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United States Congress

United States Congress

Overview
The United States Congress is the bicameral
Bicameralism
In the government, bicameralism is the practice of having two legislative or parliamentary chambers. Thus, a bicameral parliament or bicameral legislature is a legislature which consists of two chambers or houses....

 legislature
Legislature
A legislature is a kind of deliberative assembly with the power to pass, amend, and repeal laws. The law created by a legislature is called legislation or statutory law. In addition to enacting laws, legislatures usually have exclusive authority to raise or lower taxes and adopt the budget and...

 of the federal government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

 of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, consisting of the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 and the House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol
United States Capitol
The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the federal government of the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., it sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....



Both senators and representatives are chosen through direct election
Direct election
Direct election is a term describing a system of choosing political officeholders in which the voters directly cast ballots for the person, persons or political party that they desire to see elected. The method by which the winner or winners of a direct election are chosen depends upon the...

. Each of the 435 members of the House of Representatives represents a district
Congressional district
A congressional district is “a geographical division of a state from which one member of the House of Representatives is elected.”Congressional Districts are made up of three main components, a representative, constituents, and the specific land area that both the representative and the...

 and serves a two-year term. House seats are apportioned
United States congressional apportionment
United States congressional apportionment is the process by which seats in the United States House of Representatives are redistributed amongst the 50 states following each constitutionally mandated decennial census. Each state is apportioned a number of seats which approximately corresponds to its...

 among the states
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

 by population. Each state, regardless of population, has two senators; since there are fifty states, there are one hundred senators who serve six-year terms. The terms are staggered, so every two years, approximately one-third of the Senate is up for election.
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Timeline

1775   The United States Congress adopts the Olive Branch Petition.

1789   The United States Congress passes the Judiciary Act which creates the office of the United States Attorney General and the federal judiciary system, and orders the composition of the Supreme Court of the United States.

1800   The United States Congress holds its first session in Washington, D.C.

1818   The United States Congress adopts the flag of the United States with 13 red and white stripes and one star for each state (then 20).

1820   The U.S. Congress passes the Missouri Compromise.

1846   The Smithsonian Institution is chartered by the United States Congress after James Smithson donates $500,000.

1861   American Civil War: The United States Congress passes the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution, stating that the war is being fought to preserve the Union and not to end slavery.

1865   American Civil War: The United States Congress passes the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, abolishing slavery, submitting it to the states for ratification.

1866   The United States Congress passes legislation authorizing the five-star rank of General of the Army. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant becomes the first to be promoted to this rank.

1900   The Congress passes the Foraker Act, giving Puerto Rico limited self-rule.

 
Encyclopedia
The United States Congress is the bicameral
Bicameralism
In the government, bicameralism is the practice of having two legislative or parliamentary chambers. Thus, a bicameral parliament or bicameral legislature is a legislature which consists of two chambers or houses....

 legislature
Legislature
A legislature is a kind of deliberative assembly with the power to pass, amend, and repeal laws. The law created by a legislature is called legislation or statutory law. In addition to enacting laws, legislatures usually have exclusive authority to raise or lower taxes and adopt the budget and...

 of the federal government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

 of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, consisting of the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 and the House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol
United States Capitol
The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the federal government of the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., it sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....



Both senators and representatives are chosen through direct election
Direct election
Direct election is a term describing a system of choosing political officeholders in which the voters directly cast ballots for the person, persons or political party that they desire to see elected. The method by which the winner or winners of a direct election are chosen depends upon the...

. Each of the 435 members of the House of Representatives represents a district
Congressional district
A congressional district is “a geographical division of a state from which one member of the House of Representatives is elected.”Congressional Districts are made up of three main components, a representative, constituents, and the specific land area that both the representative and the...

 and serves a two-year term. House seats are apportioned
United States congressional apportionment
United States congressional apportionment is the process by which seats in the United States House of Representatives are redistributed amongst the 50 states following each constitutionally mandated decennial census. Each state is apportioned a number of seats which approximately corresponds to its...

 among the states
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

 by population. Each state, regardless of population, has two senators; since there are fifty states, there are one hundred senators who serve six-year terms. The terms are staggered, so every two years, approximately one-third of the Senate is up for election. Most incumbents seek re-election, and their historical likelihood of winning subsequent elections exceeds 90%.

Overview


Article I
Article One of the United States Constitution
Article One of the United States Constitution describes the powers of Congress, the legislative branch of the federal government. The Article establishes the powers of and limitations on the Congress, consisting of a House of Representatives composed of Representatives, with each state gaining or...

 of the Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 states "all legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives." The House and Senate are equal partners in the legislative process—legislation cannot be enacted without the consent of both chambers. However, the Constitution grants each chamber some unique powers. The Senate ratifies treaties and approves top presidential
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 appointments while the House initiates revenue-raising bills. The House initiates impeachment
Impeachment in the United States
Impeachment in the United States is an expressed power of the legislature that allows for formal charges against a civil officer of government for crimes committed in office...

 cases, while the Senate decides impeachment cases. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is required before an impeached person can be forcibly removed from office.
The term Congress
Congress
A congress is a formal meeting of the representatives of different nations, constituent states, independent organizations , or groups....

can also refer to a particular meeting of the legislature. A Congress covers two years; the current one, the 112th Congress
112th United States Congress
The One Hundred Twelfth United States Congress is the current meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, composed of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It convened in Washington, D.C. on January 3, 2011, and will end on January...

, began on on January 3, 2011. A legislator in either house is a "member of Congress", though usually only representatives are referred to in speech as a congressman, congresswoman, or congressperson, because members of the Senate are almost universally referred to as senator. To avoid confusion, "member of Congress" is used to refer to members of both houses, and "representative" and "senator" to refer to members of the respective houses.

Scholar and representative Lee H. Hamilton
Lee H. Hamilton
Lee Herbert Hamilton is a former member of the United States House of Representatives and currently a member of the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory Council. A member of the Democratic Party, Hamilton represented the 9th congressional district of Indiana from 1965 to 1999...

 asserted that the "historic mission of Congress has been to maintain freedom" and insisted it was a "driving force in American government" and a "remarkably resilient institution." Congress is the "heart and soul of our democracy", according to this view, even though legislators rarely achieve the prestige or name recognition of presidents or Supreme Court justices; one wrote that "legislators remain ghosts in America's historical imagination". One analyst argues that it is not a solely reactive institution but has played an active role in shaping government policy and is extraordinarily sensitive to public pressure. Several academics described Congress:
Congress reflects us in all our strengths and all our weaknesses. It reflects our regional idiosyncrasies, our ethnic, religious, and racial diversity, our multitude of professions, and our shadings of opinion on everything from the value of war to the war over values. Congress is the government's most representative body ... Congress is essentially charged with reconciling our many points of view on the great public policy issues of the day. — Smith, Roberts, and Wielen


Congress is constantly changing, constantly in flux. In recent times, the American south and west have gained House seats according to demographic changes recorded by the census and includes more minorities and women although both groups are still underrepresented, according to one view. While power balances among the different parts of government continue to change, the internal structure of Congress is important to understand along with its interactions with so-called intermediary institutions such as political parties, civic associations, interest groups, and the mass media.

Think of Congress as an automobile. While drivers of various skills can take the automobile in different directions on various types of roads, the internal machinery of the vehicle plays a crucial role in determining how smooth the drive will be, as well as how far and fast the driver can go.—Julian E. Zelizer


All members of Congress serve two distinct purposes that sometimes overlap: representation of local interests and lawmaking for the national interest. There has been debate throughout American history about how to straddle these dual obligations of representing the wishes of citizens and those of the nation. Compromise is often required.

History



The First Continental Congress
First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen North American colonies that met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. It was called in response to the passage of the Coercive Acts by the...

 was a gathering of representatives from twelve of the thirteen British Colonies in North America
British colonization of the Americas
British colonization of the Americas began in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia and reached its peak when colonies had been established throughout the Americas...

. On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

 adopted the Declaration of Independence, referring to the new nation as the "United States of America". The Articles of Confederation
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution...

 in 1781 created a unicameral
Unicameralism
In government, unicameralism is the practice of having one legislative or parliamentary chamber. Thus, a unicameral parliament or unicameral legislature is a legislature which consists of one chamber or house...

 body with equal representation among the states in which each state had a veto over most decisions. With no executive or judicial branch, and minimal authority, this government was weak and lacked authority to collect taxes, regulate commerce, or enforce laws.
Government powerlessness led to the Convention of 1787
Philadelphia Convention
The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to address problems in governing the United States of America, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from...

 which proposed a revised constitution with a two–chamber or bicameral congress. Smaller states argued for equal representation for each state. The two-chamber structure had functioned well in state governments. A compromise
Connecticut Compromise
The Connecticut Compromise was an agreement that large and small states reached during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that in part defined the legislative structure and representation that each state would have under the United States Constitution...

 plan was adopted with representatives chosen by population (benefitting larger states) and exactly two senators chosen by state governments (benefitting smaller states). The ratified constitution created a federal structure
Federalism
Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by covenant with a governing representative head. The term "federalism" is also used to describe a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and...

 with two overlapping power centers so that each citizen as an individual was subjected to both the power of state government and the national government. To protect against abuse of power, each branch of government—executive, legislative, and judicial—had a separate sphere of authority and could check other branches according to the principle of the separation of powers
Separation of powers
The separation of powers, often imprecisely used interchangeably with the trias politica principle, is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic...

. Furthermore, there were checks and balances within the legislature since there were two separate chambers. The new government became active in 1789.

Political scientist Julian E. Zelizer suggested there were four main congressional eras, with considerable overlap, and included the formative era (1780s–1820s), the partisan era (1830s–1900s), the committee era (1910s–1960s), and the contemporary era (1970s–today).

The formative era (1780s–1820s)


Federalists and anti-federalists jostled for power in the early years as political parties became pronounced, surprising the Constitution's Framers
Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, establishing the United States Constitution, or by some...

. Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

's election to the presidency marked a peaceful transition of power between the parties in 1800. Supreme Court justice John Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

 empowered the courts by establishing the principle of judicial review
Judicial review
Judicial review is the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review by the judiciary. Specific courts with judicial review power must annul the acts of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher authority...

 in law in the landmark case Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison, is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring...

in 1803, effectively giving the Supreme Court a power to nullify congressional legislation. Henry Clay
Henry Clay
Henry Clay, Sr. , was a lawyer, politician and skilled orator who represented Kentucky separately in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives...

 became a powerful force in Congress during the 1810s as House Speaker. Congress reflected tension between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces. General Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

 became president and reflected an era of populism.

The partisan era (1830s–1900s)


These years were marked by growth in the power of political parties. The watershed event was the Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 which resolved the slavery issue and unified the nation under federal authority, but weakened the power of states rights. A Gilded Age
Gilded Age
In United States history, the Gilded Age refers to the era of rapid economic and population growth in the United States during the post–Civil War and post-Reconstruction eras of the late 19th century. The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their book The Gilded...

 (1877–1901) was marked by Republican
History of the United States Republican Party
The United States Republican Party is the second oldest currently existing political party in the United States after its great rival, the Democratic Party. It emerged in 1854 to combat the Kansas Nebraska Act which threatened to extend slavery into the territories, and to promote more vigorous...

 dominance of Congress. During this time, lobbying activity became more intense, particularly during the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

 in which influential lobbies advocated for railroad subsidies and tariffs on wool. Immigration and high birth rates swelled the ranks of citizens and the nation grew at a rapid pace. The Progressive Era
Progressive Era
The Progressive Era in the United States was a period of social activism and political reform that flourished from the 1890s to the 1920s. One main goal of the Progressive movement was purification of government, as Progressives tried to eliminate corruption by exposing and undercutting political...

 was characterized by strong party leadership in both houses of Congress as well as calls for reform; sometimes reformers would attack lobbyists as corrupting politics. The position of Speaker of the House
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, or Speaker of the House, is the presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives...

 became extremely powerful under leaders such as Thomas Reed
Thomas Brackett Reed
Thomas Brackett Reed, , occasionally ridiculed as Czar Reed, was a U.S. Representative from Maine, and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1889–1891 and from 1895–1899...

 in 1890 and Joseph Gurney Cannon
Joseph Gurney Cannon
Joseph Gurney Cannon was a United States politician from Illinois and leader of the Republican Party. Cannon served as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1903 to 1911, and historians generally consider him to be the most dominant Speaker in United States history, with such...

. The Senate was effectively controlled by a half dozen men.

The committee era (1910s–1960s)



A system of seniority—in which long-time members of Congress gained more and more power—encouraged politicians of both parties to serve for long terms. Committee chairmen remained influential in both houses until the reforms of the 1970s. Important structural changes included the direct election of senators by popular election according to the Seventeenth Amendment
Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution established direct election of United States Senators by popular vote. The amendment supersedes Article I, § 3, Clauses 1 and 2 of the Constitution, under which senators were elected by state legislatures...

 with positive effects (senators more sensitive to public opinion) and negative effects (undermining the authority of state governments). Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 decisions based on the Constitution's commerce clause
Commerce Clause
The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power listed in the United States Constitution . The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Courts and commentators have tended to...

 expanded congressional power to regulate the economy. One effect of popular election of senators was to reduce the difference between the House and Senate in terms of their link to the electorate. Lame duck reforms according to the Twentieth Amendment
Twentieth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Twentieth Amendment to the United States Constitution establishes the beginning and ending of the terms of the elected federal offices. It also deals with scenarios in which there is no President-elect...

 ended the power of defeated and retiring members of Congress to wield influence despite their lack of accountability.

The Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 ushered in President Franklin Roosevelt and strong control by Democrats and historic New Deal
New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

 policies. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

's election in 1932 marked a shift in government power towards the executive branch. Numerous New Deal
New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

 initiatives came from the White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 rather than being initiated by Congress. The Democratic Party
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

 controlled both houses of Congress for many years. During this time, Republicans and conservative southern Democrats formed the Conservative Coalition
Conservative coalition
In the United States, the conservative coalition was an unofficial Congressional coalition bringing together the conservative majority of the Republican Party and the conservative, mostly Southern, wing of the Democratic Party...

. Democrats maintained control of Congress during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Congress struggled with efficiency in the postwar era partly by reducing the number of standing congressional committees. Southern Democrats became a powerful force in many influential committees although political power alternated between Republicans and Democrats during these years. More complex issues required greater specialization and expertise, such as space flight and atomic energy policy. Senator Joseph McCarthy
Joseph McCarthy
Joseph Raymond "Joe" McCarthy was an American politician who served as a Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957...

 exploited the fear of communism and conducted televised hearings. In 1960, Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

 narrowly won the presidency and power shifted again to the Democrats who dominated both houses of Congress until 1994.

The contemporary era (1970s–today)



Congress enacted Johnson's Great Society program to fight poverty and hunger. The Watergate Scandal
Watergate scandal
The Watergate scandal was a political scandal during the 1970s in the United States resulting from the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement...

 had a powerful effect of waking up a somewhat dormant Congress which investigated presidential wrongdoing and coverups; the scandal "substantially reshaped" relations between the branches of government, suggested political scientist Bruce J. Schulman. Partisanship returned, particularly after 1994; one analyst attributes partisan infighting to slim congressional majorities which discouraged friendly social gatherings in meeting rooms such as the Board of Education. Congress began reasserting its authority. Lobbying became a big factor despite the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act
Federal Election Campaign Act
The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 is a United States federal law which increased disclosure of contributions for federal campaigns. It was amended in 1974 to place legal limits on the campaign contributions...

. Political action committees or PACs could make substantive donations to congressional candidates via such means as soft money contributions. While soft money funds were not given to specific campaigns for candidates, the monies often benefited candidates substantially in an indirect way and helped reelect candidates. Reforms such as the 2002 McCain-Feingold act limited campaign donations but did not limit soft money contributions. One source suggests post-Watergate laws amended in 1974 meant to reduce the "influence of wealthy contributors and end payoffs" instead "legitimized PACs" since they "enabled individuals to band together in support of candidates." From 1974 to 1984, PACs grew from 608 to 3,803 and donations leaped from $12.5 million to $120 million along with concern over PAC influence in Congress. In 2009, there were 4,600 business, labor and special-interest PACs including ones for lawyers
Association of Trial Lawyers of America
The American Association for Justice , formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America is the leading organization for lawyers representing plaintiffs in the United States...

, electricians
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is a labor union which represents workers in the electrical industry in the United States, Canada, Panama and several Caribbean island nations; particularly electricians, or Inside Wiremen, in the construction industry and linemen and other...

, and real estate brokers
National Association of Realtors
The National Association of Realtors , whose members are known as Realtors, is North America's largest trade association. representing over 1.2 million members , including NAR's institutes, societies, and councils, involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries...

. From 2007 to 2008, 175 members of Congress received "half or more of their campaign cash" from PACs.

In the late 20th century, the media became more important in Congress's work." Analyst Michael Schudson suggested that greater publicity undermined the power of political parties and caused "more roads to open up in Congress for individual representatives to influence decisions." Norman Ornstein suggested that media prominence led to a greater emphasis on the negative and sensational side of Congress, and referred to this as the tabloidization of media coverage. Others saw pressure to squeeze a political position into a thirty-second soundbite.

Overview of congressional power


Article I of the Constitution
Article One of the United States Constitution
Article One of the United States Constitution describes the powers of Congress, the legislative branch of the federal government. The Article establishes the powers of and limitations on the Congress, consisting of a House of Representatives composed of Representatives, with each state gaining or...

 sets forth most of the powers of Congress, which include numerous explicit powers enumerated in Section 8. Constitutional amendment
Constitutional amendment
A constitutional amendment is a formal change to the text of the written constitution of a nation or state.Most constitutions require that amendments cannot be enacted unless they have passed a special procedure that is more stringent than that required of ordinary legislation...

s have granted Congress additional powers. Congress also has implied powers
Implied powers
Implied powers, in the United States, are those powers authorized by a legal document which, while not stated, seem to be implied by powers expressly stated...

 derived from the Constitution's Necessary and Proper Clause.

Congress has authority over financial and budgetary policy through the enumerated power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. There is vast authority over budgets, although analyst Eric Patashnik suggested that much of Congress's power to manage the budget has been lost when the welfare state expanded since "entitlements were institutionally detached from Congress's ordinary legislative routine and rhythm." Another factor leading to less control over the budget was a Keynesian
Keynesian economics
Keynesian economics is a school of macroeconomic thought based on the ideas of 20th-century English economist John Maynard Keynes.Keynesian economics argues that private sector decisions sometimes lead to inefficient macroeconomic outcomes and, therefore, advocates active policy responses by the...

 belief that balanced budgets were unnecessary.
The Sixteenth Amendment
Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution allows the Congress to levy an income tax without apportioning it among the states or basing it on Census results...

 in 1913 extended congressional power of taxation to include income tax
Income tax
An income tax is a tax levied on the income of individuals or businesses . Various income tax systems exist, with varying degrees of tax incidence. Income taxation can be progressive, proportional, or regressive. When the tax is levied on the income of companies, it is often called a corporate...

es. The Constitution also grants Congress the exclusive power to appropriate funds, and this power of the purse
Power of the purse
The power of the purse is the ability of one group to manipulate and control the actions of another group by withholding funding, or putting stipulations on the use of funds. The power of the purse can be used to save their money and positively or negatively The power of the purse is the ability...

is one of Congress's primary checks on the executive branch. Congress can borrow money on the credit of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, regulate commerce
Commerce Clause
The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power listed in the United States Constitution . The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Courts and commentators have tended to...

 with foreign nations and among the states, and coin money. Generally, both the Senate and the House of Representatives have equal legislative authority, although only the House may originate revenue and appropriation bills.
Congress has an important role in national defense
Defense (military)
Defense has several uses in the sphere of military application.Personal defense implies measures taken by individual soldiers in protecting themselves whether by use of protective materials such as armor, or field construction of trenches or a bunker, or by using weapons that prevent the enemy...

, including the exclusive power to declare war, to raise and maintain the armed forces
Military of the United States
The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.The United States has a strong tradition of civilian control of the military...

, and to make rules for the military. Some critics charge that the executive branch has usurped Congress's constitutionally defined task of declaring war. While historically presidents initiated the process for going to war, they asked for and received formal war declarations from Congress for the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

, the Mexican–American War
Mexican–American War
The Mexican–American War, also known as the First American Intervention, the Mexican War, or the U.S.–Mexican War, was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 in the wake of the 1845 U.S...

, the Spanish–American War, World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, and World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, although President Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...

's military move into Panama in 1903 did not get Congressional assent. In the early days after the North Korean invasion of 1950, President Truman
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States . As President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third vice president and the 34th Vice President of the United States , he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when President Roosevelt died less than three months after beginning his...

 described the American response as a "police action". According to Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

magazine in 1970, "U.S. presidents [had] ordered troops into position or action without a formal congressional declaration a total of 149 times." In 1993, Michael Kinsley
Michael Kinsley
Michael Kinsley is an American political journalist, commentator, television host, and pundit. Primarily active in print media as both a writer and editor, he also became known to television audiences as a co-host on Crossfire...

 wrote that "Congress's war power has become the most flagrantly disregarded provision in the Constitution," and that the "real erosion [of Congress's war power] began after World War II." Disagreement about the extent of congressional versus presidential power regarding war has been present periodically throughout the nation's history."

Congress can establish post offices and post roads, issue patent
Patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

s and copyright
Copyright
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

s, fix standards of weights and measures, establish courts inferior to the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

, and "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof." Article Four
Article Four of the United States Constitution
Article Four of the United States Constitution relates to the states. The article outlines the duties states have to each other, as well as those the federal government has to the states...

 gives Congress the power to admit new states into the Union.
One of Congress's foremost non-legislative functions is the power to investigate and oversee the executive branch. Congressional oversight
Congressional oversight
Congressional oversight refers to oversight by the United States Congress of the Executive Branch, including the numerous U.S. federal agencies. Congressional oversight refers to the review, monitoring, and supervision of federal agencies, programs, activities, and policy implementation. Congress...

 is usually delegated to committees
United States Congressional committee
A congressional committee is a legislative sub-organization in the United States Congress that handles a specific duty . Committee membership enables members to develop specialized knowledge of the matters under their jurisdiction...

 and is facilitated by Congress's subpoena power. Some critics have charged that Congress has in some instances failed to do an adequate job of overseeing
Congressional oversight
Congressional oversight refers to oversight by the United States Congress of the Executive Branch, including the numerous U.S. federal agencies. Congressional oversight refers to the review, monitoring, and supervision of federal agencies, programs, activities, and policy implementation. Congress...

 the other branches of government. In the Plame affair
Plame affair
The Plame Affair involved the identification of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert Central Intelligence Agency officer. Mrs. Wilson's relationship with the CIA was formerly classified information...

, critics including Representative Henry A. Waxman charged that Congress was not doing an adequate job of oversight in this case. There have been concerns about congressional oversight of executive actions such as warrantless wiretapping, although others respond that Congress did investigate the legality of presidential decisions. Political scientists Ornstein and Mann suggested that oversight functions do not help a members of Congress win reelection. Congress also has the exclusive power of removal, allowing impeachment
Impeachment
Impeachment is a formal process in which an official is accused of unlawful activity, the outcome of which, depending on the country, may include the removal of that official from office as well as other punishment....

 and removal of the president, federal judges and other federal officers. There have been charges that presidents acting under the doctrine of the unitary executive have assumed important legislative and budgetary powers that should belong to Congress. So-called signing statements are one way in which a president can "tip the balance of power between Congress and the White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 a little more in favor of the executive branch," according to one account. Past presidents, including Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

, George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush
George Herbert Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 41st President of the United States . He had previously served as the 43rd Vice President of the United States , a congressman, an ambassador, and Director of Central Intelligence.Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, to...

, Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

, and George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 have made public statements when signing congressional legislation about how they understand a bill or plan to execute it, and commentators including the American Bar Association
American Bar Association
The American Bar Association , founded August 21, 1878, is a voluntary bar association of lawyers and law students, which is not specific to any jurisdiction in the United States. The ABA's most important stated activities are the setting of academic standards for law schools, and the formulation...

 have described this practice as against the spirit of the Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. There have been concerns that presidential authority to cope with financial crises is eclipsing the power of Congress. In 2008, George F. Will called the Capitol building a "tomb for the antiquated idea that the legislative branch matters."

Enumerated powers


The Constitution details the powers of Congress in detail. In addition, other congressional powers have been granted, or confirmed, by constitutional amendment
Constitutional amendment
A constitutional amendment is a formal change to the text of the written constitution of a nation or state.Most constitutions require that amendments cannot be enacted unless they have passed a special procedure that is more stringent than that required of ordinary legislation...

s. The Thirteenth
Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution officially abolished and continues to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. It was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, passed by the House on January 31, 1865, and adopted on December 6, 1865. On...

 (1865), Fourteenth
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the Dred Scott v...

 (1868), and Fifteenth Amendments
Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits each government in the United States from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude"...

 (1870) gave Congress authority to enact legislation to enforce rights of African Americans, including voting rights, due process
Due process
Due process is the legal code that the state must venerate all of the legal rights that are owed to a person under the principle. Due process balances the power of the state law of the land and thus protects individual persons from it...

, and equal protection under the law. Generally militia forces are controlled by state governments, not Congress.

Implied powers and the commerce clause


Congress also has implied powers
Implied powers
Implied powers, in the United States, are those powers authorized by a legal document which, while not stated, seem to be implied by powers expressly stated...

 deriving from the Constitution's Necessary and Proper Clause which permit Congress to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof." Broad interpretations of this clause and of the Commerce Clause
Commerce Clause
The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power listed in the United States Constitution . The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Courts and commentators have tended to...

, the enumerated power to regulate commerce, in rulings such as McCulloch v Maryland, have effectively widened the scope of Congress's legislative authority far beyond that prescribed in Section 8.

Checks and balances




Representative Lee H. Hamilton
Lee H. Hamilton
Lee Herbert Hamilton is a former member of the United States House of Representatives and currently a member of the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory Council. A member of the Democratic Party, Hamilton represented the 9th congressional district of Indiana from 1965 to 1999...

 explained how Congress functions within the federal government:

To me the key to understanding it is balance. The founders went to great lengths to balance institutions against each other—balancing powers among the three branches: Congress, the president, and the Supreme Court; between the House of Representatives and the Senate; between the federal government and the states; among states of different sizes and regions with different interests; between the powers of government and the rights of citizens, as spelled out in the Bill of Rights ... No one part of government dominates the other.


The Constitution provides checks and balances
Separation of powers under the United States Constitution
Separation of powers is a political doctrine originating from the United States Constitution, according to which the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the United States government are kept distinct in order to prevent abuse of power. This U.S...

 among the three branches of the federal government. Its authors expected the greater power to lie with Congress as described in Article One.

The influence of Congress on the presidency has varied from period to period depending on factors such as congressional leadership, presidential political influence, historical circumstances such as war, and individual initiative by members of Congress. The impeachment
Impeachment in the United States
Impeachment in the United States is an expressed power of the legislature that allows for formal charges against a civil officer of government for crimes committed in office...

 of Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States . As Vice-President of the United States in 1865, he succeeded Abraham Lincoln following the latter's assassination. Johnson then presided over the initial and contentious Reconstruction era of the United States following the American...

 made the presidency less powerful than Congress for a considerable period afterwards. The 20th and 21st centuries have seen the rise of presidential power under politicians such as Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...

, Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

, FDR
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

, Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

, Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

, and George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

. However, in recent years, Congress has restricted presidential power with laws such as the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974
Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974
The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 is a United States federal law that governs the role of the Congress in the United States budget process.-The Congressional budget process:...

 and the War Powers Resolution
War Powers Resolution
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 is a federal law intended to check the power of the President in committing the United States to an armed conflict without the consent of Congress. The resolution was adopted in the form of a United States Congress joint resolution; this provides that the...

. Nevertheless, the Presidency remains considerably more powerful today than during the 19th century. Executive branch officials are often loath to reveal sensitive information to members of Congress because of concern that information could not be kept secret; in return, knowing they may be in the dark about executive branch activity, congressional officials are more likely to distrust their counterparts in executive agencies. Many government actions require fast coordinated effort by many agencies, and this is a task that Congress is ill-suited for. Congress is slow, open, divided, and not well matched to handle more rapid executive action or do a good job of overseeing such activity, according to one analysis.


The Constitution concentrates removal powers in the Congress by empowering and obligating the House of Representatives to impeach
Impeachment in the United States
Impeachment in the United States is an expressed power of the legislature that allows for formal charges against a civil officer of government for crimes committed in office...

 both executive and judicial officials for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Impeachment is a formal accusation of unlawful activity by a civil officer or government official. The Senate is constitutionally empowered and obligated to try all impeachments. A simple majority in the House is required to impeach an official; however, a two-thirds majority in the Senate is required for conviction. A convicted official is automatically removed from office; in addition, the Senate may stipulate that the defendant
Defendant
A defendant or defender is any party who is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff or pursuer in a civil lawsuit before a court, or any party who has been formally charged or accused of violating a criminal statute...

 be banned from holding office in the future. Impeachment proceedings may not inflict more than this; however, a convicted party may face criminal penalties in a normal court of law. In the history of the United States, the House of Representatives has impeached sixteen officials, of whom seven were convicted. Another resigned before the Senate could complete the trial. Only two presidents have ever been impeached: Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States . As Vice-President of the United States in 1865, he succeeded Abraham Lincoln following the latter's assassination. Johnson then presided over the initial and contentious Reconstruction era of the United States following the American...

 in 1868 and Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

 in 1999. Both trials
Trial (law)
In law, a trial is when parties to a dispute come together to present information in a tribunal, a formal setting with the authority to adjudicate claims or disputes. One form of tribunal is a court...

 ended in acquittal
Acquittal
In the common law tradition, an acquittal formally certifies the accused is free from the charge of an offense, as far as the criminal law is concerned. This is so even where the prosecution is abandoned nolle prosequi...

; in Johnson's case, the Senate fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority required for conviction. In 1974, Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

 resigned from office after impeachment proceedings in the House Judiciary Committee indicated he would eventually be removed from office.

The Senate has an important check on the executive power by confirming Cabinet official
Official
An official is someone who holds an office in an organization or government and participates in the exercise of authority .A government official or functionary is an official who is involved in public...

s, judge
Judge
A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as part of a panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across different jurisdictions. The judge is supposed to conduct the trial impartially and in an open...

s, and other high officers "by and with the advice and consent" of the Senate. It confirms most presidential nominees but rejections are not uncommon. Furthermore, treaties negotiated by the President must be ratified by a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate to take effect. As a result, presidential arm-twisting of senators can happen before a key vote; for example, President Obama's secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton is the 67th United States Secretary of State, serving in the administration of President Barack Obama. She was a United States Senator for New York from 2001 to 2009. As the wife of the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, she was the First Lady of the...

, urged her former senate colleagues to approve a nuclear arms treaty with Russia in 2010. The House of Representatives has no formal role in either the ratification of treaties or the appointment of federal officials, other than filling vacancies in the office of Vice-President; a vote in each House is required to confirm a president's nomination for vice-president if a vacancy happens.

In 1803, the Supreme Court established judicial review
Judicial review
Judicial review is the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review by the judiciary. Specific courts with judicial review power must annul the acts of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher authority...

 of federal legislation in Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison, is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring...

, holding, however, that Congress could not grant unconstitutional power to the Court itself. The Constitution does not explicitly state that the courts may exercise judicial review; however, the notion that courts could declare laws unconstitutional was envisioned by the founding fathers
Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, establishing the United States Constitution, or by some...

. Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

, for example, mentioned and expounded upon the doctrine in Federalist No. 78
Federalist No. 78
Federalist No. 78 is an essay by Alexander Hamilton, the seventy-eighth of the Federalist Papers. Like all of the Federalist Papers, it was published under the pseudonym Publius....

. Originalists
Originalism
In the context of United States constitutional interpretation, originalism is a principle of interpretation that tries to discover the original meaning or intent of the constitution. It is based on the principle that the judiciary is not supposed to create, amend or repeal laws but only to uphold...

 on the Supreme Court have argued that if the constitution does not say something explicitly it is unconstitutional to infer what it should, might or could have said. Judicial review means that the Supreme Court can nullify a congressional law. It is a huge check by the courts on the legislative authority and limits congressional power substantially. In 1857, for example, the Supreme Court struck down provisions of a congressional act of 1820 in its Dred Scott
Dred Scott
Dred Scott , was an African-American slave in the United States who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom and that of his wife and their two daughters in the Dred Scott v...

 decision. At the same time, the Supreme Court can extend congressional power through its constitutional interpretations.

Investigations are conducted to gather information on the need for future legislation, to test the effectiveness of laws already passed, and to inquire into the qualifications and performance of members and officials of the other branches. Committees may hold hearings, and, if necessary, compel individuals to testify when investigating issues over which it has the power to legislate by issuing subpoena
Subpoena
A subpoena is a writ by a government agency, most often a court, that has authority to compel testimony by a witness or production of evidence under a penalty for failure. There are two common types of subpoena:...

s. Witnesses who refuse to testify may be cited for contempt of Congress
Contempt of Congress
Contempt of Congress is the act of obstructing the work of the United States Congress or one of its committees. Historically the bribery of a senator or representative was considered contempt of Congress...

, and those who testify falsely may be charged with perjury
Perjury
Perjury, also known as forswearing, is the willful act of swearing a false oath or affirmation to tell the truth, whether spoken or in writing, concerning matters material to a judicial proceeding. That is, the witness falsely promises to tell the truth about matters which affect the outcome of the...

. Most committee hearings are open to the public (the House
United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
The United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is a committee of the United States House of Representatives, currently chaired by Mike Rogers. It is the primary committee in the U.S...

 and Senate intelligence committees
United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
The United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is dedicated to overseeing the United States Intelligence Community—the agencies and bureaus of the federal government of the United States who provide information and analysis for leaders of the executive and legislative branches. The...

 are the exception); important hearings are widely reported in the mass media
Mass media
Mass media refers collectively to all media technologies which are intended to reach a large audience via mass communication. Broadcast media transmit their information electronically and comprise of television, film and radio, movies, CDs, DVDs and some other gadgets like cameras or video consoles...

 and transcripts published a few months afterwards. Congress, in the course of studying possible laws and investigating matters, generates an incredible amount of information in various forms, and can be described as a publisher. Indeed, it publishes House and Senate reports and maintains databases which are updated irregularly with publications in a variety of electronic formats.

Congress also plays a role in presidential elections. Both Houses meet in joint session on the sixth day of January following a presidential election to count the electoral votes, and there are procedures to follow if no candidate wins a majority.

The main result of congressional activity is the creation of laws. It is a huge body of rulings contained in the United States Code arranged by subject matter alphabetically under fifty title headings to present the laws "in a concise and usable form".

Structure



Congress is split into two branches—House and Senate—and manages the huge task of writing national legislation by dividing work into separate committees which specialize in different areas. Some members of Congress are elected by their peers to be officers of these committees. Further, Congress has ancillary organizations such as the Government Accountability Office
Government Accountability Office
The Government Accountability Office is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the United States Congress. It is located in the legislative branch of the United States government.-History:...

 and the Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

 to help provide it with information, and members of Congress have staff and offices to assist them as well. In addition, a vast industry of lobbyists helps members write legislation on behalf of diverse corporate and labor interests.

Committees


Specialization


The committee structure permits members of Congress to study a particular subject intensely. It is neither expected nor possible that a member be an expert on all subject areas before Congress. As time goes by, members develop expertise in particular subjects and their legal aspects. Committees
United States Congressional committee
A congressional committee is a legislative sub-organization in the United States Congress that handles a specific duty . Committee membership enables members to develop specialized knowledge of the matters under their jurisdiction...

 investigate specialized subjects and advise the entire Congress about choices and trade-offs. The choice of specialty may be influenced by the member's constituency, important regional issues, prior background and experience. Senators often choose a different specialty from that of the other senator from their state to prevent overlap. Some committees specialize in running the business of other committees and exert a powerful influence over all legislation; for example, the House Ways and Means Committee has considerable influence over House affairs.

Power


Committees write legislation. While procedures such as the House discharge petition process can introduce bills to the House floor and effectively bypass committee input, they are exceedingly difficult to implement without committee action. Committees have power and have been called independent fiefdoms. Legislative, oversight, and internal administrative tasks are divided among about two hundred committees and subcommittees
United States Congressional subcommittee
A congressional subcommittee in the United States Congress is a subdivision of a United States congressional committee that considers specified matters and reports back to the full committee....

 which gather information, evaluate alternatives, and identify problems. They propose solutions for consideration by the full chamber. In addition, they perform the function of oversight by monitoring the executive branch and investigating wrongdoing.

Officers


At the start of each two-year session the House elects a speaker
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, or Speaker of the House, is the presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives...

 who does not normally preside over debates but serves as its majority leader. In the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

, the Vice President
Vice President of the United States
The Vice President of the United States is the holder of a public office created by the United States Constitution. The Vice President, together with the President of the United States, is indirectly elected by the people, through the Electoral College, to a four-year term...

 is the ex officio president of the Senate. In addition, the Senate elects an officer called the President pro tempore
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
The President pro tempore is the second-highest-ranking official of the United States Senate. The United States Constitution states that the Vice President of the United States is the President of the Senate and the highest-ranking official of the Senate despite not being a member of the body...

. Pro tempore means for the time being and this office is usually held by the most senior member of the Senate's majority party and customarily keeps this position until there's a change in party control. Accordingly, the Senate does not necessarily elect a new president pro tempore at the beginning of a new Congress.

Library of Congress



The Library of Congress was established by an act of Congress in 1800. It is primarily housed in three buildings on Capitol Hill, but also includes several other sites: the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Washington, D.C.; the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia; a large book storage facility located at Ft. Meade, Maryland; and multiple overseas offices. The Library had mostly law books when it was burned by a British raiding party during the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

, but the library's collections were restored and expanded when Congress authorized the purchase of Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

's private library. One of the Library's missions is to serve the Congress and its staff as well as the American public. It is the largest library in the world with nearly 150 million items including books, films, maps, photographs, music, manuscripts, graphics, and materials in 470 languages.

Congressional Research Service



The Congressional Research Service
Congressional Research Service
The Congressional Research Service , known as "Congress's think tank", is the public policy research arm of the United States Congress. As a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress, CRS works exclusively and directly for Members of Congress, their Committees and staff on a...

 provides detailed, up-to-date and non-partisan research for senators, representatives, and their staff to help them carry out their official duties. It provides ideas for legislation, helps members analyze a bill, facilitates public hearings, makes reports, consults on matters such as parliamentary procedure, and helps the two chambers resolve disagreements. It has been called the "House's think tank" and has a staff of about 900 employees.

Congressional Budget Office



The Congressional Budget Office or CBO is a federal agency which provides economic data
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 to Congress.
It was created as an independent nonpartisan agency by the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974
Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974
The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 is a United States federal law that governs the role of the Congress in the United States budget process.-The Congressional budget process:...

. It helps Congress estimate revenue inflows from taxes and helps the budgeting process. It makes projections about such matters as the national debt as well as likely costs of legislation. It prepares an annual Economic and Budget Outlook with a mid-year update and writes An Analysis of the President's Budgetary Proposals for the Senate's Appropriations Committee. The Speaker of the House
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, or Speaker of the House, is the presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives...

 and the Senate's President pro tempore jointly appoint the CBO Director for a four year term.

Lobbyists



Lobbyists represent diverse interests and often seek to influence congressional decisions to reflect their clients' needs. Lobby groups and their members sometimes write legislation and whip
Whip (politics)
A whip is an official in a political party whose primary purpose is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. Whips are a party's "enforcers", who typically offer inducements and threaten punishments for party members to ensure that they vote according to the official party policy...

 bills. In 2007 there were approximately 17,000 federal lobbyists in Washington. They explain to legislators the goals of their organizations. Some lobbyists represent non-profit organizations and work pro-bono for issues in which they are personally interested. The term lobby is from Britain based on approaches by interest groups directed at Members of Parliament
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

 who would meet in the lobbies of the House of Commons.

Partisanship versus bipartisanship


Congress has alternated between periods of constructive cooperation and compromise between parties known as bipartisanship
Bipartisanship
Bipartisanship is a political situation, usually in the context of a two-party system such as the United States, in which opposing political parties find common ground through compromise. The adjective bipartisan can refer to any bill, act, resolution, or other political act in which both of the...

 and periods of fierce political infighting known as partisanship. The period after the Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 was marked by partisanship as is the case today. It is generally easier for committees to reach accord on issues when compromise is possible. Some political scientists
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

 speculate that a prolonged period marked by narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress has intensified partisanship in the last few decades but that an alternation of control of Congress between Democrats and Republicans may lead to greater flexibility in policies as well as pragmatism and civility within the institution.

Sessions


A term of Congress is divided into two "sessions", one for each year; Congress has occasionally been called into an extra or special session. A new session commences on January 3 each year unless Congress decides differently. The Constitution requires Congress meet at least once each year and forbids either house from meeting outside the Capitol.

Joint sessions



Joint Sessions of the United States Congress occur on special occasions that require a concurrent resolution from both House and Senate. These sessions include counting electoral votes after a presidential election and the president's State of the Union address. The constitutionally-mandated annual "speech", modeled on Britain's Speech from the Throne
Speech from the Throne
A speech from the throne is an event in certain monarchies in which the reigning sovereign reads a prepared speech to a complete session of parliament, outlining the government's agenda for the coming session...

, was written by most presidents after Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 but personally delivered as a spoken oration beginning with Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

 in 1913. Joint Sessions and Joint Meetings are traditionally presided over by the Speaker of the House
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, or Speaker of the House, is the presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives...

 except when counting presidential electoral votes when the vice president
Vice President of the United States
The Vice President of the United States is the holder of a public office created by the United States Constitution. The Vice President, together with the President of the United States, is indirectly elected by the people, through the Electoral College, to a four-year term...

 presides.

Bills and resolutions



Ideas for legislation can come from members, lobbyists, state legislatures, constituents, legislative counsel, or executive agencies. The usual next step is for the proposal to be passed to a committee for review. A proposal is usually in one of these forms:
  • Bills are laws in the making. A House-originated bill begins with the letters "H.R." for "House of Representatives", followed by a number kept as it progresses.

  • Joint resolutions. There is little difference between a bill and a joint resolution since both are treated similarly; a joint resolution originating from the House, for example, begins "H.J.Res." followed by its number.

  • Concurrent Resolutions affect only both House and Senate and accordingly are not presented to the president for approval later. In the House, it begins with "H.Con.Res."

  • Simple resolutions concern only the House or only the Senate and begin with "H.Res."


Representatives introduce a bill while the House is in session by placing it in the hopper on the Clerk's desk. It's assigned a number and referred to a committee which studies each bill intensely at this stage. Drafting statutes requires "great skill, knowledge, and experience" and sometimes take a year or more. Sometimes lobbyists
Lobbying
Lobbying is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies. Lobbying is done by various people or groups, from private-sector individuals or corporations, fellow legislators or government officials, or...

 write legislation
Legislation
Legislation is law which has been promulgated by a legislature or other governing body, or the process of making it...

 and submit it to a member for introduction. Joint resolutions are the normal way to propose a constitutional amendment or declare war. On the other hand, concurrent resolutions (passed by both houses) and simple resolutions (passed by only one house) do not have the force of law
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 but express the opinion of Congress or regulate procedure
Parliamentary procedure
Parliamentary procedure is the body of rules, ethics, and customs governing meetings and other operations of clubs, organizations, legislative bodies, and other deliberative assemblies...

. Bills may be introduced by any member of either house. However, the Constitution provides that: "All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives." While the Senate cannot originate revenue
Revenue
In business, revenue is income that a company receives from its normal business activities, usually from the sale of goods and services to customers. In many countries, such as the United Kingdom, revenue is referred to as turnover....

 and appropriation bills, it has power to amend or reject them. Congress has sought ways to establish appropriate spending levels.

Each chamber determines its own internal rules of operation unless specified in the Constitution or prescribed by law. In the House, a Rules Committee guides legislation; in the Senate, a Standing Rules committee is in charge. Each branch has its own traditions; for example, the Senate relies heavily on the practice of getting "unanimous consent" for noncontroversial matters. House and Senate rules can be complex, sometimes requiring a hundred specific steps before becoming a law. Members sometimes use experts such as Walter Oleszek to learn about proper procedures.

Each bill goes through several stages in each house including consideration by a committee and advice from the Government Accountability Office
Government Accountability Office
The Government Accountability Office is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the United States Congress. It is located in the legislative branch of the United States government.-History:...

. Most legislation is considered by standing committee
Standing Committee
In the United States Congress, standing committees are permanent legislative panels established by the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate rules. . Because they have legislative jurisdiction, standing committees consider bills and issues and recommend measures for...

s which have jurisdiction over a particular subject such as Agriculture or Appropriations. The House has twenty standing committees; the Senate has sixteen. Standing committees meet at least once each month. Almost all standing committee meetings for transacting business must be open to the public unless the committee votes, publicly, to close the meeting. A committee might call for public hearings on important bills. Each committee is led by a chair who belongs to the majority party and a ranking member
Ranking minority member
In United States politics, the term ranking minority member refers to the most senior member of a congressional or state legislative committee from the minority party. This position is sometimes referred to as ranking member. On many committees the ranking minority member, along with the chairman,...

 of the minority party. Witnesses and experts can present their case for or against a bill. Then, a bill may go to what's called a mark-up session where committee members debate the bill's merits and may offer amendments or revisions. Committees may also amend the bill, but the full house holds the power to accept or reject committee amendments. After debate, the committee votes whether it wishes to report the measure to the full house. If a bill is tabled then it is rejected. If amendments are extensive, sometimes a new bill with amendments built in will be submitted as a so-called clean bill with a new number. Both houses have procedures under which committees can be bypassed or overruled but they are rarely used. Generally, members who have been in Congress longer have greater seniority and therefore greater power.

A bill which reaches the floor of the full house can be simple or complex and begins with an enacting formula such as "Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled." Consideration of a bill requires, itself, a rule which is a simple resolution specifying the particulars of debate—time limits, possibility of further amendments, and such. Each side has equal time and members can yield to other members who wish to speak. Sometimes opponents seek to recommit a bill which means to change part of it. Generally, discussion requires a quorum, usually half of the total number of representatives, before discussion can begin, although there are exceptions. The house may debate and amend the bill; the precise procedures used by the House and Senate differ. A final vote on the bill follows.

Once a bill is approved by one house, it is sent to the other which may pass, reject, or amend it. For the bill to become law, both houses must agree to identical versions of the bill. If the second house amends the bill, then the differences between the two versions must be reconciled in a conference committee, an ad hoc committee that includes both senators and representatives sometimes by using a reconciliation process to limit budget bills. Both Houses use a budget enforcement mechanism informally known as pay-as-you-go or paygo which discourages members from considering acts which increase budget deficits. If both houses agree to the version reported by the conference committee, the bill passes, otherwise it fails.

The Constitution specifies that a majority of members known as a quorum
Quorum
A quorum is the minimum number of members of a deliberative assembly necessary to conduct the business of that group...

be present before doing business in each house. However, the rules of each house assume that a quorum is present unless a quorum call demonstrates the contrary. Since representatives and senators who are present rarely demand quorum calls, debate often continues despite the lack of a majority.

Voting within Congress can take many forms, including systems using lights and bells and electronic voting. Both houses use voice voting to decide most matters in which members shout "aye" or "no" and the presiding officer announces the result. The Constitution, however, requires a recorded vote
Recorded vote
A recorded vote is a vote in which the names of those voting for and against a motion may be recorded.In many deliberative bodies , questions may be decided by voice vote, but the voice vote does not allow one to determine at a later date which members voted for and against the motion...

 if demanded by one-fifth of the members present. If the voice vote is unclear or if the matter is controversial, a recorded vote usually happens. The Senate uses roll call
Roll call
Roll call is the calling of the names of people from a list to determine the presence or absence of the listed people . The term applies to the calling itself, to the time moment of this procedure, and to a military signal that announces it Roll call is the calling of the names of people from a...

 voting in which a clerk calls out the names of all the senators, each senator stating "aye" or "no" when his or her name is announced. The House reserves roll call votes for the most formal matters, as a roll-call of all 435 representatives takes quite some time; normally, members vote by using an electronic device. In the case of a tie, the motion in question fails. In the Senate, the vice president may cast the tiebreaking vote if he or she is present.

Most votes, including quorum votes, are done electronically, and allow members to vote yea or nay or present or open. Members insert a voting ID card and can change their votes during the last five minutes if they choose; in addition, paper ballots are used on some occasions—yea indicated by green and nay by red. One member can not cast a vote for another. Congressional votes are recorded on an online database.

After passage by both houses, a bill is considered to be enrolled and is sent to the president
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 for approval. The president may sign it making it law or veto
Veto
A veto, Latin for "I forbid", is the power of an officer of the state to unilaterally stop an official action, especially enactment of a piece of legislation...

 it, perhaps returning it to Congress with his objections. A vetoed bill can still become law if each house of Congress votes to override the veto with a two-thirds majority. Finally, the president may do nothing—neither signing nor vetoing the bill—and then the bill becomes law automatically after ten days (not counting Sundays) according to the Constitution. But if Congress is adjourned during this period, presidents may veto legislation passed at the end of a congressional session simply by ignoring it; the maneuver is known as a pocket veto
Pocket veto
A pocket veto is a legislative maneuver in United States federal lawmaking that allows the President to veto a bill indirectly.The U.S. Constitution limits the President's period for decision on whether to sign or veto any legislation to ten days while the United States Congress is in session...

, and cannot be overridden by the adjourned Congress.

Citizens and representatives


Senators face reelection every six years, and representatives every two. Reelections encourage candidates to focus their publicity efforts at their home states or districts. Running for reelection can be a grueling process of distant travel and fund-raising which distracts senators and representatives from paying attention to governing, according to some critics. although others respond that the process is necessary to keep members of Congress in touch with voters.
Nevertheless, incumbent members of Congress running for reelection have strong advantages over challengers. They raise more money because donors expect incumbents to win, they give their funds to them rather than challengers. And donations are vital for winning elections. One critic compared being elected to Congress to receiving life tenure
Life tenure
A life tenure or service during good behaviour is a term of office that lasts for the office holder's lifetime , unless the office holder is removed from office for cause under extraordinary circumstances or chooses to resign.Judges and members of some upper chambers have life tenure...

 at a university. Another advantage for representatives is the practice of gerrymandering
Gerrymandering
In the process of setting electoral districts, gerrymandering is a practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan, incumbent-protected districts...

. After each ten year census, states are allocated representatives based on population, and officials in power can choose how to draw the congressional district boundaries to support candidates from their party. Both senators and representatives enjoy free mailing privileges called franking privileges. As a result, reelection rates of members of Congress hovers around 90 percent, causing some critics to accuse them of being a privileged class. Academics such as Princeton's Stephen Macedo
Stephen Macedo
Stephen Macedo is the Director for the Center for Human Values at Princeton University and is also the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics.-Education:...

 have proposed solutions to fix gerrymandering.

Expensive campaigns


In 1971, the cost of running for congress in Utah
Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

 was $70,000 but costs have climbed. The biggest expense is television ads. Today's races cost more than a million dollars for a House seat, and six million or more for a Senate seat. Since fundraising is vital, "members of Congress are forced to spend ever-increasing hours raising money for their re-election."

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 has treated campaign contributions as a free speech issue. Some see money as a good influence in politics since it "enables candidates to communicate with voters." Few members retire from Congress without complaining about how much it costs to campaign for reelection. Critics contend that members of Congress are more likely to attend to the needs of heavy campaign contributors than to ordinary citizens.

Elections are influenced by many variables. Some political scientists speculate there is a coattail effect (when a popular president or party position has the effect of reelecting incumbents who win by "riding on the president's coattails"), although there is some evidence that the coattail effect is irregular and possibly declining since the 1950s. Some districts are so heavily Democratic or Republican that they are called a safe seat
Safe seat
A safe seat is a seat in a legislative body which is regarded as fully secured, either by a certain political party, the incumbent representative personally or a combination of both...

; any candidate winning the primary will almost always be elected, and these candidates do not need to spend money on advertising. But some races can be competitive when there is no incumbent. If a seat becomes vacant in an open district, then both parties may spend heavily on advertising in these races; in California in 1992, only four of twenty races for House seats were considered highly competitive.

Television as a factor


Since members of Congress must advertise heavily on television, this almost always requires so-called negative advertising which smears an opponent's character without focus on issues, and these attack ads are considered by most political operatives as necessary. Negative advertising is seen as effective since "the messages tend to stick." Attack ads are prevalent in most congressional races today. But this has the unintended consequence of souring the public on the political process in general. What's come to describe most member of Congress today is a need to avoid blame. One wrong decision or one damaging television image can mean defeat at the next election which leads to a culture of risk avoidance as well as a need to make policy decisions behind closed-doors along with efforts to concentrate publicity efforts at their home districts.

Public perceptions of Congress



Prominent Founding Fathers
Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, establishing the United States Constitution, or by some...

 writing in the Federalist Papers
Federalist Papers
The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 articles or essays promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution. Seventy-seven of the essays were published serially in The Independent Journal and The New York Packet between October 1787 and August 1788...

 felt elections were essential to liberty and that a bond between the people and the representatives was particularly essential and that "frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured." In 2009, however, few Americans were familiar with leaders of Congress. The percentage of Americans eligible to vote who did, in fact, vote was 63% in 1960, but has been falling since, although there was a slight upward trend in the 2008 election. Public opinion polls asking people if they approve of the job Congress is doing have, in the last few decades, hovered around 25% in the last two decades with some variation. Scholar Julian Zeliger suggested that the "size, messiness, virtues, and vices that make Congress so interesting also create enormous barriers to our understanding the institution... Unlike the presidency, Congress is difficult to conceptualize." Others scholars suggest that despite the criticism, "Congress is a remarkably resilient institution ... its place in the political process is not threatened ... it is rich in resources" and that most members behave ethically. They contend that "Congress is easy to dislike and often difficult to defend" and this perception is exacerbated because many challengers running for Congress run against Congress, which is an "old form of American politics" that further undermines Congress's reputation with the public:

The rough-and-tumble world of legislating is not orderly and civil, human frailties too often taint its membership, and legislative outcomes are often frustrating and ineffective ... Still, we are not exaggerating when we say that Congress is essential to American democracy. We would not have survived as a nation without a Congress that represented the diverse interests of our society, conducted a public debate on the major issues, found compromises to resolve conflicts peacefully, and limited the power of our executive, military, and judicial institutions ... The popularity of Congress ebbs and flows with the public's confidence in government generally ... the legislative process is easy to dislike—it often generates political posturing and grandstanding, it necessarily involves compromise, and it often leaves broken promises in its trail. Also, members of Congress often appear self-serving as they pursue their political careers and represent interests and reflect values that are controversial. Scandals, even when they involve a single member, add to the public's frustration with Congress and have contributed to the institution's low ratings in opinion polls.—Smith, Roberts & Wielen


An additional factor that confounds public perceptions of Congress is that Congressional issues are becoming more technical and complex and require expertise in subjects such as science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 and engineering
Engineering
Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of...

 and economics
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

. As a result, Congress often cedes authority to experts at the executive branch.

Smaller states and bigger states


When the Constitution was ratified in 1787, the ratio of the populations of large states to small states was roughly twelve to one. The Connecticut Compromise
Connecticut Compromise
The Connecticut Compromise was an agreement that large and small states reached during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that in part defined the legislative structure and representation that each state would have under the United States Constitution...

 gave every state, large and small, an equal vote in the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

. Since each state has two senators, residents of smaller states have more clout in the Senate than residents of larger states. But since 1787, the population disparity between large and small states has grown; in 2006, for example, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 had seventy times the population of Wyoming
Wyoming
Wyoming is a state in the mountain region of the Western United States. The western two thirds of the state is covered mostly with the mountain ranges and rangelands in the foothills of the Eastern Rocky Mountains, while the eastern third of the state is high elevation prairie known as the High...

. Critics such as constitutional scholar Sanford Levinson
Sanford Levinson
Sanford Victor Levinson is a prominent American liberal law professor and acknowledged expert on Constitutional law and legal scholar and professor of government at the University of Texas Law School...

 have suggested that the population disparity works against residents of large states and causes a steady redistribution of resources from "large states to small states." However, others argue that the Connecticut compromise was deliberately intended by the Framers
Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, establishing the United States Constitution, or by some...

 to construct the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 so that each state had equal footing not based on population, and contend that the result works well on balance.

Members and constituents



A major role for members of Congress is providing services to constituents. Constituents request assistance with problems. Providing services helps members of Congress win votes and elections. and can make a difference in close races. Congressional staff can help citizens navigate government bureaucracies. One academic described the complex intertwined relation between lawmakers and constituents as home style.

Congressional style


One way to categorize lawmakers, according to political scientist Richard Fenno
Richard Fenno
Richard F. Fenno, Jr. is an American political scientist known for his pioneering work on the U.S. Congress and its members....

, is by their general motivation:
  1. Reelection. These are lawmakers who "never met a voter they didn't like" and provide excellent constituent services.
  2. Good public policy. Legislators who "burnish a reputation for policy expertise and leadership."
  3. Power in the chamber. Lawmakers who spend serious time along the "rail of the House floor or in the Senate cloakroom ministering to the needs of their colleagues." Famous legislator Henry Clay
    Henry Clay
    Henry Clay, Sr. , was a lawyer, politician and skilled orator who represented Kentucky separately in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives...

     in the mid-19th century was described as an "issue entrepreneur" who looked for issues to serve his ambitions.

Privileges protecting members


Members of Congress enjoy parliamentary privilege
Parliamentary privilege
Parliamentary privilege is a legal immunity enjoyed by members of certain legislatures, in which legislators are granted protection against civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made related to one's duties as a legislator. It is common in countries whose constitutions are...

, including freedom from arrest
Parliamentary immunity
Parliamentary immunity, also known as legislative immunity, is a system in which members of the parliament or legislature are granted partial immunity from prosecution. Before prosecuting, it is necessary that the immunity be removed, usually by a superior court of justice or by the parliament itself...

 in all cases except for treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

, felony
Felony
A felony is a serious crime in the common law countries. The term originates from English common law where felonies were originally crimes which involved the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods; other crimes were called misdemeanors...

, and breach of the peace
Breach of the peace
Breach of the peace is a legal term used in constitutional law in English-speaking countries, and in a wider public order sense in Britain.-Constitutional law:...

 and freedom of speech in debate. This constitutionally derived immunity applies to members during sessions and when traveling to and from sessions. The term arrest has been interpreted broadly, and includes any detention or delay in the course of law enforcement
Police
The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

, including court summons
Summons
Legally, a summons is a legal document issued by a court or by an administrative agency of government for various purposes.-Judicial summons:...

 and subpoena
Subpoena
A subpoena is a writ by a government agency, most often a court, that has authority to compel testimony by a witness or production of evidence under a penalty for failure. There are two common types of subpoena:...

s. The rules of the House strictly guard this privilege; a member may not waive the privilege on his or her own, but must seek the permission of the whole house to do so. Senate rules however are less strict and permit individual senators to waive the privilege as they choose.

The Constitution guarantees absolute freedom of debate in both houses, providing in the Speech or Debate Clause
Speech or Debate Clause
The Speech or Debate Clause is a clause in the United States Constitution . The clause states that members of both Houses of Congress...

 of the Constitution that "for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place." Accordingly, a member of Congress may not be sued in court for slander because of remarks made in either house, although each house has its own rules restricting offensive speeches, and may punish members who transgress them.

Obstructing the work of Congress is a crime
Crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

 under federal law
Federal law
Federal law is the body of law created by the federal government of a country. A federal government is formed when a group of political units, such as states or provinces join together in a federation, surrendering their individual sovereignty and many powers to the central government while...

 and is known as contempt of Congress
Contempt of Congress
Contempt of Congress is the act of obstructing the work of the United States Congress or one of its committees. Historically the bribery of a senator or representative was considered contempt of Congress...

. Each branch has the power to cite individuals for contempt but can only issue a contempt citation—the judicial system pursues the matter like a normal criminal case. If convicted in court, an individual found guilty of contempt of Congress may be imprisoned for up to one year.

The franking
Franking
Franking are any and all devices or markings such as postage stamps , printed or stamped impressions, codings, labels, manuscript writings , and/or any other authorized form of markings affixed or applied to mails to qualify them to be postally serviced.-Franking types and...

 privilege allows members of Congress to send official mail
Mail
Mail, or post, is a system for transporting letters and other tangible objects: written documents, typically enclosed in envelopes, and also small packages are delivered to destinations around the world. Anything sent through the postal system is called mail or post.In principle, a postal service...

 to constituents at government expense. Though they are not permitted to send election materials, borderline material is often sent, especially in the run-up to an election by those in close races. Indeed, some academics consider free mailings as giving incumbents a big advantage over challengers.

Pay and benefits


From 1789 to 1815, members of Congress received only a daily payment of $6 while in session. Members received an annual salary of $1,500 per year from 1815 to 1817, then a per diem salary of $8 from 1818 to 1855; since then they have received an annual salary, first pegged in 1855 at $3,000. In 1907, salaries were raised to $7,500 per year, the equivalent of $173,000 in 2010 dollars. In 2006, members of Congress received a yearly salary of $165,200. Congressional leaders were paid $183,500 per year. The Speaker of the House of Representatives earns $212,100 annually. The salary of the President pro tempore
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
The President pro tempore is the second-highest-ranking official of the United States Senate. The United States Constitution states that the Vice President of the United States is the President of the Senate and the highest-ranking official of the Senate despite not being a member of the body...

 for 2006 was $183,500, equal to that of the majority and minority leaders of the House
Party leaders of the United States House of Representatives
Party leaders of the United States House of Representatives are elected by their respective parties in a closed-door caucus by secret ballot and are also known as floor leaders. The U.S. House of Representatives does not officially use the term "Minority Leader", although the media frequently does...

 and Senate
Party leaders of the United States Senate
The Senate Majority and Minority Leaders are two United States Senators who are elected by the party conferences that hold the majority and the minority respectively. These leaders serve as the chief Senate spokespeople for their parties and manage and schedule the legislative and executive...

. Privileges include having an office and paid staff. In 2008, non-officer members of Congress earned $169,300 annually. Some critics complain congressional pay is high compared with a median American income
Household income in the United States
Household income is a measure commonly used by the United States government and private institutions, that counts the income of all residents over the age of 18 in each household, including not only all wages and salaries, but such items as unemployment insurance, disability payments, child support...

 of $45,113 for men and $35,102 for women. Others have countered that congressional pay is consistent with other branches of government. Congress has been criticized for trying to conceal pay raises by slipping them into a large bill at the last minute. Others have criticized the wealth of members of Congress.

Members elected since 1984 are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System
Federal Employees Retirement System
The Federal Employees Retirement System is the current retirement system for employees within the U.S. federal civilian employees...

 (FERS). Like other federal employees, congressional retirement is funded through taxes and participants' contributions. Members of Congress under FERS contribute 1.3% of their salary into the FERS retirement plan and pay 6.2% of their salary in Social Security taxes. And like Federal employees, members contribute one-third of the cost of health insurance with the government covering the other two-thirds.

The size of a congressional pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest three years of his or her salary. By law, the starting amount of a member's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary. In 2006, the average annual pension for retired senators and representatives under CSRS was $60,972, while those who retired under FERS, or in combination with CSRS, was $35,952.

Members of Congress make fact-finding missions to learn about other countries and stay informed, but these outings can cause controversy if the trip is deemed excessive or unconnected with the task of governing. For example, the Wall Street Journal reported lawmaker trips abroad at taxpayer expense, which included spas, $300-per-night extra unused rooms, and shopping excursions. Lawmakers respond that "traveling with spouses compensates for being away from them a lot in Washington" and justify the trips as a way to meet officials in other nations.

See also


  • Caucuses of the United States Congress
    Caucuses of the United States Congress
    This is a list of every congressional caucus of the United States Congress listed by the U.S. House Committee on House Administration, showing the years each caucus was active...

  • Elections in the United States (Congressional Elections)
  • List of current members of the United States House of Representatives
  • List of current United States Senators
  • List of United States Congresses
  • Members of the 112th United States Congress
    Members of the 112th United States Congress
    The 112th United States Congress consists of 541 elected officials from 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia. It is the federal legislature of the United States of America, continuing an unbroken chain dating back to the 1st Congress in 1789....

  • Oath of office (United States)
  • Party divisions of United States Congresses
    Party divisions of United States Congresses
    The following table lists the party divisions for each United States Congress. Numbers in boldface denote the majority party at that particular time, while italicized numbers signify a Congress in which the majority party changed mid-Congress....

  • Term limits in the United States
    Term limits in the United States
    Term limits in the United States apply to many offices at both the federal and state level, and date back to the American Revolution.-Pre-constitution:...

  • United States Congressional Baseball Game
    United States Congressional Baseball Game
    The Congressional Baseball Game is an annual baseball game played each summer by members of the United States Congress. The game began as a casual event among colleagues in 1909 and eventually evolved into one of Washington, D.C.'s most anticipated annual pastimes...

  • United States congressional hearing
  • United States presidents and control of congress
    United States presidents and control of congress
    In United States history, the degree to which the President's political party has control over the House of Representatives and Senate often determines his or her political strength - such as the ability to pass sponsored legislation, ratify treaties, and have Cabinet members and judges approved...

  • Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction
    United States Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction
    The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, colloquially referred to as the Supercommittee, is a joint select committee of the United States Congress, created by the Budget Control Act of 2011 on August 2, 2011...


Further reading


  • Baker, Ross K. (2000). House and Senate, 3rd ed. New York: W. W. Norton. (Procedural, historical, and other information about both houses)
  • Barone, Michael and Richard E. Cohen. The Almanac of American Politics, 2006 (2005), elaborate detail on every district and member; 1920 pages
  • Berg-Andersson, Richard E. (2001). Explanation of the types of Sessions of Congress (Term of Congress)
  • Berman, Daniel M. (1964). In Congress Assembled: The Legislative Process in the National Government. London: The Macmillan Company. (Legislative procedure)
  • Bianco, William T. (2000) Congress on Display, Congress at Work, University of Michigan Press.
  • Hamilton, Lee H. (2004) How Congress Works and Why You Should Care, Indiana University Press.
  • Imbornoni, Ann-Marie, David Johnson, and Elissa Haney. (2005). "Famous Firsts by American Women." Infoplease.
  • Lee, Frances and Bruce Oppenheimer. (1999). Sizing Up the Senate: The Unequal Consequences of Equal Representation. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. (Equal representation in the Senate)
  • Rimmerman, Craig A. (1990). "Teaching Legislative Politics and Policy Making." Political Science Teacher, 3 (Winter): 16–18.
  • Ritchie, Donald A. (2010). The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction. (History, representation, and legislative procedure) (Legislative procedure, informal practices, and other information)
  • Story, Joseph. (1891). Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. (2 vols). Boston: Brown & Little. (History, constitution, and general legislative procedure)
  • Tarr, David R. and Ann O'Connor. Congress A to Z (CQ Congressional Quarterly) (4th 2003) 605pp
  • Wilson, Woodrow. (1885). Congressional Government. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Some information in this article has been provided by the Senate Historical Office.


External links