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The Structure Of The American Congress  
User currently offlineDuke From Canada, joined Sep 1999, 1155 posts, RR: 2
Posted (9 years 2 weeks 3 days 1 hour ago) and read 1478 times:

Could someone give me a brief summary of how the American Congress works.
I.E. what the difference is between the Senate and the House of Representatives, in what proportion they are elected, and what the procedure is for introducing and passing a law?

Also, what is the point of having a bicameral legisalture? In the US it seems to reflect different proportional representation, but in other places, it seems almost pointless, I.E. the Canadian Senate and the British House of Lords with few effective powers.

9 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlineDL021 From United States of America, joined May 2004, 11447 posts, RR: 75
Reply 1, posted (9 years 2 weeks 3 days ago) and read 1467 times:

The House of Representatives has Representatives from geographic areas within the states and are apportioned on the basis of population no more than one Representative for every 30,000 people originally and now one representative stands for 650,000 people on average with 435 members of the house total.

The House is known as the Peoples House, and it represents the closest connection the average person has to the Federal elected government. It is where Bills are originated, and the Speaker of the House is third in line of succession for the Presidency. The House interacts with the Senate in Committee when compromising on Bills or hosting joint sessions of congress. Congressmen serve for 2 years.

The Senate is the upper house of our bicameral legislature and has 2 representatives from every state. It is how the smaller states maintain equality in the system with the larger ones as the Senate has to approve bills sent in by the House. Senators also provide the Congressional oversight for most Presidential appointments in the Checks and Balances provided for by our Constitution. Senators serve for 6 years.

The House and Senate work together as the Legislative Branch of our three part government. The other two branches are the Executive Branch which is the President and his administration, and the Judicial Branch which is the Supreme Court and other Federal courts which are headed by the Supreme Court Justices but supported by the Justice Department and the Attorney General. The Courts provide oversight to our laws and ensure that they are constitutional.

Hope this helps.



Is my Pan Am ticket to the moon still good?
User currently offlineGarnetpalmetto From United States of America, joined Oct 2003, 5399 posts, RR: 53
Reply 2, posted (9 years 2 weeks 2 days 20 hours ago) and read 1452 times:

Quoting Duke (Thread starter):
Also, what is the point of having a bicameral legisalture

To answer this point, the bicameral legislature that the US has originally emerged from the reformation of the United States from a loose confederation into a federal system through the drafting of the Constitution. A major dispute arose over how to apportion the Legislature, with the larger states (Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York, for example) backing the Virginia Plan, which called for a bicameral legislature with the members of the lower house appointed based in accordance with a state's population and then members of the upper house would be selected from the lower house. Naturally this gave larger states more representation. Smaller states, however, supported what was called the New Jersey Plan where each state would appoint a single representative, thus giving all states equal representation regardless of size.

In the end what emerged was called the Great Compromise, where the Virginia Plan became the model for the House and the New Jersey Plan was slightly modified and became the plan for the Senate.



South Carolina - too small to be its own country, too big to be a mental asylum.
User currently offlineDesertJets From United States of America, joined Feb 2000, 7781 posts, RR: 16
Reply 3, posted (9 years 2 weeks 2 days 17 hours ago) and read 1431 times:

Quoting Garnetpalmetto (Reply 2):
In the end what emerged was called the Great Compromise, where the Virginia Plan became the model for the House and the New Jersey Plan was slightly modified and became the plan for the Senate.

Our Founding Dads were pretty clever fellows in those regards. The crafting of the Constitution was a careful balancing act of the small vs. big states as well as the Federalists (Hamilton et al) and the Democratic-Republicans (Jefferson, Madison, et al). Which resulted in a pretty elegant and flexible framework.



Stop drop and roll will not save you in hell. --- seen on a church marque in rural Virginia
User currently offlineB744F From Germany, joined Jan 2006, 0 posts, RR: 0
Reply 4, posted (9 years 2 weeks 2 days 17 hours ago) and read 1425 times:

Affirmative Action for smaller states, but nobody seems to complain about that.

User currently offlineN1120A From United States of America, joined Dec 2003, 26537 posts, RR: 75
Reply 5, posted (9 years 2 weeks 2 days 17 hours ago) and read 1423 times:

Quoting DL021 (Reply 1):
It is where Bills are originated



Quoting DL021 (Reply 1):
as the Senate has to approve bills sent in by the House

This is actually incorrect. A bill can start in either House, with only budget bills having to originate in the House of Representatives. Also, there is no "approval" of a bill sent in from the other Chamber. A separate bill is introduced in each Chamber, usually looking rather similar to the other. It is then debated, amended and voted on by the members in that Chamber. The bill then goes to a conference committee made up of equal proportions of House of Representatives and Senate members, appointed by the Speaker and House minority leader as well as the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders. They then submit identical bills back to their respective Chamber (if one is agreed upon as seen by the Juvenile Justice Act of 1999) and is again voted on. If that bill is agreed to by a majority of members of each Chamber, they send it on to the President for approval



Mangeons les French fries, mais surtout pratiquons avec fierte le French kiss
User currently offlineDfwRevolution From United States of America, joined Jan 2010, 978 posts, RR: 51
Reply 6, posted (9 years 2 weeks 2 days 17 hours ago) and read 1421 times:

>> Affirmative Action for smaller states, but nobody seems to complain about that.

No one seems to complain because without it, there would be no United States of America as we know it...

The bicameral legislature works exceedingly well at balancing power (House vs. Senate) and establishing political stability (staggered elections).


User currently offlinePope From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 7, posted (9 years 2 weeks 2 days 17 hours ago) and read 1418 times:

Let's not forget the implication of the 17th amendment.

Originally Senators were appointed by the Governors. The 17th amendment made Senators directly elected by the citizens of the United States.

I think that part of the problem that the US system has is that nobody is responsible for the whole. Members of Congress get elected by bringing pork back to their constituents. If you look at any number of polls, most Americans are very unhappy with Congress, but simultaneously happy with their Congressman.

Less than 30 out of the 435 US House of Representative seats are even in doubt come the 2008 elections.

Congress has been able to whittle away at states rights because the members of Congress are no longer accountable to the leaders of the state.

Add to the fact that the original model did not contemplate a legislature made up of professionals. Instead, it was assumed that Congress would meet a couple times each year and the representatives would come and make up the law and then go back and have to live under the laws they created, carrying on their various occupations. As it stands now, every member of Congress is a full time politician. They regularly exempt themselves from the application of most of the laws the pass and rarely if ever know much of anything about the impact of what they're legislating.

The vast majority of bills that they vote on have never been read by them.

I interned in Congress twice. Once in the House (for a Democrat) and once in the Senate (for a Republican). Particularly on the House side, the Congressman had no idea what he was voting for (this isn't a cut on democrats, because my fellow interns with GOP congressmen said exactly the same). His legislative director would give him a thumbs up or thumbs down when the bells rang (announcing a floor vote) and he would go vote that way.

The Senate side is a bit different because there are far fewer votes (most procedural matters are handled by unanimous consent requests) but the Senator relied on his staff tremendously. I would estimate that he was aware of less than 50% of what he was voting on - and neither the Congressman or the Senator ever read the bills.

The effect of this is a government largely accountable to nobody where to get re-elected you must spend your days lobbying for money for your district in appropriation bills (ever wonder why there are naval bases in Nebraska?) and raising money from political action committees.


User currently offlineFumanchewd From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 8, posted (9 years 2 weeks 23 hours ago) and read 1388 times:

Quoting DL021 (Reply 1):
The House interacts with the Senate in Committee when compromising on Bills or hosting joint sessions of congress. Congressmen serve for 2 years.

The correct title for people in the house is Representative. Congress is both bodies (the senate and the house).


User currently offlineDL021 From United States of America, joined May 2004, 11447 posts, RR: 75
Reply 9, posted (9 years 2 weeks 18 hours ago) and read 1366 times:

Quoting Fumanchewd (Reply 8):
Quoting DL021 (Reply 1):
The House interacts with the Senate in Committee when compromising on Bills or hosting joint sessions of congress. Congressmen serve for 2 years.

The correct title for people in the house is Representative. Congress is both bodies (the senate and the house).

Congressman or Congresswoman are both accepted terms for Representatives. As a matter of fact if you were to address your local Representative formally it would be as Congressman or Congresswoman. Lots of arcane crap goes into protocol....for instance the mayor is referred to as his/her honor.

Quoting Pope (Reply 7):
If you look at any number of polls, most Americans are very unhappy with Congress, but simultaneously happy with their Congressman.

Just like lawyers...you despise every one of them but yours.

OK....I was incorrect earlier as pointed out by Alireza.....bills can be introduced in the Senate. They are more frequently introduced in the House, however, as the Senate has other obligations such as treaty review and advisement & consent on appointments to office by the Executive.

Bills are prefixed with H.R. when introduced in the House and S. when introduced in the Senate, and they are followed by a number based on the order in which they are introduced. The vast majority of legislative proposals are in the form of bills. Bills deal with domestic and foreign issues and programs, and they also appropriate money to various government agencies and programs.

Public bills pertain to matters that affect the general public or classes of citizens, while private bills affect just certain individuals and organizations.

A private bill provides benefits to specified individuals (including corporate bodies). Individuals sometimes request relief through private legislation when administrative or legal remedies are exhausted. Many private bills deal with immigration–granting citizenship or permanent residency. Private bills may also be introduced for individuals who have claims again the government, veterans benefits claims, claims for military decorations, or taxation problems. The title of a private bill usually begins with the phrase, "For the relief of. . . ." If a private bill is passed in identical form by both houses of Congress and is signed by the President, it becomes a private law.

When bills are passed in identical form by both Chambers of Congress and signed by the President (or repassed by Congress over a Presidential veto), they become laws.


Here's the House version of how things work
http://www.house.gov/house/Tying_it_all.shtml

Here's a flow chart published by the US Senate http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/legprocessflowchart.pdf

Plenty of great stuff that I read about, some I remembered and a couple of things seem new (to me at least), and then I used my newly refreshed knowledge to trip up an aide to our local congresswoman last night. Refreshing ones knowledge about things can sometimes come in very handy!  Wink



Is my Pan Am ticket to the moon still good?
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