SB Chapter 9:  Congress (F14)




Advanced Congress Study Guide

Vote-Smart  California

Smartvoter:  California




The lawmaking Legislative Branch at the Federal Level is called Congress. The U.S. Congress is a bicameral legislature: a legislature divided into two separate houses, in this case, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.


U.S. Senate


There are 100 Senators (SB 222) in the U.S. Senate (two per state).  An elected Senator serves a term of six years (SB 217).  The area a Senator serves is the entire state where he or she is elected. You are represented by two U.S. Senators.

House of Representatives


There are 435 Representatives (SB 222) in the House. A Representative may also be referred to as a Congressperson, Congressman, or a Congresswoman. Each state has at least one representative, but the number per state varies according to its population.  An elected Representative serves a term of two years (SB 217).  The area a Representative serves is called a Congressional District (CD). You are represented by one member of the House of Representatives because you live in one Congressional District.


Other areas that provided with House delegates are the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (SB 222). Although these delegates may vote in committees, they may not participate in the votes of the full House of Representatives. They are delegates who voice the opinions of their areas, not Representatives whose votes may send a bill to the president or who may override the veto


Powers of Congress




  101. Introduce tax bills

  102. Introduce spending bills, also known as appropriations

              103. Impeach the President, federal judges, and justices



  201. Confirm Presidential appointments (SB 221)

  202. Ratify treaties (SB 221)

  203. Confirm “all other Officers of the United States” (SB 221)

                    204. Hold trials of officials who have been impeached by the House of Representatives 


POWERS OF CONGRESS (BOTH THE HOUSE OF Representatives and the U.S. Senate, acting together)

  301. Impose taxes (SB 220)

  302. Declare war (SB 220)

  303. Import tariffs (SB 220)

  304. Punish counterfeiters (SB 220)

  305. Establish and regulate armed forces (SB 220)

  306. Collect taxes (SB 220)

  307. Spend money (SB 220)

  308. Override presidential veto (SB 220)

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




There are two houses of the California State Legislature.  One house is the State Assembly; the other is the State Senate.


 State Senate


There are 40 State Senators (Carney 83) in the State Legislature.  Each elected State Senator serves a term of 4 years (Carney 83).  The area that a State Senator serves is called a Senate District (SD).


State Assembly


There are 80 Assembly members (Carney 83) in the State Legislature.  They are referred to as Assemblyperson, Assemblyman, or Assemblywoman.  Each elected Assemblyperson serves a term of 2 years (Carney 83).  The area that an Assemblyperson serves is called an Assembly District (AD).




Standing committees are permanent (SB 232-233) committees that decide whether to refer proposed legislation to a larger body.  Each standing committee deals with separate subject matter. Nearly all legislation is sent to standing committees. Either House of Representatives or Senate holds these committees.


Select, or ad hoc, committees (SB 233) are temporary committees that are designed to discuss a particular committee bill. Either House of Representatives or Senate holds these committees.


Joint committees (SB 233) are congressional committees that are usually permanent and consist of an equal number of members from each house. There are four permanent joint committees.


Conference committees (SB 233) are temporary joint committees.  Before a bill can be sent to the President, the House of Representatives and the Senate must agree on the bill. The conference committee works out any differences that they may have. This is sometimes called the “third house of congress”.


The seniority system (SB 234) is a tradition through which the member of the majority party with the longest service on a committee becomes its chair.


Most Powerful Committees  (SB 233 top)


1.  Finance/Ways and Means (taxation)

2.  Appropriations

3.  Budget

4.  Foreign Relations

5.  Rules--only in the House of Representatives (SB 233-234)



DEFINITIONS with Pages in page number order
In Alphabetical Order, Click Here
Caras SB 9 Fill-in Quiz
More Definitions Here

Logrolling:  An agreement between two or more members of a legislature before votes are taken to support each other’s bills.  Also called backscratching or horsetrading.  Often leads to pork barrel legislation. (SB 217)

Incumbent/incumbency: Person holding elective or appointive office or having to do with a person holding elective or appointive office. (SB 225-226)


Gerrymandering: Drawing of a strangely shaped legislative district to give an advantage to incumbents, a party, or race/ethnicity. (SB 226)


Casework: Work done by members of Congress to provide constituents with personal services and help through the maze of federal programs and benefits. Casework is meant benefit the public as a whole as well as individuals. (SB 219)


Bicameral: Refers to a legislature that is divided into two separate houses, such as the U.S. Congress. (SB 217)


Speaker of the House: The only U.S. House of Representatives position created by the Constitution. The Speaker is chosen by a vote of the majority party and presides over the House, leads its majority party, and serves second to the vice-president to succeed the president, if necessary. (SB 234-235)


Majority: More than half.  In each chamber of Congress, the majority party has great power, including the right to chair committees through the seniority system.


Majority leader: Both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have a majority leader that is elected by each majority party’s members. The majority leaders plan the order of business on the floor and direct the daily business of the house. The Speaker the House is the top administrative officer of the House, while in the Senate the Majority Leader is the top administrator. (SB 235-236)


Minority leader: The head of the minority party in the Senate; also the leader of the minority party in the House, who represents its interests by consulting with the Speaker and majority leader over the scheduling of bills and rules for floor action. (SB 236-237)


Party whip: Member of Congress who supports the party leaders in the House and Senate by communicating the party position to the membership in order to ensure party loyalty when bills come to a vote.  Party whips are assistants to the majority and minority leaders. (SB 236)


Standing committees (SB 232-233) See tan section above “Congressional Committees”


Select, or special, committees (SB 233) See tan section above, “Congressional Committees”


Joint committees (SB 233) See tan section above, “Congressional Committees”


Conference committees (SB 233) See tan section above, “Congressional Committees”


Seniority system (SB 234) See tan section above, “Congressional Committees”


Rules Committee (SB 233-234) See tan section above, “Congressional Committees”


Filibuster: A prolonged debate in the Senate that is intended to kill a bill by preventing it from coming to a vote. (SB 222)



In Alphabetical Order, Click Here
Caras SB 9 Fill-in Quiz
More Definitions Here


  1.  What are the two houses of the U.S. Congress? (SB 217)

  2.  How many U.S. Senators are there? (SB 222)

  3.  How many members of the U.S. House of Representatives are there? (SB 222)

  4.  How long is the term of U.S. Senators? (SB 217)

  5.  How long is the term of members of the U.S. House of Representatives? (SB 217)

  6.  How many U.S. Senators are elected from each state? (Above)

  7.  What is the minimum number of U.S. Congresspersons elected from each

       state? (Above)

  8.  What area does a U.S. Senator serve? (Above)

  9.  What area does a U.S. Representative serve? (Above)

10.  How many people serve in the U.S. Congress? (SB 222)

11.  What part of the federal government declares war? (SB 220)

12.  What part of the federal government imposes taxes? (SB 220)

13.  What part of Congress confirms presidential appointments? (SB 221)

14.  What part of Congress can ratify treaties? (SB 221)

15.  What is a filibuster? (SB 222)

16.  What part of Congress uses the filibuster? (SB 222)

18.  What powerful House committee may limit debate and amendments? (SB 233-234)

19.  Who is the Speaker of the House during most years of the second Bush presidency? (SB 235)

20.  Who was the first woman in a leadership position in the House of Representatives? (SB 237)

21.  What is a whip? (SB 236)

22.  What is a majority leader? (SB 235-236)

23.  What is a minority leader? (SB 235-236)


Links for Further Study and Sources for Study Guide Questions 1-23, above

Legislators Study Guide

Powers of Congress Study Guide

Congress Study Guide