning every 2 years
-that the whole House is up for election every 2 years
-that the Senate does not have the same sense of urgency to be re-elected because they serve in the Senate for 6 year terms.
-all revenue bills (money) originate in the House (Article I, Section VII)
-the importance of showing up at the polls
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship.??
*Next week: The Executive Branch