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Congress Essay Examples

When discussing the makeup of Congress, one must first look to the intent of the framers around creating a bicameral legislature.  This would take me to the first section of our class regarding the debates the founding fathers had about equal representation of the states in the Congress.

Edmund Randolph of Virginia was the first to offer a suggestion, known as the “Virginia Plan”, that addressed representation.  His plan provided for a system of representation based on the population of each state or the proportion of each state’s revenue contribution, or both.  This did not fly with the smaller states like New Jersey, Delaware, or Connecticut.  The smaller states saw this idea as a bias towards the larger states, with the potential for domination of the legislature in a new government.  This was primarily seen as a battle between the smaller merchant states versus the larger, slave owning states.  In fact, this issue threatened the entire constitutional process if a reasonable compromise could not be achieved.  The “Great Compromise” (also called the Connecticut Compromise), set to establish two chambers of the Congress, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, with the House being apportioned by he number of people in that state, while the Senate would contain equal representation from all states, regardless of the size or number of people from that state.  This idea is also referred to as a bicameral legislature, meaning two chambers.

The House and Senate are somewhat different in terms of size, structure and procedure.  However, despite their differences, collectively the Congress did make up the “dominant” class of the three branches of government for the 150 years of American government.  The American people directly elect both the House and the Senate (since 1913), and both have term limits that they can serve in office, although they differ in length of time.  Each congressional member also has a plentiful staff assigned to them who help deal with the many demands of being an agent of the people.  Responsibilities of staff include, but are not limited to dealing with details, organizing hearings, handling constituency requests, and negotiating with lobbyist.

Additional joint powers of the Congress are that of oversight, which conduct hearings and investigations on government agencies as well as grant appropriations, Advice and Consent, which requires that Congress approve the Presidents appointments for federal justices and Cabinet nominees, as well as treaties with other nations, and the power of impeachment, which is the removal of a president, vice-president, or other executive officials from office.

A balance of wisdom and consent in the legislature is addressed by the very nature of the rules in the House and Senate, and will be described in further detail respectively.  Basically, the House, being the more organized and less deliberative of the two chambers, would be quicker in voting on what their constituents would want due to the close relationship a representative would have with the people.  Their terms are shorter, and this is what drives representatives to be out amongst voters more frequently and more responsive to their concerns.  The Senators, however, have longer terms and established rules that allow for long, deliberative debate on an issue, which compels them to be more cautious about just how to effectively represent and vote on issues.

Of the two chambers the House of Representatives closely resembles what is known as sociological or delegated representation of the American people.  This means that those elected to office could have the diverse racial, ethnic, religious, or educational background as those they represent.  Due to the composition of the House, in that state representation in the House is 1 per 550,000, allows the House to be most likely to personify a sociological representation.  However, the House today is still overwhelming Protestant and also women and minorities are still underrepresented to their proportions in the general population.

To be a member of the House, one must be 25 years of age and have U.S. citizenship for at least seven years.  A representative will serve a two-year term, and their constituency will tend to be local in origin.
The House will tend to be the more centralized and organized of the two chambers overall.  The rules of the House are the main reason for this, coupled with length of terms in office.  The House will move quicker the legislative process, and this allows the majority to pass through legislation that they want.  In this way the House is more likely to specialize in specific legislation, which also can take the shape of agency (or trustee) representation.  Based on the influence of well organized interest groups that have access to House members, as well as the fact that they have only two-year terms, places pressure on House members to be more beholden to their constituent’s wishes, and in tune with current attitudes.

Every two years, Congress elects leaders, and in the House, the elected leader of the majority party will become Speaker of the House.  This individual will have the power to recognize speakers, control of the legislative calendar and agenda, and ultimately have more control than its counterpart in the Senate to control floor debate accruing to the rules committee.  The House then elects majority and minority leaders of the parties, followed then by election of party whips, conference chairs, and committees.  The committee system, especially in the House, allows congressional members to seek assignments and develop legislation that is important to their state’s constituency.  However, it is in these committees that legislation can live or die during the process of becoming a bill to be signed into law.

The requirements for the Senate are markedly different than those of the House.
To be elected, one must be 30 years of age, and have at least nine years of citizenship.  Senators are elected to a six-year term, and there are two elected from each state regardless of its population.
In the Senate, the second and more deliberative chamber, the makeup of its members most closely resembles that of trustee (or agency) representation.  A Senator is charged with voting the way they believe their entire state feels about particular issues, but have the luxury of time in deciding how to vote.  The Senate numbers one hundred collectively, with two from each state.  The legal profession dominates prior career paths of most of the members, as well having established as relationships with big business and other special interest groups on Capitol Hill.

Although Senate members are directly responsible to their constituency, they do have longer terms, which, unlike their House counterparts, afford them the time to win and loose political battles, and retain their incumbency come voting time.  One way in which they can do this is through patronage using logrolling, supporting of pork barrel programs in return of the same for their state, which brings projects and money to a Senators home state.
The president of the Senate is the Vice-president of the United States, whose function is reserved to casting a tie-breaking vote as needed.  As I mentioned, the rules in the Senate are different in there House which results in a slower, more deliberative body of decision-makers.

The majority leader will recognize speakers in the Senate, which aids in party control over the agenda.  However, Senate members have the power of the filibuster, which allows a Senator of the minority or opposing view on a debate to hold up the legislative process by capturing the floor and speaking for extended periods of time.  Like the House, the Senate also elects majority and minority party leaders, which are responsible for setting the agenda for legislation and calendar, committees, whips, and chairs of committees.  Each party also elects a policy committee, which advises the leadership on legislative priorities.

Bills can be introduced in either the House or the Senate.  They will travel through the extensive committee system and if approved in committee, sub-committee, hearings, and the floor from which it originated, it will go to the other chamber for consideration and vote before ever reaching the president’s desk for signature.
It should be noted that the United States Congress is currently made up of only a two party system, the Republicans and the Democrats, with the Republicans having the majority in both chambers.  The present Senate is comprised of evenly split party lines, however, due to the fact that Vice President Cheaney is part of the Republican Party, and can cast tie-breaking votes; the Republicans in the Senate are seen as having the general advantage.

Up to this point, however, the majority party in the Senate has been less than dominant with dissension among party members on many key debates regarding finance campaign reform, the budget, and tax cuts.

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