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Major Differences Between the Two Houses of Congress:

House

  • 435 members serving two-year terms
  • Speaker's referral of bills to committee is hard to challenge.
  • Rules Committee powerful; controls time of debate, admissibility of amendments.
  • Committees almost always consider legislation first.
  • Debate usually limited to one hour.
  • Non-germane amendments may not be introduced from floor.

Senate

  • 100 members serving rotating six-year terms
  • Referral decisions easy to challenge.
  • Rules Committee weak; few limits on debate or amendments.
  • Committee consideration easily bypassed.
  • Unlimited debate unless shortened by unanimous consent or by invoking cloture.
  • Non-germane amendments may be introduced (riders).
  • List of United States Senate Classes

Qualifications for Entering Congress:

House:

  • Must be 25 years of age (when seated, not when elected).
  • Must have been a citizen of the United States for 7 years.
  • Must be an inhabitant of the state from which elected.
    (NOTE: custom, but not the Constitution, requires that a representative live in the district that he or she represents.)

Senate:

  • Must be 30 years of age (when seated, not when elected).
  • Must have been a citizen of the United States for 9 years.
  • Must be an inhabitant of the state from which elected.

Other Sources of Information:

CongressLink Historical information about Congress, explanations of basic congressional procedures, and selections written by scholars and subject matter experts. Online from CongressLink.

Presentations and Activitie from the Library of Congress A teaching unit on the Constitution, Congress, and current events using documents from THOMAS and the Documents of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, an American Memory collection at the National Digital Library of the Library of Congress. Online from the Learning Page of the Library of Congress.

Glossary of Senate Terms Defines terms used in the Senate and the legislative process. Online from the U.S. Senate Web Site.

A Map of Capitol Hill Online from the U.S. House of Representatives.

112th Congressional Pictorial Directory, 111th, 110th, 109th, 108th Congressional Pictorial Directory The 104th, 105th, 106th and 107th Congressional Pictorial Directories are also available. Online from the Government Printing Office.

Temple of Liberty: Building the Capitol for a New Nation Online from the Library of Congress.

The United States Capitol Home Page Online from the Architect of the Capitol.

A Virtual Tour of the United States Capitol Online from the U.S. Senate.

Congressional Leadership

I. Senate

PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE
Selected by majority party. Usually most senior member of the Senate majority party.
Majority Leader
Leads the party.
Majority Whip
Assists the leader, rounds up votes, heads group of deputy whips.
Chairman of the Conference
Presides over meetings of all members of the Senate majority party.
Policy Committee
Schedules legislation.
Legislative Review Committee
Reviews legislative proposals and makes recommendations to senators of the majority party.
Steering Committee
Assigns Senators of the majority party to committees.
Republican/Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Provides funds, assistance to Republican/Democratic candidates for the Senate.
Minority Leader
Leads the party.
Assistant Minority Leader
Assists the leader, rounds up votes.
Chairman of the Conference
Presides over meetings of all senators of the minority party.
Policy Committee
Makes recommendations on party policy.
Committee on Committees
Assigns Senators of the minority party to committees.

II. House

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE
Selected by the majority party.
Majority Leader
Leads the party.
Majority Whip
Assists the leader, rounds up votes, heads large group of deputy and assistant whips.
Chairman of the Caucus
Presides over meetings of all members of the majority party.
Steering and Policy Committee
Schedules legislation, assigns members of the majority party to committees.
Republican/Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
Provides funds, advice to Republican/Democratic candidates for the House.
Minority Leader
Leads the party.
Minority Whip
Assists the leader, rounds up votes, heads large forum of deputy and assistant whips.
Chairman of the Conference
Presides over meetings of all members of the minority party.
Committee on Committees
Assigns members of the minority party to committees.
Policy Committee
Advises on party policy.
Research Committee
On request, provides information about issues.

The Powers of Congress

The powers of Congress are found in Article 1, section 8, of the Constitution.
The following is a brief summary:

  • To levy and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises.
  • To borrow money.
  • To regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the states, and with Indian tribes.
  • To establish rules for naturalization (that is, becoming a citizen) and bankruptcy.
  • To coin money, set its value, and punish counterfeiting.
  • To fix the standard of weights and measures.
  • To establish a post office and post roads.
  • To issue patents and copyrights to inventors and authors.
  • To create courts inferior to (that is, below) the Supreme Court.
  • To define and punish piracies, felonies on the high seas, and crimes against the law of nations.
  • To declare war.
  • To raise and support an army and navy and make rules for their governance.
  • To provide for a militia (reserving to the states the right to appoint militia officers and to train the militia under congressional rule).
  • To exercise exclusive legislative powers over the seat of government (that is, the District of Columbia) and over places purchased to be federal facilities (forts, arsenals, dockyards, and "other needful buildings.")
  • To "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for the carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States."
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