Study your flashcards anywhere!

Download the official Cram app for free >

  • Shuffle
    Toggle On
    Toggle Off
  • Alphabetize
    Toggle On
    Toggle Off
  • Front First
    Toggle On
    Toggle Off
  • Both Sides
    Toggle On
    Toggle Off
  • Read
    Toggle On
    Toggle Off

How to study your flashcards.

Right/Left arrow keys: Navigate between flashcards.right arrow keyleft arrow key

Up/Down arrow keys: Flip the card between the front and back.down keyup key

H key: Show hint (3rd side).h key

A key: Read text to speech.a key


Play button


Play button




Click to flip

26 Cards in this Set

  • Front
  • Back
Some facts about congress

• Legislative branch of federal government where laws are made

• Based in building known as Capitol in Washington

• 535 members of Congress – 100 in Senate and 435 in House of Representatives.

• Work carried out in these two chambers as well as committee rooms and offices. Make policy compared to most modern legislatures where are executive dominated.

• Work in Congress often seen to be slow and characterised by gridlock – provides the ‘limited government’ and ‘checks and balances’ which Founding Fathers wanted. Intended negative bias built in.

How is Congress structured

• Bicameral – made up of House of Representatives and Senate

• In lower house (House of Representatives) the states represented proportionally to population. Representatives for each state reappointed after 10 yearly census (2000,2010,2020). Some gain and some lose – Florida rose from 25 to 27 in 2010 while New York fell from 29 to 27. Can be influenced by gerrymandering where parties alter boundaries for their own advantage.

• In upper house (Senate) states represented equally – 2 members.

• Originally, House of Representatives were elected by people but Senate were indirectly elected by state governments.

• Changed in 1914 when, due to 17th Amendment, Senate was directly elected too.

How representative is the membership of Congress

• Congress elected every 2 years and members have to be at least 25 years old, a US citizen for 7 years and be resident in your state district

• Senators elected every 6 years (third every 2 on rotation system) and must be at least 30 years of age, a US citizen for 9 years and be resident in your state.

• Members of Congress tend to be middle-aged (Average 56 H of R and 63 in Senate) , highly educated (284 in H of R have degree and 75 in Senate), religious (approximately half) and from professional backgrounds. A typical Senator is the same but 7 years older.

• Problems that ‘ordinary people’ do not want to be representatives, need for high levels of education, need for large campaign war chests and perception that politics occupation for rich.

• Women persistently underrepresented – 79 currently in House of Representatives and 17 in Senate which means they make up 22% of Congress - is way below 51% of women in America so Congress does not ‘look like America’. Women under-represented in pool of recruitment.

• Is improving as were 75 in House of Representatives and 17 in Senate in 2010 and way up on 56 in House of Representatives and 9 in Senate in 2000.• Women tend to come from Democrat party – 54 of 79 in House of Representatives are currently Democrat and 12 of 17 in Senate. 1992 Democrats tried to focus on issue and declared ‘the Year of the Woman’ which double number of women. Also elected first female speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California and first woman chair, Louise Slaughter of New York.• Between 2009 and 2011 women led three house committees down from four between 2007 and 2009; this figure is currently at just one - Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for Foreign Affairs.• In 2012 23.6% of state legislators were women (down from 24.2% in 2008) and in only two states did women make up more than 35% of state legislators with Colorado highest at 40%. There are 5 states where women make up less than 15% of state legislators – in South Caroline in 2012 they are just 10% women.• PAC’s helping to support women candidates such as Emily’s List.• Representation by race is much better in House of Representatives than in the Senate because federal courts have allowed states to set up ‘majority-minority districts’ which represent an ethnic minority group. North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District links small towns scattered for 100 miles. African-American Democrat Melvin Watt represents them.• By 2003, all the 38 African-American Representatives were Democrats. In 2012 there are now 44 African-American Democrat Representatives. Between 2005 and 2008 Barack Obama only Africa-American in Senate and there are now 0.• Still under represented as in 2012 in only 19 states did African-Americans make up more than 10% of the state legislature. Highest in Mississippi (29%), Alabama (25%) and Maryland (23%).• Currently 30 Hispanic members of House of Representatives and 2 Hispanic Senators (Mel Martinez for Flordia and Robert Menendez for New Jersey). Most Hispanic members come from California, Texas and Florida – states with significant Hispanic population.• 16.3% of population but only 7% represented in Congress.• In 2008 Cao first Vietnamese American to be elected to Congress.• Currently 9 Asian members of House of Representatives and 2 Senators.

Powers of the HOR

- Initiate money bills

- IMpeachmetns

-If electoral College is deadlecked the HOR elects Presidetn - 1800 and 1824

Power fo the Senate

- confirms - by simple majoirty - many appointments made by president

- power to ratify by two thirds majority, all treaties negotiated by the President

- The Senate try cases of impeachmetn to determine whether guilty

If electoral college deadlock then elects vice-presient

Con current power

• Power of the purse (taxation and spending power) to discuss after initiated in House of Representatives.

• Co-equal in passage of legislation. All bills must pass through all stages in both houses and agree in same copy of bill.

• Both houses must vote, by 2/3rd majority, to override the president’s veto of a bill – did in 2007 to override Bush’s veto of Water Resources Development Bill (by 381-40 in H of R and 81-12 in Senate) and in 2008 of Farm Bill.

• Can initiate constitutional amendments and must be approved by a two thirds majority in both houses before sent to states for ratification.

• Must agree on declarations of war – happened five times (last in 1941)• Confirm a newly appointed vice-president – happened with Ford in 1973 and Rockefeller in 1974.

Ow does the HOR work nternally
• House, chaired by the Speaker, operates in a more formal and procedural way with rules and limits on debate, as befits a chamber of 435 members.
How does the Senate work internally
• Senate, chaired by vice-President who can vote only to break a tied vote, has procedures that are more informal and less rule-bound. Tradition of unlimited debate which can lead to filibustering.
Which house is more powerful
• Senate seen as more powerful and prestigious than House. House members seek election to Senate (48 former members of House in Senate in 2009 but no ex-senators in House of Representatives).
Why is the Senate more powerful

• Senators represent an entire state rather than a Congressional district.

• Senators have a 6 year term rather than a two year term

• Senators are one of 100 rather than 435 so likely to have more influence.

• More likely to gain a leadership position as fewer people – e.g. in 2003 Frist had taken 8 years to become majority leader in Senate whereas Pelosi took 20 years in House of Representatives.

• Senators are known state wide and nationwide whereas House members are not.

• Senate seen as launching pad for a presidential campaign – Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Obama all members of Senate. In 2008 both parties nominated incumbent senators.

• Seen as recruitment pool for vice-presidential candidates – four of last six including Joe Biden. Democrats nominated senator as vice-presidential candidate in 14 of last 15 elections.

• Senators enjoy significant exclusive powers as seen above

However, why is this not always the case
• Equal powers in passage of legislation• Receive the same salary
What are the roles of committees in Congress

• Woodrow Wilson, 1885, said ‘The House sits to sanction the conclusions of its committees as rapidly as possible. It legislates in its committee rooms, not by the determinations of majorities, but by the specially-commissioned minorities (the committees)…Congress in its committee rooms is Congress at work’

• In 110th Congress there were 223 permanent committees and sub-committees. In 2012 there are 21 permanent committees in the House of Representatives, 20 in the Senate, 4 joint committees with a wide number of more sub-committees.

What are standing committees
• Permanent, policy-specialist committees. Most divided into sub-committees (E.g. Foreign Affair divided into: 1. Africa, Global Health and Human Rights 2. Asia and the Pacific 3. Europe and Eurasia 4. Middle East and South Asia 5. Oversight and Investigations 6. Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade 7. Western Hemisphere – More examples attached).
First main function of a standing committee in the HOR and Senate
1. Conduct committee stage of bills in the legislative process by holding ‘hearings’ on the bill at which witnesses appear. Witnesses might be members of Congress, members from relevant departments or agencies, White House members, representatives from interest groups or professional bodies and also ordinary members of the public. Witnesses make prepared statements and then questioned. Short, non controversial bills attract short hearings but more controversial lead to more hearings. E.g. 1993 Healthcare Reform Bill began summer 1993 and took over a year. At conclusion of hearings, vote taken by committee on whether to pass the bill on to its second reading.
Second main function of committees in HOR adn Senate
2. Conduct investigations within committee’s policy area. Look into problems and whether legislation could be improved. Witnesses summoned and questions asked. E.g. 100th Congress – House Agriculture Committee looked into technology in meat industry and House Foreign Affairs Committee looked into status of the war and political developments in Iraq.
What is the House rules committee

• One of standing committees of House of Representatives but different function.

• Responsible for prioritising bills coming from committee stage to the House floor for second readings.

• Sets out the rules of debate by stating whether any amendments can be made to bill.

• Membership smaller than other standing committees. In 2012 just 13 members and more skewed to majority party (nine Republicans and 4 Democrats) chaired by David Dreier

What are conference committees

• Important because both houses equal power and bills pass through both houses at same time and this means version in each house likely to be different.

• Conference committee set up if differences can not be reconciled informally – all temporary and set up to consider one specific bill.#

• Members, known as ‘conferees’ are drawn from both houses with sole function to reconcile differences.

• Once has come up with an agreed version – it must be agreed by a vote on the floor of each house. If doesn’t pass committee may meet again with another compromise sent off. If this one is rejected sent back to standing committees that first considered it.

• Important as they draw up what become final version of the bill but can be refused by houses.

• Used less frequently as other ways used to resolve differences in version of bills.

WHat are select committees

• ‘Special’ or ‘investigative’ committees which are ad hoc and set up to investigate a particular issue.

• Set up when investigation does not fall into policy area of one committee or is likely to be time consuming. E.g. Senate select committee on CIA, House select committee on political assassinations, joint select committee on Iran-Contra affair and 9/11, House select committee on energy independence and global warming in 2007.

Whho chair the committee
drawn from the majority party in the House - Currently this is Republican
What powers does the chair of the committee have?
• Have powers to control committee’s agenda, decide when will next week, control their budget, choose the membership, meetings and hearings, supervise committee staff, make requests to House Rules Committee for scheduling, report legislation to the floor of chamber and act as spokesperson for that committee to Congress, White House and Media.
How are BIlls passed in congress

- First Reading

- Committee Stage

- Timetabling

- Second Reading

- Third Readnig

- Conference Committee

- Presidential Action


What are the problems with the legislative process

• Carr (1974) ‘Cards are stacked against action by Congress. Those who seek action in Congress face a far more difficult task than those who purpose is negative’

• Difficult to get bills passed through Congress because process crowded.

• Process is complicated and Denenburg (1976) described as ‘bastion of negation’, ‘legislative labyrinth’ and had ‘built-in negative bias’.

• Need at some stages for super-majority votes – 3/5th to stop filibuster and 2/3rd in both houses to override president’s veto.

• Power in Congress is decentralised. Power resides with standing committees and particularly those who chair them. Party leaders have limited powers to influence Congress and decision making – Bob Dole therefore described himself as ‘majority pleader’.

• Both houses posses equal power which makes it hard to override the wishes of the others.

• Houses may not be controlled by the same party (like today) so want different things and hard to pass laws over key issues.

• Congress may be from different parties from President who will find it hard to pass bills he wants or may veto them.

• Party discipline in Congress is weak so members do not toe the party line and harder to pass bills. Most members mindful of folds back home or special interests. Led to Clinton healthcare bill defeat in 1994 even though Congress Democrat.

• Complex process as log-rolling, exchange of votes and trading of favours by Representatives occurs.

• Congress blocks legislation of president more effectively than provides own alternative agenda. Pork-barrel in order to provide projects in their districts but don’t have long term or national perspective.

What influences how members of congress vote




Pressure Groups

Colleagues and Staff

Personal Belief

HOw can Congress check the powers of the executive

- scrutinise and check activities

- Legislative process

- Stadnign committees

- opposite party to the Presdient can be in control of Congress

How has Congress changed
• Changes because of Vietnam and Watergate and failures of presidential politics. Also realised that house needed putting in order to. Wanted to become more open, modern, better-equipped, democratic and accountable.• Changes to how to select committee chairs – democratised by secret ballots. No one can chair more than one committee and those with more than twenty members have to have at least four sub-committees with these choosing their own chairs, have their own budgets and hire their own staff. Committee hearings are held in public unless members vote for a ‘closed’ hearing. Republicans placed a 6-year term limits on holding of committee chairs in both houses.• Television used in chambers and committee rooms. Considerable implications for ‘folk back home’ allowing them to see and hear their House and Senate members.• Increase in congressional staffing and congressional agencies. Tripled since 1961 and Congressional Research Service expanded and Congressional Budget Office set up in 1974.• Congressional oversight of the executive branch become more assertive. Presidency-curbing legislation such as Case Act (1972), War Powers Act (1973) and Budget and Impoundment Control Act (1974). Committees carrying out further oversight too – seen in Watergate and Nixon, Reagan and Iran-Contra affair and impeachment of Clinton. More challenging in Senate confirmation process.• Tightening of the ethics rules of Congress. Total ban on members of Congress receiving gifts and fees for writing articles or making speeches.
How is Congress viewed by the public
• Declined in public esteem. • 2008 Gallup poll found only 14% of Americans approved of way Congress doing job – an all time low.• 79% of Republicans dissatisfied, 70% of Democrats and 76% of independents.• Hold their own senators and representatives in much higher esteem that institution as a whole.• Washington politicians regarded with scepticism – in 6 of 7 elections between 1976 to 2000 winner was a former state governor and not a Washington insider. This changed in 2008 when both incumbent senators.• Congress associated with gridlock and ‘do-nothing’ mentality with concerns only slowly resolved.