Paths to Congress: Diverse and Impactful Legislation

How Many Politicians Are in Congress?

The paths to Congress are as diverse as America. But many of those paths are long and winding, with material implications for legislation.

Each state sends two Senators to Congress, and each of those Senators serves a six-year term. Members of the House represent districts based on population. In general, most representatives have experience in the state legislature or local government.

United States Congress

When Americans talk about Congress, they usually mean the bicameral national legislature, which includes the Senate and House of Representatives (the latter also known as the “House”). The Constitution vests all legislative power in Congress. It is empowered to raise and spend money, approve treaties, make war, and impeach the President and Supreme Court Justices.

Although many of its members are elected from political parties, there is no parliamentary requirement that they must follow their party leaders. In fact, some of the most powerful committee chairmen have been independents.

The 118th Congress has marked several demographic milestones, including the first time that all 50 states have sent women to Congress. Similarly, Millennials and Gen Xers have begun to enter Congress, and the current House has the most ever members from the N.F.L., among other less-common occupations. Likewise, Vermont is now home to the country’s first openly gay member of Congress. However, congressional profiles still lag behind the nation’s population.

United States Senate

The United States Senate is one of the two chambers that make up the United States Congress, the other being the House of Representatives. It is made up of 100 senators, two from each state, who are elected to six-year terms.

The Senate has various powers that balance those of the President and other federal branches, such as conducting impeachment proceedings against high officials, exercising the power of advice and consent on treaties, and confirming presidential appointments including ambassadors and judicial court justices. It can also conduct special investigations and has the ability to censure and condemn members of the Senate.

Each party elects a floor leader and assistant leader who manage Senate activities and coordinate policy among their members. The Senate also employs a procedure called filibuster, where senators engage in open debate on a subject that can only be ended by using a procedural rule known as cloture. The oldest current senator is 81, while the youngest is 36.

United States House of Representatives

The House of Representatives is 435 members strong, with each state receiving a number of representatives in proportion to its population. States with large populations like New York and California send more legislators to Washington than tiny states like Wyoming and Delaware.

The majority of House members are lawyers in private practice, businesspeople (including employees in insurance, banking and finance) or medical professionals. That background can influence the types of bills they introduce, says Katie Francis, a professor at Western Governors University. For example, she says, physicians are more likely to sponsor health care legislation.

Other career paths are less common, but the new Congress has more people from minority backgrounds than ever before. And more than a dozen representatives identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, which is a record high for any Congress.

United States Government

The United States Government is one of the largest in the world and is responsible for things like handling taxes, maintaining roads and bridges, regulating the economy and more. It is divided into three parts, or branches: the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch.

The legislative branch is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Each state has two Senators no matter its population and members of the House represent districts based on their population size. Congress holds sessions that last about a year. The leader of the House is called the speaker and the leader of the Senate is the president pro tempore.

The executive branch is the president and 15 Cabinet-level departments that carry out the laws passed by Congress. The president makes policy and oversees the armed forces, and may also use the power of the veto to check Congress’s authority by rejecting legislation that has been passed.

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