July 3, 2013

US Congress: History, Purpose, And How They Represent The People Of The US

In the history of the United States, the First Continental US Congress met in the fall of 1774. However, this was simply for the purpose of the first American colonies to compose a list of grievances to send to English King George III. It was actually, in April of 1775, at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, that the Second Continental Congress formed. It was convened on May 10, 1775 with 12 colonies.

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On July 4, 1776, the Congress declared 13 states free and called them the ‘United States of America’ and governed until 1789. It governed the United States because there was no chief executive or president. It is interesting that the name Congressman evolved, starting out as Congress man, meaning they were for Congress and against the king.

In 1776 the Articles of Confederation were written, providing a weak government, but did not go into effect until 1781. Each state was equally represented but, with no judicial or executive branch, congress had virtually no legal jurisdiction over the states. They could not collect taxes, enforce laws or regulate interstate commerce.

It was in May of 1787, in Philadelphia, that the Articles of Confederation were discarded and the current two houses, the Senate and the House of representatives, were established. It was at this time that executive, legislative and judicial branches were formed. The first Presidential elections took place in 1789. At the turn of the 20th century there was a change in the constitution regarding election of senators. Under the Seventeenth Amendment Senators would have to be chosen by direct election, not by state governments.

This part of government consists of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representative. It is their responsibility to vote and write bills but there is some differences in their voting. A Senator has the privilege of voting on Presidential judicial nominees, a Representative does not. There are 100 Senators in (two for each state) regardless of the state’s population. The number of Representatives depends on the state’s population with 435 current members. Each state has at least one Representative. This is why census taking is so important for the states.

A Senator serves a six-year term while a Representative serves for two years. There is also a difference in age and citizenship requirements. A Senator must be 30 years old and have been a U. S. Citizen for at least nine years. A Representative must be 25 years old and have been a U. S. Citizen for seven years. Both must reside in the state they represent.

There are differences in which kinds of bills they can introduce, as well. Senators, for example, cannot introduce any bills to raise revenue, such as taxes. There has been a struggle, from the very beginning between two political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, for control of Congress. What this control means is that the party with the most votes can get legislation passed that the other party might not particularly agree with. Today there is much more dissension in this matter than there was at the beginning.

When a person casts their vote for a person running either for the Senate or the House of Representatives they are electing someone they believe will express their views when laws are being formed that will affect them and everyone else in the United States. The person elected to office is a personal representative of the voters who elected him or her and has sworn to support their views to the best of their ability.

Resource link: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/congress/index.html

The Ins And Outs, Yeas And Nays Of A Day In The US Congress

Very few people realize how busy the day of a US Congressman can be once they are elected to Congress. As a member of the United States House of Representatives they are on call at all times by their constituents, fellow congressmen, lobbyists, newspaper people and, of course, the President. Their typical day will start out at 8 am with a meeting and wind up at 8 pm with a reception or some other affair. Looking at one person’s schedule shows the hourly breakdown as follows, with the above hours.

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Total Time

Budget Meeting………………….. 45 minutes

Forum Meeting…………………… 30 minutes

Constituents Meetings (4 meetings)… 2 hours 45 minutes

Radio Telephone Interview………… 15 minutes

Radio Show Taped………………… 15 minutes

Hearing………………………… 1 hour 30 minutes

Legislation Meeting……………… 30 minutes

Receptions (3 receptions)………… 3 hours

This is one Congressman’s report. When researching others one will find different activities, such as working on political fundraising, writing Bills, sponsoring Amendments, planning Bills with other Congressmen and numerous other things. It appears that there are constant unexpected interruptions during the busy days and, sometimes nights. It seems that many of the Congressmen only spend four days in Washington. Some live there, others live in the nearby communities which they represent.

A congressman does not spend all of his time setting in the Congressional Session listening to debates regarding all the various Bills that are being presented. The Bills to be voted on are printed up ahead of time and sent to each Congressman’s office and they also receive a schedule regarding when discussion and voting is to be held. As a rule, he or she has assistants, in their office, who read the Bills and prepare a shorter version for the Congressman to read. Many of these Bills are hundreds of pages long and they simply do not have the time to personally read every word. They will read the shorter version, many times after they get home, in order to form an opinion as to how they want to vote.

On the day of the discussion, prior to a vote being taken on legislation, arguments will be heard pro and con. At that time a vote will be taken unless there is a motion made and passed to delay voting for one reason or another. Many times some new issue will be raised that was not in the original proposal and it will mean postponing the issue.

A full printout of each day’s actions is printed out and goes into the Congressional Record, with a copy to each Congressman. Again, it is reviewed by staff before being passed on in a shortened version. Because of the many people who wish to contact a Congressman’s day this is the reason that they have personnel to try to screen these contacts and set up an appointment if a staff member cannot handle the situation.

When Congress is not in session, the Congressman is either working on his own fundraising and election (if its his election year) or helping out a fellow Congressman with his campaign. Family times appear to be squeezed in wherever and whenever possible.

For more information, click here: http://thomas.loc.gov/