I. The Basics about Congress

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Congress is the legislative, or lawmaking, branch of the federal government. It is a bicameral (made up of two chambers) legislature that consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Constitution gives the two houses similar powers. There are two main reasons why Congress has two houses, rather than a single-house, unicameral system. They are:

(A). To keep a historical tradition because the framers of the Constitution were familiar with the British Parliament, which consists of two houses.

(B). A bicameral legislature offers a way of resolving a major conflict in the writing of the Constitution concerning population representation.


1). What branch is the lawmaking branch of government? (SB 217)

2). What is a bicameral legislature? (SB 217)

3). What are the two houses of our legislature? (SB 217)

4). What is a reason why we have a bicameral legislation? (SB 217)  


II. Senate

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The Senate, the Upper House in Congress, consists of 100 Senators. In this house of Congress, 2 members from each state represent that state (regardless of population size there are always 2 members).Each senator serves for a 6 year term.(There are elections for one-third of the U.S. Senators every 6 years). The members of the U.S. Senate each represent their state, BUT they make laws for the country as a whole.


1). How long is a U.S. Senatorís term? (SB 217)

2). What area does a U.S. Senator represent? (SB 217)

3). What number of  U.S. Senators are there per state? (SB 222)


III. House of Representatives

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The House of Representatives, the Lower House of Congress, is not a continuing body. This means that every 2 years its entire membership is renewed. The House of Reps consists of 435 members, (called Representatives, Congresspersons, Congressmen, and/or Congresswomen) plus delegates from the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. The amount of Representatives of each state is determined by that states population (unlike Senators).The way it works is, according to a states population it has so many Congressional Districts (CDs).Then from each CD one member is elected for a 2 year term, But every state is guaranteed 1 Representative. (so if a state had such a low population that technically it would have no Representatives, it would still be aloud to have one Representative)In the House of Reps, each member represents his/her district (like Senators represent their state), but they make laws for the entire U.S.



1). How long is the term of a Representative? (SB 217)

2). How is the number of Representatives per state determined (what does a Representative represent)? (SB 217)

3). What are 5 other areas that supply delegates to the House besides the 50 states?


IV. The Powers of Congress


Congress only has the powers that are specifically stated (or implied) in the Constitution. Most of these powers are stated in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.


Powers of both the House and Senate: (SB 220-221)

1. Impose taxes (SB 220)

2. Declare war (SB 220)

3. Import tariffs (SB 220)

4. Punish counterfeiters (SB 220)

5. Establish and regulate armed forces (SB 220)

6. Collect taxes (SB 220)

7. Spend money (SB 220)

8. Override presidential veto (SB 220)

9. Regulate interstate commerce and international trade (SB 220)


Powers of the Senate: (SB 221)

1.Confirm Presidential Appointments 

2.Ratify treaties

3.Try impeached President, federal judges, or justices (Senate sits in judgment while House just votes for whether the president should be tried or not)


Powers of the House of Representatives:

1.Begin tax bills

2.Begin spending bills

3.Impeach (SB defined Chapter 10, 259, against federal judges Chapter 12, 302)



1). In what Article and Section is Congress given most of its powers?

2). What are two powers held solely by the US House of Representatives?

3). How does Congress attempt to get rid of a president?


V. Committees

Committees exist in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in order speed up the process of viewing, reviewing, and acting on bills and resolutions. In fact, most of the actual work of legislating is performed by these committees. There are numerous types of committees each with an important job to make congress work. Standing committees (SB 232-233) are permanent and are responsible for legislation within a certain subject area. Special and select committees (SB 233) are established to investigate specific problems, and are broken up after they give their reports. Joint committees (SB 233) are made of senators and representatives to attack important national problems. Conference committees (SB 233) are made up from both houses, and they settle disputes and make compromises between themselves. The majority party mathematically ends up with the majority of seat positions in each committee. The leader or chair of a committee is decided by party and seniority rule (SB 234), based on the length of service previously committed. The most important committees are the Ways and Means (taxation), Appropriations (government fund distributor), Budget, Foreign Relations, and the Rules committees (SB 222, SB 233-234, SB 237) which controls calendar and floor action committees.



1). Are standing committees permanent? (SB 232)

2). What are the other types of committees? (SB 233)

3). What decides who becomes committee chair? (SB 234)

4). What committee controls the floor? (SB 233-234)


VI. A Bill to a Law (SB 237-238)

For a bill to become a law it must go through many steps. These steps ensure that both houses of Congress and the President approve the bill. :

1.   A bill is introduced by a member of the Senate or the House of Representatives (often at the request of the President).

2.   Different committees in that house study it and then decide what revisions they need to make. After they make the bill the way they want it, they approve it.

3.   Then it is sent to the floor for debate (between the committees) and amendments (changes) are made.

4.   Once the bill is approved by that chamber (chamber of congress, either the House or the Senate), it is sent to the other where it will undergo study in committees and floor vote.

5.   When both houses have passed the bill, a conference committee (see III. A.) consisting of members from both House and Senate come together to work out differences between the Senate and House of Representatives versions.

6.   Bill is sent back to the Senate and the House of Representatives for final approval.

7.   When bill is approved by both chambers, it is sent to the president who can let the bill become the law without his signature, allow it to become law by signing it, or vetoing it by returning it to Congress because he doesnít want it to pass?

8.   Congress may override the veto by 2/3 majority vote in both the Senate and H.O.R., but this cannot happen if the President has pocket-vetoed the bill by refusing to sign it during the 10 last days Congress is in session.


VII. Leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate

Within House and Senate there are leaders also. In the House of Representatives there is the Speaker of House of Representatives (SB 235). If something happened to the vice president and president so that they both could not serve office, the Speaker of House of Representatives is the next one in line to be president.(So, if both the president and vice president are assassinated, impeached, etc, the Speaker will become president)In the Senate the majority leader (SB 234-236) is the most senior member of the majority party and the most influential person in Senate. He has access to information, control over communications and agendas, and knowledge of institutions. The majority whip assists the leader. The minority leader (SB 112, SB 234, SB 236-237) and whip in Senate also choose its leader and assistant leader.


1). Can you list 5 jobs the Speaker of the House can do? (SB 235)

2). Who is the most senior and most influential member of the Senate? (SB 236)

3). What does a whip do? (SB 236)


VIII. Definitions

Some definitions related to the legislative branch include:

Filibuster(SB 222, SB 303, SB 305-306)a process that happens when a minority will talk about a bill for so long that the bill is not voted for or desired changes are not made.

Logrolling (SB 217)- trading of votes among lawmakers

Gerrymandering (SB 226-228, SB 231)-attempt to gain partisan advantage by drawing districts of unusual shape or design, as desired by Elbridge Gerry, signer of the Declaration of Independence and later governor or Massachusetts