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“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” –First Amendment to the United States Constitution

Fake news? Real news? Newswriting has no end. What matters most among abundant sources of information, however, is an ability to maintain freedom of speech including that of the press. Certainly, without integrity in journalism news is not news and only amounts to opinion. Yet, above that, the United States Constitution includes the law that Congress is not allowed to abridge (prevent, suppress, gag) the press. To do so invites tyranny.

Known as the Fourth Estate, an independent institution that keeps an eye on government, Edmund Burke, a British statesman, is said to have observed the vital role of the press in effective, accountable, representative governing:

“there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

For reasons such as Burke noted, much effort is invested in preserving freedom of speech and of the press as the Founders intended in the United States Constitution. So the American people may observe laws being made and participate in the legislative process, Congress and the press use opportunities availed by latest innovations such as modern technology to help connect Americans to the workings which make up that process.

However, even with best efforts to report on events from local to worldwide, it is no small task to ensure stories are accurate especially in today’s 24-hour news cycle. Human beings, imperfect and owning personal beliefs, provide no lack of doubt to go around regarding trustworthiness of all who write and disseminate “the news.”

This fact is part of what makes the business of journalism difficult, drawing ire on both sides of the political aisle. The work of media production is a business full of competition for readers, viewers, and ratings. It is also important. The press was important enough an institution to get placed specifically in the United States Constitution. Included in the Constitution – the law of the land – a free press matters within the system of checks and balances between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of American government.

As if it were not challenging enough to serve in elected office, Members of Congress must continually pay attention to what they say and how they say it in public, or in whatever form arises that could put them “on the air.” They learn how easy it is to feel that one’s words were taken out of context. It is definitely easy to misunderstand the words of others in normal day-to-day communications, and elected leaders especially must be sure to understand their own views in order to convey what they mean clearly when news can move quickly throughout a day. This means Members of Congress must pay attention so they are not quoted in a way they deem unfavorable or untruthful about their stance on issues, or is unfair coverage.

The press plays an important role in making sure news is accurately covered, timely, and what is generally considered newsworthy. Members of Congress, on the other hand, must handle the moving of bills through the legislative process while keeping constituents informed on what is happening. It is challenging to see reports on legislation moving through the process that receive negative coverage for which Members must stop to do damage control. A reason is often within the very process – legislation not yet completely through a step. When news pieces go out that say what a bill does or does not do, and a controversial question arises as a result of the news, reactions to the bill may bring on a firestorm Members believe they must stop work in order to address and “put out fires.”

It is not necessarily bad that this happens as it is an example of the required checks on government the press affords. At the same time, integrity of the press, and trust that journalists are doing their homework by asking questions that offer the best, balanced coverage is a must.

Journalists must make every effort to report the truth about where a bill is in the process, whether amendments are currently being offered, and so on to accurately show what is occurring.

Gaining an appreciation for how Congress and the press work helps shed light on the important role of each. Managing how the press and Congress operate so both function as designed takes an understanding of each other, by each other, and by the American people who consume the news and participate in the legislative process.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017), and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).

Sources:

United States House of Representatives – Media Resources
https://www.house.gov/media

United States Senate – Media Galleries
https://www.senate.gov/galleries/

The Dirksen Center Resources – “Reporting on Congress: The Role of the Media”
http://www.dirksencenter.org/print_expert_media2.htm

History, Art & Archives – United States House of Representatives Multimedia, “Tradition in the House Press Gallery”
http://history.house.gov/Oral-History/People/OHPeople-Media/West-Tradition-in-the-House-Press-Gallery/

The National Press Club
https://www.press.org/

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“..and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” –First Amendment to the United States Constitution

Some get caught up in illegal activity. Others are honest in their attempts to represent client concerns. Who are they? Lobbyists. Political lobbying has existed as long as voters and elected leaders have. The meaning of “lobby” is the only newer thing about it. The term lobbying was found in newspapers in 1820, lobbyism in 1824, and lobbyist in 1846 as the first uses of lobby in print. Around 1810, political use of lobby was known in the northeast legislatures. Some speak of Ulysses S. Grant having coined the term in the 1860s when people would wait for him in the Willard Hotel lobby to talk, or as possibly beginning outside of British Houses of Parliament.

Yet, lobby comes from an earlier usage of the German word “louba” meaning hall or roof. In the 18th century, people would come to British theaters and became known as lobby loungers. They would come not to watch a play, but gather outside of box seat areas to visit with prominent people. Such occurrences became known in America as well.

A more commonly heard use of lobbying connected to political use relates to people congregating outside of the House Chamber waiting to catch a lawmaker’s attention and was known as such since the beginning of the United States Congress. Spectators, vendors, and ambassadors would fill the area which created noise for the Chamber where acoustics and ventilation were already poor.

At the time, there were no offices or other areas for constituents to meet with their Representatives, making the lobby area a best place for visits. It became the Old Hall where the House of Representatives met, and is now Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol, before the 1857 opening of the new House Chamber which included an area that was called the Speaker’s Lobby. There, people would wait to see the Speaker who officed behind the Speaker’s chair, and representatives would talk, relax yet maintain an ability to keep up with proceedings on the Floor, and meet with constituents and people who were gaining notice as professional lobbyists. The area became a popular place to meet until 1908 when the first offices opened for Representatives to meet with visitors. The new House Chamber could now accommodate Representatives for a growing America adding more and more states to the Union.

To “lobby” has been termed from various sources as one who comes to visit, to connect with others. Politically, to lobby is to seek the ear of an elected official to influence votes on legislation. This description makes any constituent who writes, visits, or calls his or her congressman, a “lobbyist.” And as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, any American citizen may petition the government without fear of punishment or retaliation. What is it, then, that makes people cringe at the word, lobbyist?

Unfortunately, it has been all too easy for businesses and organizations to hire professional lobbyists who could work around legal ways to influence lawmakers. These lobbyists could essentially bring laws to pass with great impact and fund candidates running for office. This is why people who meet requirements for being lobbyists are required to register as lobbyists based on the amount of time they spend representing clients in front of lawmakers. Under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, they are required to report what they do and money they spend on their efforts. Many bring gifts to legislators and they are required to report what they spend on those gifts which is a limited amount by law.

This does not mean that all lobbyists are dishonest or lobbying is bad. Lobbying can be a helpful tool to reach legislative goals that individuals want to reach as groups. Each individual voter wants to be heard. This includes voters who are part of organizations and businesses. Such voters may be part of groups with similar interests and can bring a large voice to bear on Members of Congress.

This is also why it is important for each individual voter, whether part of an organization or business that lobbies or not, to remain engaged in the political process, America’s Founders set in place, in some way and especially at the ballot box.

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.” –Thomas Jefferson

It can seem that the Legislative Branch of American government is at such a large-scale that individual involvement is of little or no consequence. Yet, Members of Congress want to hear from constituents and they will tell constituents that letters, visits and phone calls do make a difference. Representatives who run to serve in elected, public office are people who vote too. They had to spend time listening to individuals with concerns and who encouraged them to run for office.

Representatives wish to follow through with promises made and the reasons they felt compelled to run for an elected seat. However, accountability is continually needed on all fronts – by those elected and those who voted them in. As long as America has representative government with no king, it means “We the People” people are in charge. It is important to remember that each American citizen holds the greatest opportunity to influence and voice concerns to leaders elected not to obtain power, but to serve.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017), and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).

Sources:

History, Art & Archives – Lobbying in the Lobby
http://history.house.gov/Blog/2015/January/01-21-Lobby/

History, Art & Archives – The opening of the current House Chamber
http://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1851-1900/The-opening-of-the-current-House-Chamber/

The National Museum of American History – Lobbying
http://americanhistory.si.edu/democracy-exhibition/beyond-ballot/lobbying

United States House of Representatives Office of the Clerk – Lobbying Disclosure
https://lobbyingdisclosure.house.gov/

Thomas Jefferson – Monticello
https://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/if-we-are-guard-against-ignorance-spurious-quotation

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With U.S. House elections every two years, and some portion of the U.S. Senate up for re-election every two years as well, the legislative branch is the branch closest to “We The People.”  Because of the number of U.S. House Members and U.S. Senators, it is far easier for us to have access to Members of Congress than it is to the President or Members of the judicial branch. Therefore, as citizens, it is important we understand the process of how a bill becomes a law, and the powers granted to Congress by the U.S. Constitution.

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.” –Article I, Section 1, United States Constitution

Bills may originate in the United States House of Representatives or Senate, of Congress, except revenue legislation must originate in the House. There are different types of bills, public and private. Measures such as resolutions, depending on the type, are used to continue appropriations or emergency legislation, for example.

Upon introduction in the House or Senate, bills are referred to Committees. Bills may receive committee consideration with hearings, amendments, and if “passed” out of committee may be scheduled for further consideration, with possible further amendments on the House or Senate Floor, by vote. A bill must pass both the House and Senate in the same form before it is allowed to go to the President for possible final approval to become law.

Anyone may draft a bill, or measure. A bill may also be referred to as “legislation” though legislation tends to be used interchangeably as a bill or law. The drafter could be a legislative aide who works with a Member of Congress, an attorney, or someone else. The President of the United States may even send an idea for a bill to Congress. However, the only ones who may introduce a bill for consideration in Congress are Members of Congress. They are the only ones who may “author” a bill even if someone else writes the language of the bill. A bill’s author is also the sponsor of the bill who will guide it through the legislative process. Other Members may “sign on” to the bill in support of its passage, and those Members are considered co-authors or co-sponsors.

While it’s important to understand the legislative process, it’s vital to understand our country’s history, and the circumstances that brought about this genius design, that originates, first and foremost with “We The People.”

After the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 people waited outside Independence Hall to receive the verdict about what their new system of government would be. A woman saw Benjamin Franklin and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, ma’am, if you can keep it.”

The United States shall guarantee to every state in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion, and on application of the legislature, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened), against domestic violence. – Article IV, Section 4, Clause 1, United States Constitution

If you can keep it, Franklin said. Corruption of a constitutional, representative government that runs on the rule of law is easy. Preserving it is hard. Preserving a system the American people say they want to keep, including leadership by representation, is the foremost resolve each Member of Congress must have, each time they file a new bill.

But that is what the process is for. The legislative process vets potential laws as bills so that the process has ample opportunities to air appropriateness or pitfalls well before each measure gets to a vote. Much must happen before any bill gets to the point of a vote. The legislative process is intended to eliminate poor decisions the entire country will regret.

Legislation gets drafted on many different topics for all kinds of reasons. Some pieces are passed to edit or repeal certain laws as needed. Others are major initiatives that make the news and are controversial.

Upwards of 5,000 bills get filed in a legislative session of Congress, and around 500 may pass. And for good reason. The process weeds out. Unfortunately, though, bills do languish in committee without further consideration that are actually better ideas for the country than others that make it through the process.

This is why lawmakers, which is what Members of Congress are, need to understand the United States Constitution to consider whether bills they are filing are constitutional before filing. It is important that they learn America’s history and founding, and how America’s founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, make America succeed as exceptional. It is important that lawmakers understand that America’s Constitution is the law of the land, and that the Preamble to the Constitution is only an introduction, not a precedent of law in which they may cite a constitutional purpose for filing a certain bill. Learning America’s history and founding matters so that lawmakers understand checks and balances, the balance of power that prevents the resting of too much power in one part of government. America’s elected leaders too often forget this.  It is our duty, as “We The People,” to be educated ourselves, and remind them.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017), and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).

Sources:

The United States House of Representatives – “The Legislative Process”
https://www.house.gov/the-house-explained/the-legislative-process

Congress.gov – “The Legislative Process: Overview”
https://www.congress.gov/legislative-process

Congress.gov – “How Our Laws Are Made – Learn About the Legislative Process”
https://www.congress.gov/resources/display/content/How+Our+Laws+Are+Made+-+Learn+About+the+Legislative+Process

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It would seem Congress should simply agree to disagree. However, the United States House of Representatives and Senate must work out their differences in order to get a bill passed and finally sent to the President to sign into law. This is where a conference committee can help the process of getting legislative conflicts cleared up so the making of a new law may occur.

Before the President may receive a bill to sign into law or veto, the bill must first pass in both houses of Congress. If a bill does not pass in exactly the same way in the House and Senate, a conference committee may be requested, made up of Members from both chambers, to come together and work out any differences. Prior to convening a conference committee, amendments may first be offered to try and resolve differences. Either way, the goal is to arrive at a final bill approved by both the House of Representatives and Senate.

Should a bill require a conference committee, the committee must address only the differences between the two chambers. One chamber, or body, say the House, may try to make the process easy by passing a bill as the House would like it, and then send the passed bill to the other body, the Senate. The bill would need to pass in the Senate without amendments.

Another method, for example, to make things simpler, is for the House to take up a bill on the same subject that was passed in the Senate and work out any differences through the House so that passage in the House results in the same bill passed by the Senate. If passage without resolving differences is not possible, however, the bill may be sent to conference. Either chamber may request a conference committee at any point while amendments are in process. Each chamber must formally state its disagreements before a conference committee is designated. Only so many opportunities for amendments are allowed as exchanges of amendments are limited and there are requirements for finalizing parts of the process to resolve policy problems. If policy differences cannot be resolved between the chambers even in conference, the bill dies.

What then is all the fuss about needing identical bills in both chambers, making statements about disagreements, then possibly needing a special committee to work out differences? It is to be sure the warnings of America’s Founders are heeded to keep checks and balances upheld with separation of powers.

While the conference committee process might be tedious, to say the least, it needs to be somewhat cumbersome in order to work out unforeseen problems a bill might cause if rushed through. At times, emergency legislation is necessary to complete faster. Otherwise, the most helpful legislative process to voters is unhurried and wisely examines potential laws moving through Congress without any of them speeding by, missing pitfalls.

America’s Founders were concerned that laws may be pushed through Congress without careful review, or too long and difficult to understand. As James Madison noted in Federalist 62, legislation too long to benefit those it was intended to serve:

“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood;”

In that case, Madison presents a strong case for working out differences through, for example, special discussions set aside to ensure a bill gets the scrutiny it should receive. Legislation should serve to maintain the freedoms of Americans and not entangle them in laws they do not even know they are breaking because there is no way to understand them and they come across convoluted.

“When legislature is corrupted, the people are undone.” – John Adams

The slow and often tiresome processes of Congress come from a long history that America’s Founders seriously considered when designing a new system of government for the new country, and its Constitution as they realized firsthand how difficult it was to escape unchecked power. A weary, exasperated John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail in 1777 during the American Revolutionary War that highlights the importance of weighing decisions with careful deliberation, resolve and eyes on the future:

“Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”

The Constitution Framers did carefully consider how to maintain a governing system that could stand the test of time. They set the new government up for success by dividing it into three branches, and having a House and Senate to check on each other further aided in ensuring no one system within America’s government would gain too much power:

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.” –Article I, Section 1, United States Constitution

Their idea ensured government power in the legislative process would remain in the hands of the people through representation and leadership, rather than tyranny by those sitting in government positions.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017), and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).

Sources:

Congressional Research Service – “Conference Committee and Related Procedures: An Introduction”
http://congressionalresearch.com/96-708/document.php?study=Conference+Committee+and+Related+Procedures+An+Introduction

United States House of Representatives – “The Legislative Process”
https://www.house.gov/the-house-explained/the-legislative-process

Massachusetts Historical Society – “Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 26 April 1777”
https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17770426ja

John Adams Historical Society: The Official Website – “Quotes”
http://www.john-adams-heritage.com/quotes/

“Checks and Balances”
https://www.history.com/topics/checks-and-balances

 

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The committee process in Congress can play a significant role in revealing true intentions of legislation so that voters, including United States House of Representatives and Senate Members, know just what each bill is about exactly, and receive opportunities especially to work out any unintended consequences before a bill gets to the House or Senate Floor for a vote.

Various committees exist in both the House and Senate on issues from Agriculture, to Homeland Security, to Small Business to Ways and Means, and more. Some committees are standing or permanent, and others are temporary such as conferences committees designed to work out differences between bill versions in the House and Senate. All can make a difference in maintaining accountability, efficiency, transparency, and integrity in America’s representative government.

Many pieces of filed legislation sent to a committee never make it out of committee for scheduling on the House or Senate Floor for a vote. When this happens, it is considered that a bill “dies in committee” because it simply gets left there and never pushed along the committee process to the point of being reported on and let out of committee to get a Floor vote for passage.

Typically, many of the problems a bill has in committee get worked out in committee before going to the Floor, but not always. Moreover, depending where the bill originates, or which chamber files the bill rather, new questions could arise altogether.

Committees are helpful in that Congress may send potential laws to them for review by the American people. Committees operate as places of explanation, and amendments may be offered to address issues that arise when witnesses come to testify in favor of or against a piece of filed legislation. Some bills sent to a committee might not receive a hearing for certain action. However, when they do, it is an opportunity for voters to learn more and engage more in the legislative process. This is especially true for controversial issues.

When people come to testify regarding legislation in a congressional committee hearing, they attend with prepared remarks, and from various backgrounds and points of view. Members who wish to vote for or against a bill that is in committee respond to constituent concerns regarding the bill. Those Members may have some constituents in favor of or against the bill come and testify by presenting their personal views during the committee hearing.

There may also be present expert witnesses who talk about parts of the legislation and what certain points mean and what could occur should the measure pass. Expert witnesses are not in attendance necessarily to agree or disagree on a bill, but to talk about specific points that will affect people, if the bill were made law.

People providing testimonies are similar to those who testify in court. They come to a set committee hearing, and are “heard” by House or Senate Members, and other constituents, voters. As testimony is provided through time allotments per person, decisions are made as to whether amendments should be made to the bill while it is in committee.

It seems that bills should be able to get figured out during the committee process, but this does not always happen. Bills may get to the House or Senate Floor and still need amendments. It is possible to offer amendments throughout the legislative process which is helpful as something could be missed during committee.

Sometimes it is best to get to a certain point in committee and then Members working to pass the bill, get it out of committee to the Floor for a vote, as is. However, those in support must take care that the bill is checked for concerns that might cause results that were not anticipated. This means Members and their staffs need “run their traps” by working with their constituents –voters, on bills through the committee process, and other means of clear communication, to be sure everything is clarified and understood as to what the bill does and does not do.

This is where the checks and balances of America’s constitutional governing systems are especially important. It is also why the legislative process should not be super easy to navigate. If the process is rushed through, the cost is too high in time, tax dollars, and efforts to repeal later down the line.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017), and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).

Sources:

“The Original Meaning of the Origination Clause”
https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/114-54_98282.pdf

“United States House of Representatives – “House Floor Consideration”
https://www.house.gov/the-house-explained/the-legislative-process/house-floor

“Congressional Research Reports”
http://congressionalresearch.com/

United States House of Representatives – “Committees”
https://www.house.gov/committees

“House Committee Hearings: Witness Testimony”
http://congressionalresearch.com/98-338/document.php?study=House+Committee+Hearings+Witness+Testimony

“Senate Committee Hearings: Arranging Witnesses” http://congressionalresearch.com/98-336/document.php?study=Senate+Committee+Hearings+Arranging+Witnesses

United States Senate – “Committees”
https://www.senate.gov/committees/committees_home.htm

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Intriguing is the story of America’s history and ideas at the core of its start. Involved in an interesting mix of proposals on how to meet needs for order, balance of power, and representative government, it began by making sure America on every level would be equipped to develop as free people and remain so, and run without getting in its own way.

The process used in America’s Legislative Branch today came about through concerns to arrive at a type of country that could be run by its people, designed to keep a stable system of governing: the people would direct, and those working in government would respond as directed.

But it did not start out easy, and required adjustments just like governing does today. Though tumultuous at best to obtain, America’s Founders and Constitution Framers wanted to try something different and began thinking outside of the box. Outside of the box meant adopting some other form of running a country besides having a king or other ruler in charge of the people. Rather, it meant having the people in charge of leaders, chosen from among the people, held accountable to the people. The road to make it happen or maintain it would not be smooth by any means. It meant observing ideas that were tried yet had a tendency to fail, and replacing those ideas with ones that tended to work wherever tried.

One could be quick to say ideas Congress gets for bills, or legislation (new laws) mainly come from this or that organization or business or interest group and others who bring desires hoping leaders will fill favors. But, while ideas do come from many sources and at times ideas wanted only by a few, ideas also come from necessity including needs affecting the nation that are constitutionally addressed.

The important key to remember about bringing ideas to Members of Congress is first taking a step back to what the Founders learned. They knew that people are thinkers, innovators – nothing wrong with that, of course. They also knew that people are passionate – nothing wrong with that either. They also understood governing by a system of leading meant maintaining a legislative process that could take ideas to solve problems and put them through a system that enabled to look close and determine in advance the possible outcomes, including unintended consequences. This is, for example, is what the committee process helps, and Floor debate, the Senate as the “cooling factor” does so the best of ideas may come through and get passed as laws. America’s Constitution has in place main checks and balances on one another, however, the branches of government: Congress, the President, or executive, and Supreme Court.

Another example comes from what the Founders learned when Americans settling in the early 1600s realized that some would work but others, though able, would not. Because of this natural tendency including varying personal initiative, each family would tend a parcel of land as their own. They learned that if everyone owns everything, no one would take care of anything, that some would take advantage and a few would do the lion’s share of work, destroying any incentive to produce. They realized human nature could not be dismissed if America was going to be a land of opportunity.

In fact, recognizing that people are unique individuals with personal goals to achieve and be independent was invaluable toward coming up with more ideas that underline a thriving people. An incentive to succeed made the difference as people could take ownership, create, trade goods and skills, keep the work of their hands – tangible means and methods in which to prosper. Lessons like this made it into future ideas that would govern America, and Americans would hold accountable of their leaders to continue.

While the Founders put their heads together and pulled from their learning of the history of governing, what works and does not work, they decided it was worth it to press through. They would work until they found a Constitutional framework that could open doors not only to freedom, but a lasting freedom they were convinced a nation could have if the people of that nation wanted it.

A resolve for victory helped the new nation of America to maintain a desire of the people to want their own freedom and limit what their governing bodies could do would play a significant role in getting a type of nation that could hold fast in maintaining the good it began, scrapping ideas that did not work for ones that did. They knew the risks they were taking but realized it was worth it.

Today, it is just as worth it. Civic involvement that continues good ideas for governing can mean learning America’s history or attending a town hall meeting where Members of Congress, and state and local representatives, hold meetings to listen to ideas about changes needed, and answer questions about what is being done and why.

All those who have gone before made an investment of efforts to design a Congress that could stand the test of time, including how it can be a frustrating process. It is a system that is slow and deliberate on purpose in order to prevent a slew of poor proposals from becoming law.

While at times poor laws do get passed, America has a system where the people possess many opportunities to become engaged in the process of passing or repealing laws. This is why it is imperative that each American citizen see the past investments made by America’s Founders and take part in preserving what they started, in some way.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America.  She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017) and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).

Sources:

“Continental Congress, 1774-1781” United States House of Representatives Office of the Historian https://history.state.gov/milestones/1776-1783/continental-congress

“History of Plymouth Plantation” by William Bradford
https://www.history.com/topics/constitution

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In his Manual of Parliamentary Practice, Thomas Jefferson wrote regarding rules:

“be in all cases the most rational or not, is really not of so great importance. It is much more material that there should be a rule to go by than what that rule is; that there may be a uniformity of proceeding in business, not subject to the caprice of the Speaker or captiousness of the members. It is very material that order, decency, and regularity be preserved in a dignified public body.”

Formally established by law in April of 1789 and chaired by the House Speaker until 1910, the Committee on Rules is one of the oldest standing, or permanent, committees in the United States House of Representatives. It is considered “The Speaker’s Committee” as it is used to maintain order on the House Floor. The House Committee on Rules was established as a standing committee in the late 1840s.

When the First Congress of the United States House of Representatives met at Federal Hall in New York under the new Constitution in 1789, the first Senate also convened. At this time, a rules committee was established to conduct the separate business of the Senate, and in 1874, the Senate Committee on Rules was designated as a standing committee.

“Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings,” –Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2, United States Constitution

Rules in the United States Senate contrast more than compare to rules of the House and some interesting differences exist between the House and Senate rules. Proceedings, for example, lie in how each chamber, or body, requires a quorum, conducts debate, refers measures (bills or filed legislation going through the legislative process to potentially become law) to specific committees, places measures on a specific type of calendar for consideration, and votes. The House Committee on Rules is considered powerful, able to do much of anything deemed necessary; there is no such equal committee in the Senate.

The House Speaker, being the majority party leader and presiding officer, is able to govern proceedings, to recognize or not recognize a Member to rise and debate. Requests for the purpose of recognition on the House Floor are typically made based on precedence in order to maintain soundness and continuity of Congress. Debate time on the Floor is limited in the House per Representative, while each Senator is allowed unlimited Floor time to debate including filibuster. On the Senate Floor, the presiding officer must recognize the first Senator standing and seeking recognition. Other Senate leaders determine who speaks next depending on Senate rulings and precedents.

When measures that are not controversial in nature make it to the Floor for consideration, most are approved in the House by “suspension of the rules” which is a procedure the House uses to pass widely supported measures, that prohibits floor amendments and limits debate time, and requires a two-thirds majority for the bill’s passage. However, a similar measure’s passage would be obtained by unanimous consent in the Senate. Another difference is that a legislative day can run for several calendar days in the Senate which tends to recess, whereas the House adjourns at the end of a legislative day. Application of a different process to begin business again depends on whether a recess or adjournment occurs.

Rules introduced in the United States House of Representatives and Senate over two hundred years ago have certainly changed through decades of Congresses. While early versions of congressional rules at times proved unruly and in need of reform as new developments often may, America’s Founders recognized early the necessity for order. They moved first to set systems for properly conducting business. They continued efforts to fill needs for fair and efficient proceedings. In hopes of setting precedents that would not impede their work but instead prove beneficial to the preamble’s “We the People,” the Founders and Constitution Framers looked to affirm that the “First Branch” of American government would exist to serve its citizens.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017), and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).

Sources:

House of Representatives Committee on Rules – “About the Committee on Rules – History and Processes”
https://rules.house.gov/about

House of Representatives Committee on Rules – “History of the Rules Committee”
https://rules.house.gov/history-rules-committee

United States Senate Rules Administration – “History: Introduction”
https://www.rules.senate.gov/about/history

CRS Report for Congress – “House and Senate Rules of Procedure: A Comparison” https://www.senate.gov/reference/reference_index_subjects/Rules_and_Procedure_vrd.htm

“United States Senate Origins and Development”
https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Origins_Development.htm

Congress.gov – “The Legislative Process: House Floor (Transcript)”
https://www.congress.gov/legislative-process/house-floor

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Along with House Speaker and President of the Senate, other important positions such as Majority and Minority Leaders, and Whips play significant roles for an effective Congress. At the outset of United States Congresses, such roles were not as formal as they are today, and have come to be defined by history and tradition. However, since the House of Representatives is a large body, having floor leadership is especially beneficial to assist members with conducting business they were elected to complete, and help one another work at their best together.

House and Senate Majority Leaders are selected for the party that has the most Members elected to the current Congress. The Minority Leader is selected for the party with the fewer Members elected to the current Congress. Each is chosen within the respective party caucus or conference every two years at the start of a new Congress.

Representative Sereno Payne (R-NY) served as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee prior to becoming the first House Majority Leader in 1899. For the current, 115th Congress, serving as House Majority Leader is Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Early on, the tendency was a chairman of Ways and Means or Appropriations was asked to also serve as Majority Leader. This trend continued until the role became more distinct. While party floor leaders are not included in the Constitution, the positions developed over time. The first floor leaders for Democrats were official in 1920, and for Republicans in 1925.

Charged with scheduling legislation to be considered for a floor vote, planning short and long-term legislative agendas, and checking with Members to see how votes could go, the Majority Leader helps the party reach its goals as elected. In Congress, the “floor” is where House and Senate Members meet, discuss, and vote in favor of or against passage of legislation. Each floor is said to be in the House chamber or Senate chamber, with each chamber located on opposite sides inside the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC.

Minority Leaders serve as floor leaders like the Majority Leaders. Though many of the Minority Leader responsibilities are similar to those of the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader represents the minority party of the current Congress, speaks for and protects the rights of the minority party.

James Richardson (D-TN) was recognized as the first House Minority Leader in 1899, though it was said James Madison served as the first Minority Leader as he led the “loyal opposition” to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s policies during the First Congress. Today, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) serves as House Minority Leader.

Senate floor leaders came from standing committees that had the most power. In 1913, Senator John Worth Kern (D-IN) functioned similarly as a Senate Majority Leader would now for the Democratic Party. The same occurred for the Republican Party in 1919 with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr. (R-MA) acting as a majority floor leader. Later, official elections of Senate Majority and Minority Leaders arrived first in 1920 with the Democratic Party choosing Oscar Underwood (D-AL) as Senate Minority Leader, and in 1925, the Republicans choosing Senator Charles Curtis (R-KS) as Senate Majority Leader. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) serves today as Senate Majority Leader and the current serving Senate Minority Leader is Senator Charles Ellis “Chuck” Schumer (D-NY).

Similar to Majority and Minority House and Senate leaders, Whips, borrowed from the British Parliament and a foxhunting term, or “whipper-in” would assist floor leaders with keeping the legislative agenda moving, counting Members for votes and ensuring quorums, and standing in for floor leaders as needed. Whips, also elected by both parties, are still part of floor leadership in modern Congresses, positions that grew out of necessity to maintain order during congressional proceedings.

The first Democratic Party Whip elected was in 1913, Senator James Hamilton (D-IL). In 1915, the same Whip role was created by Republicans who elected Senator James Wolcott, Jr., Wadsworth (R-NY). Currently, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) serves as Senate Majority Whip, and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) serves as the Senate Minority Whip. The current serving House Majority Whip is Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), and the House Minority Whip is Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

By now, leadership roles of Congress have developed further with Parliamentarians, conferences and caucuses, Sergeants at Arms, Doorkeepers, Chaplains, among others. These also assist with maintaining order and effectiveness so those elected may arrive to their respective offices and serve as promised.

The various roles established throughout the course of American history are proving effective though some want to rid America’s Congress of its Members almost immediately after an election. However, made up of imperfect people who would fail at times yet try again, America’s Founders and Constitution Framers showed up for known, imminent challenges, and against just about impossible odds to succeed. They did so believing something better could exist and pursued a new type of governing that if maintained by the electorate would offer the most freedom for those it represented.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017), and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).

Sources:

“United States House of Representatives Majority Leaders of the House (1899 to present)”
http://history.house.gov/People/Office/Majority-Leaders/

“The Role of the House Minority Leader: An Overview” https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/RL30666.html

“Role of Senate Minority Leader”
https://constitution.laws.com/senate/minority-leader

“United States House of Representatives Leadership”
https://www.house.gov/leadership

“The People of the People’s House”
http://history.house.gov/People/

“Floor Leaders, Majority and Minority Leaders, Party Whips” https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Leaders_Whips.htm

“The Role of the House Majority Leader: An Overview” http://congressionalresearch.com/RL30665/document.php?study=The+Role+of+the+House+Majority+Leader+An+Overview

“United States Senate Leadership & Officers”
http://www.senate.gov/senators/leadership.htm

“United States Senate Majority and Minority Leaders” https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Majority_Minority_Leaders.htm

“United States Senate Party Whips” https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Party_Whips.htm

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Leadership roles in the United States House of Representatives and Senate help advance the purpose of Congress and why each member was elected – to serve.  Various positions bring in members who offer each Congress that convenes unique experience and abilities.

Development of leadership roles that would carry into the new, settled governing system was in the making in the years surrounding the first, second, and third Continental Congresses and into the first United States Congress.

Combined efforts throughout the 1700s held a number of the same men who crafted and/or signed one or more of our beginning or founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, United States Constitution, and later the Bill of Rights. The knowledge, strengths, and interests of these early leaders would create congressional governing positions still in use today.

The First United States Congress which met from 1789 to 1791 is considered the most important of all of the Congresses that have convened since then. The First Congress was entrusted with an arduous task of discussing and passing all legislation necessary to get the new system of American government running and with workable precedents. This included a need to select leadership roles among setting up rules and procedures of each chamber, or body, of the House and Senate.

Roles in Congress would develop with Representative James Madison who led the beginning Congress that would set up, for example, a revenue system, executive departments, take on state Revolutionary War debts, and decide on the future capital.

While at work setting up new roles for a new system, the first Congress moved to Philadelphia in 1789. Washington, D.C. would later become the settled, nation’s capital where the three branches of government would sit: the nation’s Capitol would be built for future Congresses to meet, the White House for United States presidents to reside, and home of the Supreme Court.

Each year Congress convenes in a series of meetings called a session. Congress holds two sessions per year. Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution states:

“The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.”

Later, the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified to make the third day of January the meeting date unless Congress passes a law to appoint a different day. When the House or Senate is meeting on Capitol Hill, either is said to be “in session” each time one or both chambers meets though the two formal meetings per year, one of which must occur based on the constitutional mandate to meet at least once per year, are also called “sessions.”

The House begins a new Congress at noon on January 3 each odd-numbered year following a general election with a Congress lasting two years, and each year is one session. The Senate meets for a new “Congress” every two years, divided into two annual sessions, each beginning in January and ending in December. When the House and Senate meet together, it is called a joint session, and sometimes a joint meeting depending on the reason for meeting. Starting and ending on an odd year, as of 2018, the United States Congress has convened for 114 Congresses, is currently in the second session of its 115th Congress that began in 2017 and will conclude in 2019.

Prior to the first Congress in 1789 under the new system of government, along with election as the first United States President, George Washington, was selected as president of the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia. It was a role that would help spur the necessary precedents to maintain a stable, effective Congress for the long-term.

Since 1789, relatively few Americans, almost 11,000, have taken a role as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and/or Senate. The First Federal Congress convened in New York City’s Federal Hall March 4, 1789. They were able to begin proceedings finally in April because at first, they did not obtain a quorum to begin conducting business. Once enough members finally arrived from long, difficult travel, they were able to begin, including to elect a first Speaker, Representative Frederick Muhlenberg (R-PA). Currently, in the 115th Congress, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) is serving as House Speaker.

Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution reads:

“The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers…”

The Speaker is the presiding officer over the House of Representatives in a political and parliamentary role. Though established from British parliamentary practice, Speakers have limited their positions to presiding over the House, among other duties, and serving as a ceremonial head. The Speaker is elected by a majority of the Representatives newly elected, and chosen by the majority and minority party caucuses, when a new Congress begins.

In case of a vacancy during a Congress, a majority of the House selects a new Speaker from candidates the two parties previously chose. The role of the House Speaker is part of our Constitution in Amendment 25 as a leader in line to the presidency, should the President of the United States prove disabled.

Since the Framers left the decision to Congress regarding which Officer would act as President should the Vice President be unable as first in line to the presidency, it was decided in 1791 to set the Secretary of State as next in line after the Vice President. The Vice President also serves as President of the Senate, with authority to vote in case of a tie on the Senate floor. John Adams served as the first Vice President along with duties as President of the Senate. Today, Mike Pence (R-IN) serves as Vice President and President of the Senate.

Some suggested the Chief Justice, House Speaker, or president pro tempore (meaning to serve for the time being, and in this case if the Vice President is unable) of the Senate which did serve in the succession capacity following the passage of the Presidential Succession Act of 1792. Differences in opinion over who should succeed the President and Vice President left considerable risk for upset of stability and balance of powers. In 1947, the law was changed to place the order of succession to make the Speaker in line after the Vice President, followed by the president pro tempore, then the Secretary of State and other cabinet members depending on the time each department was created. To this date, this system is still in use.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017), and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).

Sources:

“The First Federal Congress” https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/treasures_of_congress/text/page2_text.html

“Total Members of the House & State Representation” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Total-Members/Total-Members/

“The Opening of the First Congress in New York City” http://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1700s/The-opening-of-the-First-Congress-in-New-York-City/

“House of Representatives Session Dates” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Session-Dates/Session-Dates/

“Congress Profiles” http://history.house.gov/Congressional-Overview/Profiles/1st/

“The People of the People’s House” http://history.house.gov/People/

“United States House of Representatives Leadership” https://www.house.gov/leadership

“President Pro Tempore”
https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/President_Pro_Tempore.htm

“Presidential Succession” https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Presidential_Succession.htm

“President of the Senate: Vice President of the United States” https://www.senate.gov/reference/Index/Vice_President.htm

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One of the most important tasks Congress must complete is to set a budget. It is especially important for members of Congress to understand how the budget works in order to best represent and serve the American people. For this reason, our United States Constitution framers recognized the need for a system that could remain within the knowledge and control of the people who would entrust power to their elected representatives concerning the nation’s finances.

The framers did not want to repeat what they observed in England where the king was able to direct funds rather than the citizenry directing funds. The framers instead put together a different form of government that left control or “power of the purse” in the hands of the people. This is how Congress, the legislative branch, was placed in charge of taxing and spending, a system by which voters could have a say in the direction of funds and hold their representatives accountable:

“All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.” –United States Constitution, Article I, Section 7, Clause 1

By the first Monday in February of each year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is required to provide a report of the president’s priorities for the United States. The budget is set for the fiscal (monetary or budgetary) year that begins in October, and is required by law to cover at least five fiscal years. Currently, the federal budget covers 10 fiscal years:

“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.” –United States Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 7

By 1791, the First Congress passed the first appropriations act to fund the government. In 1865, the House of Representatives separated the duties of writing tax policy and the duties of allocating funds into these two committees: the Committee on Ways and Means, and the Committee on Appropriations.

The House Committee on Ways and Means is in charge of writing tax policy that will determine how money is spent. The Committee on Ways and Means dates back to 1789 and is the oldest committee of the United States Congress. The Committee on Appropriations is in charge of dedicating funds for specific purposes.

Though the President of the United States starts the budget process by sending a request with the Administration’s policy and funding priorities to the Office of Management and Budget, it is Congress that runs the financial numbers and reports on projections and measures policy changes that may be recommended for upcoming years.

Next, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office sends analyses on the economic outlook to the House and Senate Budget Committees, which then uses the information researched by the Congressional Budget Office to put together a resolution and decide on proposed policy changes.

The budget process has come a long way since America’s founding. But, with the bringing in of revenue (tax money), complications and even quarrels over the integrity of the budget process and spending arose. By 1974, the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act was established to reduce court suits over disputes between Congress and the President, among prior issues building up to that point, to help alleviate problems delaying the creation of each budget. The intention was to reform the process that would result in the best spending priorities rather than allow to remain a sense that the budget lacked stability.

Though changes in means to forecast economic strength and positive or negative outcomes have grown due to advancements in technology and computing, for example, Americans will undoubtedly continue to argue over spending and debt. Yet, America’s founders and Constitution framers knew all too well the warning signs accompanying a lack of discernment for the public monetary trust that could result in a declining economy:

“I, however, place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.” – Thomas Jefferson, Founder, Author of the Declaration of Independence, and Third U.S. President

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America.  She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017) and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).

Sources:

Office of the Historian – History, Art & Archives: United States House of Representatives http://history.house.gov/institution/origins-development/power-of-the-purse/

House Budget Committee – “Basics of the Current Federal Budget Process” https://budget.house.gov/budget-digest/basics-current-federal-budget-process/

Office of Management and Budget https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/

Congressional Budget Office https://www.cbo.gov/about/overview

House Committee on Ways and Means https://waysandmeans.house.gov/about/

House Committee on Appropriations https://appropriations.house.gov/about/

Founders Online, “Thomas Jefferson to William Plumer, 21 July 1816” https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-10-02-0152