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Structures, powers, and functions of Congress: lesson overview

CON‑3 (EU)
CON‑3.B (LO)
CON‑3.B.1 (EK)
CON‑3.B.2 (EK)
CON‑3.B.3 (EK)
CON‑3.B.4 (EK)
CON‑3.B.5 (EK)
When the Framers created a bicameral legislature, they created a system of checks and balances within Congress by requiring a bill to be passed in both chambers.
The structures, powers, and functions of the House of Representatives and the Senate are different, and these differences can affect the policymaking process: for example, by accelerating it or slowing it down, and by the extent to which bipartisan collaboration is or is not facilitated.

Key terms

clotureA Senate procedure through which a supermajority of 60 senators can vote to limit the amount of time spent debating a bill and cut off a filibuster.
Committee of the WholeA committee of the House on which all representatives serve in order to consider the details of a proposal.
discharge petitionA petition signed by members of the House of Representatives to bring a bill out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.
filibusterA tactic used by senators to block a bill by continuing to hold the floor and speak, adhering to the Senate rule of unlimited debate. The purpose of this tactic is to continue to speak for so long that the bill’s supporters eventually back down.
House Rules CommitteeThe committee responsible for scheduling and managing the flow of legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives in order to make the process more efficient and manageable. The committee can also make it easier or more difficult for a bill to pass depending on the rules they create.
logrollingWhen two legislators agree to trade votes for each other’s benefit.
pork barrel legislationThe use of federal funding to finance localized projects, typically bringing money into a representative’s district in order to please constituents and boost the representative’s chances of winning reelection.
President of the SenateThe Vice President of the United States, who presides over the Senate’s daily proceedings.
Speaker of the HouseThe presiding officer of the House of Representatives and de facto leader of the majority party.

Key documents to know

The Constitution of the United States (1787) — The fundamental laws and principles that govern the United States. The document was a result of several compromises between federalists and anti-federalists at the Constitutional Convention.

Review questions

How does the structure of Congress affect the policymaking process?
What are three methods that members of Congress can use to stop legislation from being voted on? Do these methods differ between the Senate and the House of Representatives?
What role do committees play in the policymaking process?
What are two methods that members of Congress can use to get a bill to pass?

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