Congress is our nation’s first branch of government, even in the constitution the first thing wrote is about Congress. Article I section I states “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” Congress has the ultimate authority for enacting new laws. A Bicameral legislature is how congress is organized it is made up of two separate chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The H.O.R are elected by the people of the United States and each state gets at least 1 seat in the House and based upon the population of the state that determines how many seats a state occupies. In the Senate seats are equally represented, two senators per state. Congress is a very complex institution and the bulk of work on legislation consists of what members do in committees, congress deals with a lot of things in different areas so in order for a member to become an expert in the subject area and manage workloads congress relies heavily on a committee system. The four types of congressional committees are standing committees, select committees, conference committees, and joint committees.
A standing committee is a permanent committee that exists in both the House and the Senate it focuses on public policy, labor, foreign affairs, and the federal budget. The key thing about standing committees is that neither chamber can vote on a bill unless the committee votes to approve it first, that power is called reporting legislation. There are thirty-six standing committees in congress, twenty are in the house and the other sixteen are in congress. The second type of committee is a select committee it is a committee established in either the House or the Senate for a specific purpose, these committees are temporary and are established for specific purposes such as serious national problems for example, to investigate the problem of illegal immigration and the national drug problem. A third type of committee is a conference committee and since the Senate and the House of Representatives are equal players when it comes to the legislative process its only to expect that sometimes differences arise between the two so in order to resolve these differences a conference committee will be established. It consists of both House members and Senators. The fourth type of committee is a joint committee; it also consists of both House members and senators. A joint committee’s focus is more investigative in nature it make sure things are going the way it should, it oversights programs.
Some may question, who is the leader in congress since the executive branch is headed by the president but in congress no one person or office leads Congress as a whole it is lead by the majority party. The majority caucus in both chambers uses their majorities to elect leaders and maintain control of their chamber. The only guidance the constitution offers regarding House leadership is that there will be a Speaker of the House and he will be responsible for assigning new bills to committees and assigning chairs of committees but as stated before the speaker will usually be a member from the majority party and in the Senate the presiding officer is the Vice President of the United States but the V.P doesn’t assist in making laws his only duty is to break a tie between the house and the senate.
A bill is a proposed law presented for consideration to congress and it is not easy for a bill to become a law. Every bill goes to either the House or Senate, except tax or revenue proposals it goes directly to the House. “No taxation without representation.” A bill can only be introduced by a House or Senate member but the ideas of bills come from different sources and once a bill is submitted it is sent to the Senate majority leader. The second step in the lawmaking process is to send it to a standing committee, some bills die during their initial consideration for out of the 10,000 bills introduced annually in congress only about 500-1,000 get approved but if the committee approves the bill it is then forwarded to the Full House and senate for consideration. When deciding on a bill when it has made it to the Full House and Senate the process differs between the two, the House has Rules Committee and they determine which bills will come to the floor and be debated on but in the senate there are no rules set up ahead for debate, the Senate majority leader decides when to bring the bill to the floor but all Senators are given the courtesy of speaking on any bill so some use the process of filibustering which means refusing to end discussion to block a bill from passing so in order to prevent this action the Senate has a procedure set up called cloture a vote on a bill by 60 senators will allow the bill to pass. At the end of the debates and amendments that the bill had to go through the two chambers take a vote on the proposed bill and in order for the bill to pass it must achieve a majority of votes from members on the floor. Since Congress is a very complex institution and the bulk of work on legislation consists of what members do in committees, congress deals with a lot of things in different areas so in order for a member to become an expert in the subject area and manage workloads congress relies heavily on a committee system to pass laws, focus on important and essential things that the government needs to keep in control and keep the government in order.