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United States House of Representatives

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Seal of the House of Representatives

The United States House of Representatives is one of the two houses of the Congress of the United States, the other being the Senate. In the House, each state is represented on the basis of population, but each state is entitled to at least one member; the total membership of the body is fixed by law at 435. Representatives serve for two-year terms. The presiding officer of the House is known as the Speaker.

A bicameral Congress was created as a result of the Connecticut Compromise, a compromise made at the Constitutional Convention, under which states would be represented on the basis of population in the House of Representatives, but would be equally represented in the Senate. The Constitution provides that the approval of both houses is necessary for the passage of legislation. However, some powers (such as the power to approve treaties) are granted only to the Senate and are denied to the House. As a result, the responsibilities of the Senate (the "upper house") are more extensive than those of the House of Representatives (the "lower house")

The chamber of the United States House of Representatives is located in the south wing of the Capitol building, in Washington, D.C., the national capital. The Senate convenes in the north wing of the same building.

Contents

History

Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress was a unicameral body in which each state held one vote. The ineffectiveness of the federal government under the Articles led Congress to summon a Constitutional Convention in 1787; all states except Rhode Island agreed to send delegates. The issue of how Congress was to be structured was one of the most divisive during the Convention. James Madison's Virginia Plan called for a bicameral Congress; the lower house would be elected directly by the people, and the upper house would be elected by the lower house. The plan drew the support of delegates from large states such as Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, as it called for representation based on population. The smaller states, however, favored the New Jersey Plan, which called for a unicameral Congress with equal representation for the states. Eventually, the Convention reached the Connecticut Compromise or the Great Compromise, under which one house of Congress (the House of Representatives) would provide proportional representation, whereas the other (the Senate) would provide equal representation. The Constitution was ratified by the requisite number of states (nine out of the 13) in 1788, but its full implementation was set for March 4, 1789. The House began work on April 1, 1789 when it achieved a quorum for the first time.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, the House was frequently in conflict with the Senate over sectionally divisive issues, including slavery. The North was much more populous than the South, and therefore dominated the House of Representatives. However, the North held no such advantage in the Senate, where the equal representation of states prevailed. Sectional conflict was most pronounced over the issue of slavery. One example of a provision repeatedly supported by the House but blocked by the Senate was the Wilmot Proviso, which sought to ban slavery in the land gained during the Mexican-American War. Conflict over slavery and other issues persisted until the Civil War (18611865), which began soon after several southern states declared secession from the Union. The war culminated in the South's defeat and in the abolition of slavery.

The years of Reconstruction that followed witnessed large majorities for the Republican Party, which many Americans associated with the Union's victory in the Civil War. Reconstruction ended in about 1877; the ensuing era, known as the Gilded Age, was marked by sharp political divisions in the electorate. Both the Democratic nor the Republican Party held majorities in the House at various times.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries also saw a dramatic increase in the power of the Speaker of the House. The rise of the Speaker's influence began in the 1890s, during tenure of Republican Thomas Brackett Reed. "Czar Reed," as he was nicknamed, attempted to put into effect his view that "The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch." The leadership structure of the House also developed during approximately the same period, with the positions of Majority Leader and Minority Leader being created in 1899. While the Minority Leader was the head of the minority party, the Majority Leader remained subordinate to the Speaker. The Speakership reached its zenith during the term of Republican Joseph Gurney Cannon, 1903 to 1911. The powers of the Speaker included chairmanship of the influential Rules Committee and the ability to appoint members of other House committees. These powers, however, were curtailed in the "Revolution of 1910" due to the efforts of Democrats and dissatisfied Republicans who opposed Cannon's arguably heavy-handed tactics.

The Democratic Party dominated the House of Representatives during most of the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt (19331945), often winning over two-thirds of the seats. Both Democrats and Republicans were in power at various times during the next decade. However, after winning the elections of 1954, the Democratic Party would maintain control of the House for the next forty years. The Republicans swept back into power only in 1995, under the leadership of Newt Gingrich (see Republican Revolution).

Members and elections

House of Representatives chamber
Enlarge
House of Representatives chamber

Under Article One of the Constitution, seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned among the states on the basis of population, as determined by a census conducted every ten years. Each state, however, is entitled to at least one representative. The only constitutional rule relating to the size of the House is that it may consist of no more than one member for every thirty thousand people. Under Public Law 62-5, which was passed in 1911, the size of the House is fixed at 435 seats. The figure was temporarily increased to 437 in 1959 to reflect the admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states, but returned to 435 four years later.

States which are entitled to more than one representative must be divided into single-member districts. The process of redistricting is conducted after each census, though states are allowed to redraw the boundaries at other times as well. Each state is allowed to draw its own district boundaries In some states, non-partisan panels are responsible for the process; in others, state legislatures perform the task. As the Supreme Court ruled in Wesberry v. Sanders, districts must be approximately equal in population. Furthermore, under the Voting Rights Act, states may not gerrymander for the purpose of reduce the voting power of ethnic minorities. However, gerrymandering for political gain is not prohibited.

The Constitution does not provide for the representation of the District of Columbia or of territories. However, Congress has passed laws permitting them to elect delegates or Resident Commissioners. Delegates and Resident Commissioners are permitted to participate in debates and to vote in committees, but they may not vote on the floor of the House. The District of Columbia and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are represented by a delegate each. Only Puerto Rico elects a Resident Commissioner.

Representatives and delegates serve for two-year terms, whereas the Resident Commissioner serves for four years. Elections are held in every even-numbered year, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (Election Day). Generally, the Republican and Democratic parties choose their candidates in primary elections, which are typically held several months before the general elections. Ballot access rules for independent and third party candidates vary from state to state. For the general election, almost all states use the first-past-the-post system, under which the candidate with a plurality of votes (not necessarily an absolute majority) wins. The sole exception is Louisiana, which uses runoff voting. All vacancies that arise during a term must be filled by special elections, conducted in the same manner.

Once elected, a representative continues to serve until the expiry of his or her term, death, or resignation. Furthermore, the Constitution permits the House to expel any member with a two-thirds majority. In the history of the United States, only five members have been expelled from the House; three of them were removed in 1861 for supporting the Confederate secession, which led to the American Civil War. In 1980, Michael Myers was expelled for accepting bribes. More recently, James Traficant was expelled in 2002 following his conviction for corruption. The House also has the power to censure its members; censure requires only a simple majority, but does not remove a member from office.

Representatives are entitled to prefix "The Honorable" to their names. The annual salary of each senator, as of 2005, is $162,100. Members of the House are commonly referred to as "congressmen" and "congresswomen." Although the Senate also forms a part of Congress, these terms are generally not applied to senators.

Qualifications

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution sets forth three qualifications for representatives: each representative must be at least twenty-five years old, must have been a citizen of the United States for at least the past seven years, and must be (at the time of the election) an inhabitant of the state he or she represents. It is not, however, requisite for the representative to live in his or her district. The age and citizenship qualifications for representatives are less stringent than those for senators.

Furthermore, under the Fourteenth Amendment, any federal or state officer who takes the requisite oath to support the Constitution, but later engages in rebellion or aids the enemies of the United States, is disqualified from becoming a representative. This provision, which came into force soon after the end of the American Civil War, was intended to prevent those who sided with the Confederacy from serving. The Amendment, however, provides that a disqualified individual may still serve if two-thirds of both Houses of Congress vote to remove the disability.

Activities

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The House Committee on Financial Services oversees the entire financial services industry, including the securities, insurance, banking, and housing industries.

The powers and duties of the House are described in the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 2. The House is presided over by the Speaker of the House, who is elected by the House; although historically every Speaker has been a Member of the House, this is not a constitutional requirement (Art. I, s. 2. merely specifies that the House "shall chuse [sic] their Speaker and other Officers"). In matters of legislation it is essentially co-equal with the Senate, with the exception of the rule provided by the Constitution that all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives. While the House has the power of impeachment over federal officials, the Senate has the duty to try these officials. The Senate also has exclusive power to ratify treaties and approve presidential appointments.

Although revenue bills are constitutionally required to originate in the House, in practice, the House is equal to, or inferior to,the Senate in matters of budget and taxation. In "Congressional Government," Woodrow Wilson wrote:

the Senate's right to amend [revenue bills] has been allowed the widest possible scope. The upper house may add to them what it pleases; may go altogether outside of their original provisions and tack to them entirely new features of legislation, altering not only the amounts but even the objects of expenditure, and making out of the materials sent them by the popular chamber measures of an almost totally new character." (Congressional Government, 114)

Historically, much of the power of the House was in the committees. Over long years of service, Committee Members develop expertise in the issues before them. Both the Chairman and Ranking Member are able to call witnesses during hearings before a Committee as well as offer amendments and vote on final passage of bills during mark up. Committees have weakened in recent years in favor of the party leaders.

The House Committee on Rules is particularly powerful because each bill submitted to the floor of the House must have a rule assigned by the committee which limits the amount of debate and more importantly specifies what amendments can or cannot be allowed in the course of the debate. The rule approved by the Rules Committee is subject to acceptance or rejection by a vote of the full House. The majority party is overrepresented on the Rules Committee: currently it consists of nine Republicans and four Democrats.

Another important committee is the House Committee on Ways and Means which is responsible for taxation and is particularly powerful because of the constitutional requirement (in Article 1, Section 7) that bills raising revenue shall originate in the House. The House Committee on Appropriations is another important committee whose power derives from its ability to consider funding for government projects.

Unlike senators, most House members have little individual power, and typically will ally themselves in informal caucuses with other members from similar districts.

The House chamber is located in the south wing of the United States Capitol, in Washington, DC. To allow members to visit their districts, the House is normally only in session three days a week. The record for most meetings in a year was 167 set in 1995, 2004 set the record for fewest, with only 97. Most bills are debated on the House floor for only a few hours.

Composition during the 109th Congress (20052007)

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*Republicans: 231 (53%)
*Democrats: 202 (46%)
*Independent: 1 (Bernie Sanders of VT)
 Vacant: 1

Speaker: Dennis Hastert (R-IL)
Majority Leader: Tom DeLay (R-TX)
Minority Leader: Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
Majority Whip: Roy Blunt (R-MO)
Minority Whip: Steny Hoyer (D-MD)

Viewing the House on Television

Since 1979, C-SPAN, the cable television network, has televised the House proceedings live. Also, the Official Reporters of Debates take down every word spoken on the House floor, and edited transcripts of the proceedings can be found in the Congressional Record. (The Congressional Record is also printed daily.)

The House, when in session, generally convenes for legislative business at 2:00 p.m. (EDT) on Tuesday and continues until adjournment late in the day on Thursday. The first thing one notices about the House chamber is that most of the seats in the chamber are empty most of the time. Most Members of Congress ("members") are usually busy attending committee meetings, working in their offices, or doing other things while the House is in session. If there is a floor vote, the electronic voting system is activated and a sequence of bells rings throughout the House side of the Capitol and in the House office building complex. When the bells ring, members flock to the House floor, typically travelling the one-block distance from their offices by foot or by electric trolley. During the last few minutes of the 15 minutes usually allotted for an electronically recorded vote, the chamber fills with members and just as quickly empties again after the vote. It can be politically damaging at home if a member misses too many votes, and the political leadership therefore tries to schedule votes during times when members are likely to be around. Sometimes several votes are held all at once at the end of the day. Fridays usually mean short sessions, no sessions, and/or no votes. This is so that members who live on the other side of the country can fly home for the weekend.

Voting

Members vote by inserting a plastic voting card, which doubles as a photo ID, into terminals located on the backs of seats in the House chamber. The member presses a red button to vote "No" or "Nay," a green button to vote "Aye" or "Yea," and a yellow button to vote "Present" (i.e. the member abstains from voting) or to register his or her presence at a quorum call. Members' names are displayed on a blue, backlit panel above the Speaker's chair, and when a member votes, a red, green, or yellow light appears adjacent to his or her name. Displays on the side walls of the chamber display a running vote total.

If the voting system is down, either the clerk calls the roll and members enunciate their votes, or a "teller" vote is held in which the members fill out red, green or yellow voting cards and give them to the clerk. For more information, see Recorded vote.

The first vote usually lasts for fifteen minutes, unless the House leadership is narrowly behind on its vote. If the leadership believes it can whip a few additional votes out of its caucus voting may be extended. Since 1994, voting has been extended eight times, most notoriously for the Prescription Drug Benefit, where voting took place between 3:00 and 6:00 am. Following the first vote in a series, votes are usually reduced to five minutes in length.

A Typical Day's Proceedings

At the start of each day, the House Speaker or his designee (the Speaker Pro Tem) walks into the chamber and gavels the House to order. The Chaplain, or some guest clergy member from someone's home district, offers a prayer. After the prayer, a period for "one-minute speeches" takes place. A member who wishes to give a one-minute speech is asked by the Speaker: "For what purpose does the gentleman [gentlewoman] from [state] arise?" "I ask unanimous consent to address the House for one minute and to revise and extend my remarks," he or she replies, and the Speaker then responds: "Without objection, it is so ordered. The gentleman is recognized."

(If the Speaker of the House does not feel like presiding for whatever reason, he appoints a member of his party as Speaker Pro Tempore.)

Two things of note:

  1. Much House business is conducted by "unanimous consent." Any member may object, but nobody usually does.
  2. To "revise and extend" one's remarks means that the member may submit remarks in written form to be printed in the Congressional Record. What the member puts in the Congressional Record may be longer or shorter or completely different from what was actually said on the floor—the only verbatim account of the proceedings would be a videotape recorded from C-SPAN.

After the one minute speeches, the House might typically proceed to consider a "rule," or a resolution stating how much time is allotted to debate a particular bill. Rules are made by the Committee on Rules. (In the press, it is the House Rules Committee or the House [Blank] Committee, officially it is the Committee on [Blank].) A rule may provide that amendments to the bill are allowed (an "open rule") or restricted (a "closed rule").

A rule might say something like this:
House Resolution 999
"Resolved, that at any time after the adoption of this resolution the Speaker may declare the House resolved into the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union for consideration of the bill H.R. 999, the [XXX] Act. General debate shall be confined to the bill and shall not exceed one hour equally divided and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on [XXX] . After general debate the bill shall be considered for amendment under the five-minute rule. At the conclusion of consideration of the bill for amendment the Committee shall rise and report the bill to the House with such amendments as may have been adopted. Any Member may demand a separate vote in the House on any amendment adopted in the Committee of the Whole to the bill. The previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill and amendments thereto to final passage without intervening motion except one motion to recommit with or without instructions."

What all this means is, that the House first forms itself into the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union. When sitting as the Committee of the Whole, a quorum is 100 members instead of 218, and a limit of five minutes of debate are allowed for or against any specific amendment to the bill being considered. You can tell whether the House is convened as the House or the Committee of the Whole by noting the position of the Mace (the pole with the silver eagle on top which is situated on the left side of the Speaker's podium). If the Mace is placed atop its pedestal, the House is in session; if placed in a lower position, this means the Committee of the Whole is in session. (The Mace is not visible in the above photo of the House chamber, indicating that the House was not then in session.)

After all the amendments to the bill are voted on, and before the bill itself is voted on, there is usually a "motion to recommit" the bill back to the committee whence it came (to kill the bill). The vote on a motion to recommit is usually more indicative of how Members really feel about a bill than the final vote on passage. Many members who are against a bill will vote for the motion to recommit and then vote to pass it once the vote to recommit is lost. That way they can tell the constituents back home about how they favored the legislation all along.

After the day's business, and before adjournment, there is a period called "special orders" during which members may reserve time, as much as an hour, to speak. There is nobody in the chamber at 8 P.M., but the cameras don't usually show the empty seats: the members can play to the C-SPAN audience, especially if the member's district is on Pacific time.

Committees

This is a list of standing committees, joint committees and special committees of the United States House of Representatives.

Committees of the United States House of Representatives

The United States House of Representatives is organized into numerous committees and subcommittees. The Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union, consisting of the entire membership, is discussed on the main page.

When a bill is introduced, the Speaker refers the bill to one (or more) of the standing committees. In order for the bill to ever be considered on the House floor, in other words for the bill to have any chance of passage, one of two things must happen: The bill must be reported favorably out of the committee, in other words it has a majority of the votes on that committee; or a Discharge Petition must be signed by a majority (218) of House members.

Before the recent centralization of power by the leadership, committee chairs were the leaders of the House. Woodrow Wilson (in his earlier role as a scholar well before his presidency) described the heyday of the Committee system (which lasted until the 1970s) thus:

Power is nowhere concentrated; it is rather deliberately and of set policy scattered amongst many small chiefs. It is divided up, as it were, into forty-seven seigniories, in each of which a Standing Committee is the court-baron and its chairman lord-proprietor. These petty barons, some of them not a little powerful, but none of them within the reach of the full powers of rule, may at will exercise al almost despotic sway within their own shires, and may sometimes threaten to convulse even the realm itself. (Congressional Government, 76)

Memberships on committees are allocated so that the party with the majority of House seats gets substantially more committee seats than does the minority party. Historically, chairmanships were determined by seniority, but then the large idealistic "Watergate class" changed the rules in 1975 so that committee chairs would be determined by the whole party caucus. From 1975 to 1995 the party caucuses gradually strengthened themselves and the leadership at the expense of committee chairs.

In 1995 the Republicans established term limits on committee chairs. This has had the effect of further strengthening the leadership since the vacancy of a committee chair appears more often than it did in the past. Members of both parties who wish to be committee chairs one day have a powerful incentive to follow their respective leaderships. Committee staffs have also been reduced.

Most legislation is written by the leadership, and in 2003 over three-quarters of bills were considered under rules that forbade amendment (in contrast, 1995-1997 only 56 percent of bills were considered under no amendment rules, and 1977-1978, only 15 percent of bills were considered under no amendment rules).

Under House rules, 48 hours are supposed to elapse between action by the Rules Committee and voting, but currently 57 percent of all bills are considered under "emergency" status. Under emergency status bills are voted on within a half hour. Occasionally Congressmen do not even know what they are voting on or have only a few hours to read hundreds of pages.

Committees are divided into subcommittees, again apportioned in favor of the majority party. The chairman and ranking minority member of the full committee are automatically members of all subcommittees.

A committee can be a "standing committee," such as the Committee on Appropriations, or a "select committee," such as the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Until reorganizations initiated in the mid-20th century, the number of standing committees was much greater than it is today. Most of these committees were either merged with other committees or reduced to being subcommittees; some were abolished outright.

Template:USCongressCommittees

Congressional delegations

Each state's delegation in Congress consists of two Senators, and a number of Representatives (see below) depending on an apportionment among the states, which is determined every ten years based on their respective populations in the U.S. Census. Non-state territories have a Delegate each in the House, and many present states had such delegates when they were organized territories prior to statehood. See also: United States Congressional Apportionment

Image:2000-census-reapportionment.jpg

The sum of Senators and Representatives determines that state's number of Electors in the U.S. Electoral College.

Based on the 2000 Census, members of the U.S. House of Representatives represent 646,952 persons, on average.

The following states' Congressional delegations include the number of Representatives indicated; the articles linked in many cases list not only the current Congressional delegation but former Senators, and Representatives; when applicable, Delegates of the former organized territory that had the same extent are included.

The following are the changes in apportionment following the 2000 Census:

  • Arizona (+2)
  • California (+1)
  • Colorado (+1)
  • Connecticut (-1)
  • Florida (+2)
  • Georgia (+2)
  • Illinois (-1)
  • Indiana (-1)
  • Michigan (-1)
  • Mississippi (-1)
  • Nevada (+1)
  • New York (-2)
  • North Carolina (+1)
  • Ohio (-1)
  • Oklahoma (-1)
  • Pennsylvania (-2)
  • Texas (+2)
  • Wisconsin (-1)

See also

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