3.2b Members of Congress
Though Congress is not an accurate cross section of the American people, the members mirror the American public and represent the country adequately. Vocationally, lawyers had the representation, followed by businessmen, newspapermen and publishers, educators, the farming community, bankers, medical men, dentists, social workers, architects, engineers, clergymen and housewives. In general, the Congress is made up of substantial, conscientious, hard working, well-educated men and women, well qualified for their responsibilities.
Racially, the Congress was dominated by white males. Gradually, however, membership of ethnic minorities such as African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans has increased.
It is the legislatorís peculiar function to represent the people in determining broad public policy. Each member of the Congress takes on a tremendous burden, as his constituency at home can take the liberty of summoning him for a number of services. Some Congress members regard themselves as delegates who are obliged to vote in the manner expected of them by the people in their districts. Such member use questionnaires, surveys and trips home, to ascertain the views of the people in their constituencies. Others consider themselves to be trustees. Such members, as for example President John Quincy, do consider the views of their constituents, but vote according to their own discretion.
The current members are incumbents whose political survival depends on their re-election. They have to maintain their political contacts, while absent from home. They have access to free use of the mail (franking privilege) to send out newsletters to their constituents and ask for their views. They can also use campaign funds and volunteers to generate votes. Indeed, over ninety percent of incumbents get re-elected. Vacancies for Congress members are created upon death, retirement and resignation of the previous members. Although the Supreme Court had ruled that there was no limit the number of consecutive terms that one person could serve, the public opinion is for the opposite.
It is a fact that the Congress memberís job is to understand
the people, to reflect their wants and interests. He/ she is also
required to understand that the formation of public policy is a
complex operation involving compromise and technical considerations.
3.2c Leadership in the House
The House elects its own Speaker as the only presiding officer. He is generally the leader of the majority party in the House. He is expected to operate as an instrument of the party. Thus he is expected to interpret and apply the rules of the House, in such a way as to give maximum aid to his party, in all parliamentary matters. The Speaker is vested with the authority to recognize members who wish to obtain the floor, to interpret and apply the rules of procedure, to decide questions of order, to appoint members of select and conference committees, and to refer bills to committees. The speakership has always been an important office. He stands third in importance after the president and the vice president. During the 1890s the power of the Speaker was increased owing to the dynamic leadership of Speaker Thomas B. Reed. This also happened in response to the need to streamline the organization of the House in order to get legislation enacted.
Each house has a majority leader and a minority leader that are chosen by the majority and minority parties in each house. The majority leader leads in party debates, and brings forward party programs and policies. He indicates the party preference by his advocacy of or opposition to proposed legislation. He is next after the Speaker in terms of importance.
When a minority party wins a majority of seats in the election, the minority leader becomes the majority leader.
A caucus is an organization of all the members of one political party in one legislative house. It makes final decisions on slates of officers to be chosen, and is concerned with the welfare of the party and of party members.
3.1 Powers of Congress
3.2 The Organization
3.3 How a Bill becomes a Law