Congress in action

The Legislative Branch

They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are tall and strong, some are fat and weak. They could be your lawyer, doctor, engineer or your local town drunk. They could be the brightest person in the room or they just might be the most assinine idiot you have ever set your eyes on.

They are your Congressmen---and there are 535 of them.

The best part is—your own state has some. No really, you have Congressmen who represent your interests on Capitol Hill. They are your direct representative to the politi-jungle that is Washington D.C.

But who are they and what do they do? If they piss you off (which they tend to do) can you throw them to the lions?

Well, not exactly. But here you can find out all about them!

History of the Legislature

When our Founding Fathers sat down and tried (again) to create the structure of our government, it wasn’t a gentleman’s social gathering where they sipped tea and talked about that latest leather bound treatise. In fact, it was quite brutal. If we walked in and saw revered men in powdered wigs going for each other’s throats, we wouldn’t want to look American history in the eye ever again.

One of the great tizzies that they got into regarded the potential law-making body. There was no question that there needed to be one. Rather the million dollar question lay in the make-up of the legislative body.

Those from the small states, such as New Jersey, wanted a unicameral (one-house) body where each state got the same number of representatives. They backed what was known, appropriately, the New Jersey Plan.

Other states, such as Virginia, saw the issues of states with larger populations more pressing. They called for a bicameral (two houses) structure where states have a proportional number of seats. In keeping with the trend of the obvious, they called this the New Jersey Plan.

So who won out between the Old Dominion state and the Garden State? Connecticut.

In what would be known as the Connecticut, or Great, Compromise of 1787, both sides agreed to a two-house structure where the upper-house, to be called the Senate (from Roman days), would have equal representation while the lower house., to be called the House of Representatives.

Three Plans, Two Houses and One Name—Congress.

How Do Laws Get Made?

Let’s suppose you open up your paper one morning and, much to your delight, you see a story that says “Congress Looking to Pass Law Making Sweets Free.” You can hardly contain yourself you’re so excited. After all, a hallmark of any great country is the ability to provide a job, housing, education and enough Skittles to have you twitching with glee.

But hold on Willy Wonka; before you overflow yourself with gumdrops and sugar pops, Congress must go through a tedious process before your American Dream becomes American law.

Here’s how it works: One of the 435 members of the House of Representatives ( it can be any one of them, pick your favorite. If you don’t have a favorite, pick one with the coolest sounding name) goes before the assembly and introduces the proposed legislation. It’s given a number and copies of the legislation, called a bill, are distributed for all Representatives to read.

Now, there are what are known as “committees” in Congress. These committees are pretty much special groups of Congressmen who(most of the time) have much experience on the topic. For example, on the defense subcommittee, you should expect to see Congressmen who have served in the military or those familiar with finances on the Finance committee. The bill would go before an established committee, or another committee can be formed. Let’s say that the House, in the spirit of democracy, forms the Sweets Committee!

Members of the committee weigh the bill’s pros and cons, make suggestions and corrections and determine whether the bill is what the country needs. After much deliberation, the Sweets Committee decides that the bill can proceed onto the House floor to be read and debated. We’re making a law boys and girls!

What’s this? Congressman Buzz Killngton representing the congressional district of Fundeath (insert most hated state) comes to the floor and speaks out against the bill. He says the bill will create fun and that America is not about fun. He’s out to kill our bill damnit! To make sure that the bill never sees the light of day, he decides to filibuster, which is the grown-up term for essentially stalling. He begins to read from the phonebook (yes this has actually happened in Congress). Our bill is going to die!

Wait a minute, there’s a rumbling in the Senate. Apparently both Republicans and Democrats do not agree with Buzz Killington and pass a motion of cloture, in which three-fifths of the House essentially tell Congressman Killington to shut the hell up. The House votes and approves the measure. Now onto the Senate vote.

In the Senate, each Senator has five minutes to discuss the bill and try to add any amendments on. The Senate decides to pass the bill, but there’s a catch; some of amendments make the bill different than the one passed by the House. The deal breaker came when the Senate refused to recognize Pop-Tarts as a sweet. A Conference must be had!

At a Conference, representatives from both houses sit down and try to come to an agreed bill. If they agree on a revision 100 percent, then the bill is sent back to both houses. Both sides, through compromise agree to not allow Pop Tarts but will not excise taxes on chocolate cherries and candy canes. The bill passes and is sent to Mr. President.

Now the President can do a few things with out Sweets Law. He can decide to veto, or reject it. If he does so, he must give his reasons and send it back to Congress, who have the power to override him with a two-thirds majority vote. Once he gets the bill, he has ten days to sign it. If Mr. President wants to kill the vote and Congress adjourns within 10 days, he may do nothing and kill the bill, which is known as a pocket veto. However, should he not do anything for 10 days while Congress is in session, the bill becomes law. The President may also, in a more symbolic gesture, decide to sign the bill. Mr. President is a huge fan of Ju-Ju Beans and thinks the country could benefit from the law. He signs the legislation.

How Can I Be a Congressman?

Like stated in the historical page, Congress is composed of an upper house, the Senate, and a lower house, the House of Representatives. There are 435 members in the House and 100 members (2 per state) in the Senate

Although it’s not as sexy as the Executive, the Legislative Branch is entrusted with a great deal of responsibility. They have the power to make laws, declare war against other countries and confirm or deny presidential appointments. Throughout the course of American history, a good portion of Presidents have served as Congressmen. Our current President, Barack Obama, was a Senator from Illinois prior to becoming the 44th President.

Representatives hold 2-year terms while Senators hold 6-year terms. The Senate is staggered into thirds with a third of Senators up for election every two years. This helps maintains a sense of stability while adding new faces to freshen up the composition.

In order to run for the House, representatives must be 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for seven years and a resident of the state they represent (but they don’t have to live in their representing district). Senators must be 30 years old, been a U.S citizen for nine years and be a resident of the state they represent.

Easy as pie.

Some Legislative Speak

Amendment
a change to a bill
Cloture
An team effort by three-fifths of Congress to shut up a Congressman whose trying to stall.
Committee of the Whole
A fancy term for all present in the House of Representatives
Co-Sponsor
A member associated with a bill
Filibuster
A fancy term for Congressional stalling
Pocket Veto
When the President decides to ignore a bill within his 10-day period should the Congress adjourn prior to the 10-day period expiring
Poison Pill
An attempt to add discouraging legislature in order to kill a bill
Pork Spending
Congressional spending on pet projects that have little or no legitimate purpose other than to give perks to a particular district
Quorum
The number of Senators that must be present before business can be conducted. The numbers are 218 for the House and 51 for the Senate.
Rider
an attached piece of legislation that has nothing to do will a bill
Sponsor
Orignal member who writes the bill
Veto
When the President formally rejects a bill.