U.S. Congress is composed of two chambers, the House of Representatives (with 435 members representing fifty states) and the Senate (with 100 members, with two members elected from each State).
The Republican and Democrat parties select their candidates for the two chambers of the Congress in primary elections, “election in which registered voters in a jurisdiction select a political party’s candidate for a later election (nominating primary)”
After winning a primary election, the candidate from the respective party runs in the Congress election, which are held, for both chambers, in November.
For the 2005-2007 legislation (the 109th Congress), the Republican Party dominates both chambers. As such, the Republican Party currently holds 55 seats in the Senate, with the Democrats having won 44 seats and one independent seat (James Jeffords). In the House of Representatives, the proportion between the Republican Party and the Democrat Party is 53% to 46%, with the Republicans having won 232 seats and the Democrats 201, with one independent legislator (Bernard Sanders) and one vacant seat, Robert Matsui, who passed away on the 1st of January 2005.
Many of the legislative powers that have been endowed on the U.S. Congress according to the first article of the Constitution invoke collective actions on behalf of the two major parties representatives. Among these, one can enumerate setting standards for weights and measures, levying and collecting taxes or borrowing money for the public treasury
On the other hand, under the influence and pressure from lobby groups and from the State voters, many issues invoke different points-of-view. For example, making rules and regulations governing commerce among the states and with foreign countries will be influenced by local and national producers. One can exemplify with the recent Free Trade Agreement concluded with the Central American countries, where representatives in Congress debated whether such an Agreement will not damage local agricultural producers through lower priced products.
2. There are actually four acknowledged theories referring to the existence and functionalism of the committees. The first one is the informal efficiency theory, according to which “a committee is better informed about the consequences of a policy than the floor”
. The second theory is referred to as the distributive benefits theory and sustains the idea according to which the committee specialization helps smooth out interest differences. The third theory is known as the majority — party cartel theory, while the third theory is called the bicameral rivalry theory.
There are three main types of committees: standing committees, select committees and joint committees. The first are “permanent panels identified in chamber rules”
. Select committees are established by a separate resolution of the chamber to handle a specific matter. Joint committees are “permanent panels that conduct studies or perform housekeeping tasks rather than consider measures”
The committees receive bills for study and recommendation. According to this procedure, the committee has three options regarding a bill: revise, kill or ignore any measure referred to it
. Additionally, these committees “gather information; compare and evaluate legislative alternatives; identify policy problems and propose solutions; select, determine, and report measures for full chamber consideration; monitor executive branch performance (oversight); and investigate allegations of wrongdoing”
3. Committees and subcommittees play an important role in proposing and recommending legislative acts that are to be discussed in the Congress. This is where the incumbent legislative acts are created and first debated and discussed.
One of the powers a committee has is to hold hearings in order to gather information from non-committee experts
. However, the most important power that a committee has (besides actually drafting the legislative proposal) is the fact that it can make recommendations to the House of Representatives or the Senate on the proposed amendments or legislative actions. Referred to as “ordering a bill reported,” the action resumes the role of the committees in the legislative process.
Each committee has a chair committee, usually from the majority party. Its main role is to control the committee’s activity and, although its functions are basically impartial, we may consider that it has a certain influence in determining the fate of a legislative act debated on.
As the committees are the operational body of the U.S. Congress, one may refer to them as the “gatekeepers” in the House and Senate. No legislative proposal will be debated on in the two chambers unless it has been previously discussed and analyzed by the experts comprised in each of the committees. Quite often, technical analyses on legislative acts involve also several subcommittees and, as previously pointed out, experts from outside the Congress.
4. Because the U.S. Congress members have an activity comprising working in their State of origin and in the Congress building itself, floor scheduling is an important issue that decides the order at which senators take the floor in order to debate or argue for or against an Act. A bill proposed by one of the committees and recommended for discussion in the Congress is placed in chronological order on the calendar.
The Majority and Minority leaders role revolve around representing their parties in Congress debates and Congress administrative issues. The Majority leader “is charged with scheduling legislation for floor consideration; planning the daily, weekly, and annual legislative agendas; consulting with Members to gauge party sentiment; and, in general, working to advance the goals of the majority party”
. On the other hand, the Minority leader acts as a floor leader for the opposition, working to protect its rights in the Congress and speaks on the part of the minority party.
The motions are one of the instruments with which the U.S. Congress operates. WE may characterize them as propositions that are subjected to vote and which are debated in the Congress.
The filibuster process is one of the most important means by which the Congress minority can delay or even block the promulgation of a law. The instrument has been used on many occasions during the U.S. history, most notably by the Southern states Senators, who imposed filibuster procedures in order to stall the implementation of Civil Rights Acts. The filibuster process, as defined and recognized by the Senate Rule XIX, imposes that the senator keeps speaking about the Act in debate, as long as he “1) remains standing and 2) stays in the Senate chamber”
. As we can see, the strategy practically implies that senators opposing a certain Act stall discussions by taking the stand and perorating on the subject.
One of the attempts to eliminate filibuster procedures was the cloture process. Adopted in 1917 as the Senate Rule XXII, the cloture device allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote
. As such a majority was often difficult to achieve, in 1975, the Senate reduced the proportion to a three-fifths majority vote.
1. Majority and Minority Leaders. On the Internet at http://clerk.house.gov/histHigh/Congressional_History/leaders.html
2. Vincent, Carol Hardy. Committee Types and Roles. March 1998. On the Internet at http://www.house.gov/rules/98-241.htm
3. About the Senate Committee System. On the Internet at http://www.senate.gov/general/common/generic/about_committees.htm
4. Groseclose, Tim and King, David. Committee Theories and Committee Institutions. John F. Kennedy School of Government. Harvard University. November 1997. On the Internet at http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/prg/king/committ.htm#2
6. Primary Election. From Wikipedia — the free encyclopedia. On the Internet at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_election
7. Goldstein, Brandt. Filibusted. On the Internet at http://slate.msn.com/id/2078519/
8. Filibuster and Cloture. U.S. Senate References. On the Internet at http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Filibuster_Cloture.htm
Primary Election. From Wikipedia — the free encyclopedia. On the Internet at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_election
On the Internet at http://encyclopedia.laborlawtalk.com/Congress_of_the_United_States
Groseclose, Tim and King, David. Committee Theories and Committee Institutions. John F. Kennedy School of Government. Harvard University. November 1997. On the Internet at http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/prg/king/committ.htm#2
Vincent, Carol Hardy. Committee Types and Roles. March 1998. On the Internet at http://www.house.gov/rules/98-241.htm
Vincent, Carol Hardy. Committee Types and Roles. March 1998. On the Internet at http://www.house.gov/rules/98-241.htm
About the Senate Committee System. On the Internet at http://www.senate.gov/general/common/generic/about_committees.htm
Majority and Minority Leaders. On the Internet at http://clerk.house.gov/histHigh/Congressional_History/leaders.html
Goldstein, Brandt. Filibusted. On the Internet at http://slate.msn.com/id/2078519/
Filibuster and Cloture. U.S. Senate References. On the Internet at http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Filibuster_Cloture.htm
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