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Please be aware that this is a student-generated wiki designed for review for my students' AP exams. Come in, look around, and enjoy yourself...just be aware of the nature of this wiki. Even though most everything is correct, I advise caution before citing this as an authoritative source.


In the United States (which, let's face it, is really what we care about here)... 'MERICA!!!!!
  • Legislative Branch is known as the Congress. The Legislative Branch, outlined by the Framers in Article I of the Constitution (preceding the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch), was probably seen by the Framers as the most important branch of government, even though more emphasis is placed on the Executive Branch today due to the media.
  • Despite its importance, Congress remains unfavorable to most Americans. ( The Gallup Poll conducted in April 2015 shows only 15% of the public approving with the way Congress is handling its job)
  • Congress was and remains America's "first branch of government" (Wilson)
    • That is because legislation is the heart of any political idea. That's when theory becomes doctrine
  • Framers did not want to have all powers concentrated in a single governmental institution, even one that was popularly elected because they feared that such a concentration could lead the rule by an oppressive or impassioned majority (Wilson 321).
  • Congress is thought by many to be the most broken branch and has been the subject of more public mistrust and elite reform proposals than the presidency and federal judiciary combined.
  • Bicameral Legislature: A lawmaking body made up of two chambers or parts. Our bicameral legislature was created in the Great Compromise. The idea originated from the founders being familiar with the British bicameral system in government that featured a House of Lords and a House of Commons.
    • Bicameral Legislature result of compromise between New Jersey and Virginia Plans
      • Senate
        • 100 members (the District of Colombia, and other U.S. territories are not given seats in the Senate)
        • representation constant among States; each State gets two Senators
        • members are voted based on a popular vote (before 17th amendment, senators were elected by state legislatures)
        • serve staggered 6 year terms, in that not all senators run in every senatorial election (no limit to amount of terms someone can serve). A third of senators run for reelection every 2 years.
          • Because of this, even individual senators can influence introduction and passage of legislation - there is more allowance for voices to be heard. The Senate has been more "personal" this way.
      • House of Representatives
        • 435 members (fixed). This was set by the Reapportionment Act of 1929.
        • Representation based on population of each state. This is based on the census done every ten years so it is important to keep up your population or lose your representation. (there is a minimum of 1 representative per state while there is no maximum)
        • Members elected by each representative's district constituents
        • serve two-year terms (uncapped number of terms)
        • more centralized, less individualist (like a bus line)

  • Congressional elections feature a much greater incumbency advantage compared to many other elections.
Methods of Voting
Even those people in Congress make mistakes sometimes, which calls for specific ways of making sure this doesn't happen:

  1. Voice Vote- A congressional voting procedure in which members shout "yea" in approval or "nay" in disapproval, permitting members to vote quickly or anonymously on bills.In - neither a voice nor a standing vote are the names of the members recorded as having voted one way or the other. One flaw with this method is that the leader (Speaker of the House or President Pro Tempore of the Senate who is presiding over the voice vote declares which side wins, which can introduce bias. A member of Congress can challenge this and demand a roll call vote.
  2. Teller Vote: A congressional voting procedure in which members pass between two tellers, the "yes's" first and the "nays" second
  3. The Standing Vote: This is a method in which members of Congress whim approve of a bill stand, then the number is recorded. Then the member of Congress that appose the bill are asked to stand, and the number is recorded. The decision that received the largest amount of votes is then taken.
  • Since 1971 a teller vote can be “recorded”, which means that at the request of twenty members clerks write down the names of the those favoring or opposing a bill as they pass the tellers.
  • Recall Vote: A congressional voting procedure that consist of members answering yea or nay to their names.
  • When these votes were handled orally, it was a time-consuming process, since the clerk had to drone through 435 names.
  • Division Vote: A congressional voting procedure in which members stand and are counted.
  • Double tracking:A procedure to keep the Senate going during a filibuster in which the disputed bill is shelved temporarily so that the Senate can get on with other business.
  • Closed Rules- Limitations on the amount of time for debate on a bill and on the introduction of amendments. Imposed on the House by the Rules of Committee in House.
  • Open Rules- Permits amendments from the floor on a particular piece of legislation also comes from the Rules of Committee in House.
  • Restrictive Rule: An order from the House Rules Committee that permits certain kinds of amendments but not others to be made into a bill on the floor

Debates in the Congress

  • Most bills are debated over by the members present on the floor, referred to as the "Committee of the Whole."
  • The quorum sets the smallest number of Congress members that must be available for business to be performed.
  • A quorum call may be made to check if the quorum requirement is met, that is to see if enough members are present for business to be performed.
  • There must be 100 members present, as based on the quorum requirement of the the Committee of the Whole.
  • The quorum for the House of Representatives,on the other hand, requires that 218 members be present.
  • The Constitution states that the quorum for the Senate is 51 members (Wilson and Dilulio 353).
  • Rule of Propinquity: Those present in the room have the strongest influence on decisions/actions.

Congress Vs. Parliament

  • Congress (Wilson)
    • U.S. and many Latin American Nations
    • Derives from a Latin term "a coming together," a meeting, as of representatives from various places
    • Becomes a representative or senator by running in a primary election
    • Voters select candidates by their personalities, positions on issues, or overall reputations
    • Unlike the parliamentary systems, the members of Congress do not choose who will be the head of the executive branch, the American public does (through the electorate college).
    • Since political parties do not control nominations, they cannot discipline members of Congress who fail to support the party leadership
      • individual members of Congress are free to express their views and vote as they wish (since Congress is constitutionally independent of the president and its members are not tightly disciplined by party leadership)
    • Congress members earn a substantial salary, are entitled to large office allowances/ congressmen with seniority receive larger benefits and can hire a great amount of staff members
  • Parliament (Wilson)
    • Great Britain and most Western European nations
    • Comes from a French word- parler- "to talk"
    • Becomes a member through persuading a political party to put their name on ballot
    • In election, voters in the district choose between two or three national parties instead of personalities running for office
      • In Parliament, the people vote for a political party and not for the individual himself. They place less of an emphasis on the personal attributes and more on which party the candidate is representing.
      • Parliamentary candidates are selected by party
    • Choose who becomes prime minister, so he already has a majority in voting with Parliament.
    • If members of the party in power decide to vote against their party leaders, the leaders will lose office and a new government must be formed
      • Since so much depends on members voting in alignment with their party leaders, if one member refuses to. He or she is not renominated in the next election
    • Since members of the British House of Commons have little independent power, they get little in return: poorly paid, no offices of their own, virtually no staff, and only given a little amount of money to buy stationery
    • Parliament focuses more on debates, as Congress focuses more on action.
    • Parliament has very little power and very little play.

The Evolution of Congress
  • The Framers created a bicameral (two-chamber) legislature with a House of Representatives, to be elected directly by the people, and a Senate, consisting of two members of each state, to be chosen by the legislatures of each state.
    • Originally, the Framers wished for the Senate to be apart from the passions of the people, for which reason they did not make the Senators popularly elected. The House was the one meant to be closely in sync with the people. Congress was also intended to be the dominant institution of the federal government, and it was at one point (Wilson).
  • they chose to place legislative powers in the hands of a congress rather than a parliament for philosophical and practical reasons (Wilson)
  • The general trend in Congress has been toward decentralizing decision-making and enhancing the power of the individual member at the expense of congressional leadership. (Wilson 322)
  • In 1913 the 17th Amendment was passed that required the members of the Senate win a popular election to get into office.
    • Before this, senators were elected by state legislatures and were usually very wealthy, as many were leaders of organizations. The Senate gained the nickname of "The Millionaires' Club" due to the amount of rich politicians; this helped rally support for the direct election of senators.
  • Though critics complain that Congress is too slow moving in actions, it faces a delicate power struggle of values between centralization and decentralization. (Wilson)
    • To act quickly Congress would have to be very centralized, but it would then lose protection for the interests of individual members. (Wilson)
    • If Congress chose to become more centralized, a stronger form of leadership would result with less distractions from committees. If Congress became more decentralized, individual interests could be protected at the cost of more inefficiency and the ease of committees to cause distractions during sessions.
  • A centralized Congress would have many advantages, namely more things would get done, greater likelihood of passing legislation, more unity between members, and less distraction from internal and external sources. There would tend to be more of a single leadership with less diversity and more opinionated that was homogenous with one or few bases of thought.
  • A Congress decentralized would provide greater attention to individual interests. The faults prone are that there would be more stalemates and withdrawals from members who have less motivation to back so many plans posed by individual members. Both sides have their qualms.
  • Many states have the same constitutional system as that of the federal government where decentralization takes place.
  • Some states have powerful leadership in legislature such as New York. The result of this increases the political party strength in some states.
  • A major issue in the Senate was the development of a filibuster.
    • A filibuster is a prolonged speech, or series of speeches, made to delay action in a legislative assembly. The speech does not have to pertain to the matters being discussed. It can simply be done to waste time, which has been done so since the late 1800s.
    • Cloture rule: A rule used by the Senate to end or limit debate (sixty votes or 3/5th of the Senate ). This was originally suggested by president Wilson in 1917 when a piece of foreign policy legislation that he had submitted had been talked to death, a.k.a Rule 22
    • Double-tracking is a procedure to keep the Senate going during a filibuster, the disputed bill is shelved temporarily so that the Senate can proceed with other business (Wilson).
  • Senate has no closed rules for amending legislation
    • Change in the senate has happened at a slower rate than in the house.
    • amendments called riders do not have to be relevant to a bill
      • allows the senators to add "pet" issues for their home state ( Meltzer)
      • pork barrel- "pet project" riders designed to bring federal money to home state (Meltzer)
      • earmarks- provisions within legislation that appropriate money to a specific project. Appear in appropriation bills and authorization bills (Meltzer)
  • While always having power, the House has changed the way in which it is organized and led.
    • Phase one: Powerful House-During the first three administrations, power in Congress was supplied from the president and his cabinet. Congress began to assert its independence, during this the House overshadowed the Senate.(Wilson)
    • Phase two: The divided house- The House was divided over the issue of slavery in the 1820's. Even after the Civil War disputes over slavery, leadership in the House was still weak. (Wilson 322).
    • Phase three: The Speaker Rules- The Speaker became the most powerful member of the House in the end of the 1800's. Thomas B. Reed started this out by using powers such as the right to select chairmen and members of committees, decided what business came to vote, and who would be allowed to speak. (Wilson 322-323).
    • Phase four: The House Revolts- the House revolted against the Speaker having so much power in 1910-1911 (Wilson 323).
    • Phase five: The Members Rule- Chairmen were no longer given certain powers to control the House so that individuals could make more of an impact on legislation (Wilson 323).
    • Phase six: The Leadership returns- In 1995 efforts were made to give the Speaker back some of his powers because having every member wield power made it hard for the House to get anything done (Wilson 323).
Organizations in Congress
  • Congressional Research Services(CRS)- A part of the Library of Congress and responds the congressional requests for information; doesn't recommend policy but looks up facts and indicates an arguments for and against proposed policy.
    • A product of the progressive era
  • General Accountability Office(GAO)- Audits the money spend by the executive departments, it also investigates agencies and policies and makes recommendations on almost every aspect of Government.
    • Created by the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921
  • Congressional Budget Office(CBO)- Advises Congress on the likely economic effects of different spending programs and provides information on the costs of proposed policies. (Benson and Waples)
    • The director of the budget office is put there by both the speaker of the house and the president pro-tem
The Organization of Congress: Parties and Caucasus
Who Is in Congress?
  • The stereotypical member is a middle-aged white protestant male lawyer
  • Congress has become gradually less male and less white, though the Senate has been slower to change
  • Today there is more incumbents than freshman in Congress
  • Majority varies between Democrats and Republicans.
  • Between 1950 and 2005 the number of women in the house increased from nine to fifty-nine (55.5% increase) and the number of African Americans from two to thirty-seven (1.750%). (Wilson 325)
  • Incumbent: A person already holding an elective office
  • Before the 1950s, many members of Congress served only one term. However, in recent decades, legislators have begun to make a career out of their membership in Congress, which has resulted in low turnover rates.
  • Republican Revolution of early 1990s: brought several new members to House but incumbents still hold a significant electoral advantage
  • Democrats were beneficiaries of incumbency from 1930s to 1992 (wasn't until 1994 that voters opposed incumbents due to budget deficits, scandals, and legislative-executive bickering)
  • Voters tend to support incumbents more, since incumbents have more media coverage and recognition. They also have franking privileges (the ability to send job-related mail without paying for postage, by simply signing the top corner where the stamp usually goes), as well as credit for pork-barrel projects in their respective state or district.
  • Presidential incumbents have harder times winning general elections than do congressional incumbents - this is because far less people vote in congressional elections.
  • Marginal districts - Districts in which candidates of the House win by less then 55 percent of the vote
  • Safe districts - Districts in which incumbents win by margins of 55 percent or more.
  • The difference between the two is that in a safe district the incumbent is more likely to be a trustee, and those in marginal districts serve more as delegates because they need to try harder to win their votes.
  • Wilson states that members in marginal districts are just as independent as those in safe districts, despite the close elections.
  • Caucus: An association of Congress members created to advance a political ideology or a regional, ethnic, or economic interest.
    • Intraparty caucus- groups whose members share similar ideology
      • examples: Conservative Opportunity Group, Wednesday Groups, Tuesday Lunch Bunch (Wilson 341)
    • personal interest caucus- formed around a common interest
      • example: Arts Caucuses, Human Rights Caucuses, Senate Children's Caucus (Wilson 341)
    • Constituency caucus- formed to represent certain groups like the EPA (Wilson 340)
      • National Constituency concerns have caucuses like the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues (Wilson 341)
      • Regional Constituency concerns have caucuses like the Congressional Border Caucus and the Congressional Sunbelt Council (Wilson 341)

Powers of Congress: (Wilson)
  • Power to pursue
  • Power to over ride a veto
  • Power to oversee executive agencies
  • Power to expand/contract jurisdiction of US Supreme Court
  • Power to coin money,set its value, and punish counterfeiting
  • Power to borrow money
  • Power to establish a post office and post roads
  • Power to create courts inferior to the Supreme Court
  • Power to declare war
  • Power to issue patents and copyrights by inventors and authors.
  • Congress has the power to make any laws "necessary and proper" for "carrying into execution the foregoing powers." "Necessary and proper"/"Elastic" clause an be found in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.
  • Power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises
  • Power to establish rules for citizenship
  • Power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among states

Party Structure in the House

  • The Speaker of the House
    • selected by majority party
    • decides who will be recognized to speak.
    • decides whether a motion is relevant.
    • decides committee assignments of new bills.
    • second in line of succession to presidency, after the vice president (after the Presidential Succession Act of 1947)
  • Majority/ Minority Party Leader
    • Leader elected in both the majority party and minority party.
  • Whip: A Representative who helps the party leader stay informed about what party members are thinking (Wilson and Dilulio).
    • Many people believe that whips exist only on the Congress floor and nowhere else. The truth is that whips in Congress rely heavily on their own whips who deal with more local constituents to make sure they have certain votes.
  • Chairman of the caucus: Presides over meetings of all representatives from their major party.

Party Structure in the Senate

  • Vice President of the United States
    • ex officio President of the Senate
    • technically presides over Senate
    • can only vote to break a tie
  • President pro tempore
    • actually presides over Senate
    • Less power in Senate than Speaker of the House has in House
    • Is chosen by the majority party
      • largely a honorific position that is required by the Constitution so that there is a presiding officer in the absence of the vice president (Wilson).
    • Third in line of succession to the presidency (originally second in line with Presidential Succession Act of 1792, until replaced by Speaker of the House in the Presidential Succession Act of 1947).
  • Whip- Senator or Representative who helps the party leader stay informed about party members are thinking. ( Wilson 335)
  • Majority Leader & Minority Leader - where the real leadership lies in
    • Chosen by the senators of the majority party & chosen by the senators of the other party, respectively.
    • The principle task of the majority leader is to schedule business of the Senate in conjunction with the minority leader.
      • The majority leader has the right to be recognized first in any floor debate (Wilson).
  • Policy Committee
    • Each party in the Senate chooses a Policy Committee with a dozen or so senators who help the party leader schedule Senate business, choosing what bills are to be given major attention & in what order (Wilson 335).
  • (Democratic/Republican) Senatorial Committee
    • provides funds, assistance, and advice to the candidates for the Senate from their respective party.

Distinguished Powers:

  • Bills that have to do with revenue and finances may only originate from the House of Representatives, therefore the Senate does not have power to introduce a bill that has to do with revenue. This is according to Article 1 Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution.

  1. Only the Senate has the power to approve treaties that have been proposed by the President. The House of Representatives does not have this power.
    • Ex. When the Senate did not approve of Woodrow Wilson's WWI treaty.
  2. The Senate has to power to approve or reject Presidential nominations for people for court and for foreign ambassadorship.
The Organization of Congress
  • Committees are the most important organizational feature of the congress.
  • standing committee: permanently established legislative committees that consider and are responsible for legislation within a certain subject area (Wilson 342)
  • Select committee: an established group that lasts only for a few congressional sessions and sets out to achieve a limited goal
Introducing a Bill
  • Public Bill: A legislative bill that deals with matters of general concern.
    • If public bills are passed they become either public laws or public acts.
  • Private Bill: A legislative bill that deals only with specific, private, personal, or local matters.
  • Any member of Congress may introduce a bill.
  • "If a bill is not passed by both houses and signed by the president within the life of one Congress, it is dead"(Wilson and Dilulio).
  • Congress can pass resolutions; a simple resolution is used for matters such as establishing the rules under which each body will operate. (Wilson)
  • Concurrent resolution settles housekeeping and procedural matters that affect both houses. (Wilson)
  • Some private bills can offer benefits/abilities that general laws cannot, usually for small groups of individuals or a corporate body.
  • Often are nowadays delegated to courts or administrative agencies, in contrast to it's past livelihood in Congress
  • Approximately 5,000 bills are introduced each year, but only about 135 are made into law (Krieger 88).
Study by Committees
  • Joint Committees: Committees where representatives and senators both serve
    • A conference committee is the most common form of a joint committee
  • Bills may either get referred to a subcommittee or proceed directly to a full committee where they will review the bill.
  • Mark Up:When subcommittee members and staff members edit or amend the bill, often extensively. (Wilson)
    • "Christmas tree" bills are those which have been marked up to the point where pressure by interests are evident - there are many unnecessary parts to a bill that do not have to do with the matter itself.
  • Once a subcomittee finishes their mark-ups, they might choose to recommend the bill to the full committee.
  • Once the full committee finishes further analysis and marking-up of the bill (if it decides to do this at all), it may or may not vote to recommend it to the House or Senate, which is called "ordering the bill."
  • Multiple Referral allows for a bill to be reviewed by more than one committee.
    • If the committees can not reach a consensus, they must gather in a combined meeting to eliminate their disagreements. Multiple referrals were eliminated in 1995 (Wilson and Dilulio 352).
    • This process, for example, helped forward many of President Carter's energy proposals to various congressional committees in 1977
  • Once the bill has been ordered, the committee chairman must order a public report on the bill which will be prepared by the committee staff and will describe the nature and purpose of the bill.
Floor Action
  • The bill then returns to the chamber (House or Senate) from which it originated and gets a date on their "calendar" (or one of their calendars, in the case of the house) for floor debate and a vote.
  • In order for the bill to become law, it must be passed by its originating chamber. If it is, it proceeds to the next chamber. If it passes there, it moves on to get the president's signature. If he signs it, it becomes law. If he vetoes it, the Senate can override his veto with a two-thirds vote.

Voting Representation:

Theories about how members behave:

  • Representational view: members want to get reelected so vote in favor of constituents.
    • Constituency is more important/influences more in Senate votes.
    • At times there may be conflicts between the legislator and the constituency on different measures such as abortion, drugs, etc
    • An example of this is when a representative with a high number of African American voters in their district is presented with a civil rights bill, they are not likely to oppose it, because they would prefer reelection and in turn must please their constituents.
  • Organizational view: voting with colleges/ to please Congressional members along with own views and party ideology.
    • One problem is that the party and organizations don't have a clear side to all its views/issues.
  • Attitudinal view: conflicting pressures on members of Congress- cancel out each other.
    • On many issues the average member of the House has opinions that are close to the average voter.
    • The most important cue for voting with this view is party identification. The representative will vote along the lines of their party or on the same length as someone else from their party.
  • Since members of Congress tend to be divided politically, ideological voting has become more significant.
  • Members can influence legislation also by: conducting hearings, help mark up bills in committee meetings, and offer amendments to the bills proposed by others.

Ideology and Civility in Congress
  • Congress has become an increasingly ideological organization. It's members are sharply divided by political ideology. This means that new kinds of members have been elected which has brought Congress a more ideological perspective.
  • Congress has become more polarized than voters in terms of political beliefs. This means that in Congress the average Democrat is very liberal and the average Republican is very conservative. There are few members who fall in the middle of the spectrum.
    • One result of this is that members of do not get along as well as they once did with members who disagree with them. They are more likely to "challenge, investigate, and denounce one another" (Wilson 333).
  • Congress’s most liberal members are Democrats and all of its most conservative members are Republican – the attitudinal explanation of how members vote has increased in importance.
    • This is unlike the average American, who can split their tickets, vote for one party’s presidential nominee and another party’s congressional candidate.

Party Unity
  • Party Polarization: It is when a majority of Democratic legislators oppose a majority of Republican legislators (Wilson, 338). In seven of the thirteen years from 1953 to 1965, at least half of all House votes pitted a majority of voting democrats oppose a majority of voting republicans.(Wilson, 338)
  • The Party voting as a whole became normal with both the House and Senate within the 1990s (Wilson, 338).
  • It is said that as a result of Congress becoming more partisan, voters have become more partisan (Wilson, 338).
  • Party affiliation is still a major part in electing Congress members however, it is not as huge as it once was and not as nearly important as it is in a parliamentary system.
  • Even today's Congress is less divided along party lines than many of its predecessors were.

House-Senate Differences
  • House: 435 members serve two-year terms
  • Senate: 100 members serve rotating 6-year terms

  • House: House members have one major committee assignment, thus tend to be policy specialist
  • Senate: 2 or 3 major committee assignments, thus tend to be policy generalists
  • Senate: must be at least 30 to run, 9 years of citizenship at time of election, resident of state representing
  • house: at least 25 years old, 7
  • House: Speaker's referral of bills to committee is hard to challenge
  • Senate: easier to challenge

  • House: Committees almost always consider legislation first
  • Senate: Considerations are easily bypassed.

  • House:Scheduling and rules are controlled by the majority party.
  • Senate: Rules Committee is weak; few limits on debate or amendments

  • House: Rules Committee is powerful; controls time of debate, admissibility of amendments
  • Senate: Debate is unlimited unless stopped by unanimous consent or by invoking cloture. Senators use filibusters to delay action on a bill.

  • House: Nongermane amendments may not be introduced
  • Senate: They may.

Reducing Power and Perks
  • Term limitations, new ethics and campaign finance laws, and organizational changes intended to reduce the power and perks of the members while making it easier for Congress to pass needed legislation in a timely fashion.
  • Citizens who want to reform Congress complain it's over-packed and slow to implement policies that deal with complex and controversial questions of national policy.
  • The bipartisan Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, under the constitutional doctrine of separated powers, it would be unwise and perhaps unconstitutional for the executive branch to enforce congressional compliance with executive-branch regulations.
    • Congress must obey laws such as the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination Act, and the Family and Medical Care Leave Act.
  • Rules on congressional ethics
    • no gifts over 100$ from anyone except a spouse or close friend
  • Ex-Senators may not try to influence members of congress for one year after leaving the senateu