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Structures, powers, and functions of Congress: lesson overview

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

TermDefinition
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?

Want to join the conversation?

  • piceratops seed style avatar for user HunterJar
    Why are they called “pork barrels”
    (12 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Maryjane Marquez
    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?
    (14 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user VoidStrike
    There are a bunch of comments asking about "Pork Barrels." I will try my best to answer it here, so you don't have to spam more of them.
    There is some dispute to where the term "Pork Barrel" originates, but it can be recognized in the 1863 book "Children of The Public." In the story, barrels of salt pork were used as a metaphor for public spending, which led to the Oxford English Dictionary recognizing the metaphor 10 years later. The metaphor probably originates from barrels of salt pork being used as a way to measure the financial success of a household. Later at some point the term was adopted into politics to give a name to federal funding for localized projects.
    (7 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user valentina vinasco
    How does the structure of Congress affect the policymaking process?
    (7 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user n0limits.reg
    why are threr two housea
    (2 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user bbraun
      The two, or bicameral, house Congress came from the Constitutional Convention. The short answer is that the big states wanted a congress where the number of representatives that they had would be decided by population, giving them an advantage. The smaller states wanted a congress where each state had the same number of votes. The so called "Great Compromise" was to create two houses where one had seats decided by population, the House of Representatives, and the other had two seats per state, the Senate.
      (9 votes)
  • starky tree style avatar for user sarah ehrenfried
    What are the electoral vote and the popular vote?
    (2 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user leahmarquez
      From the author:Hi there!

      The electoral vote is the vote based on the electoral college. Electors are representatives who vote on behalf of citizens in a state. There are 535 total electors and each state is apportioned a number of electors based on population. For example, Wyoming has three electors in comparison to Texas which has 38 electors. This is an example of indirect democracy as the representatives vote on behalf of the state. In most states, electors vote for the candidate who received the majority of votes in a winner-take-all system. For example, if Candidate A received 51% of the votes in California, they would win all of California's 55 electoral votes rather than splitting the electoral votes 51-49.

      The popular vote is the total number of votes from all US states. Usually, the outcome of the electoral vote matches the outcome of the popular vote, but there are some notable exceptions like the 2000 and 2016 elections.

      If you want to learn more, I suggest watching this video about the electoral college: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-government-and-civics/american-civics-parent/american-civics/v/electoral-college
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user cwri85667
    what role do committees play in the policy making process
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user LabrinaBedell
    How does the structure of congress affect the policy making process
    (3 votes)
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    • piceratops tree style avatar for user Andy Banuelos
      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.

      its at the top of the page:)
      (2 votes)
  • aqualine tree style avatar for user kennedy.tyson
    why are all of those steps necessary for the laws to past?
    (3 votes)
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  • starky seed style avatar for user jonathan.brewer
    how rule differences in the House of Representatives and the Senate can affect the policymaking process?
    (2 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Sam Tan
      In the Senate, it's harder to pass a bill because it oftentimes requires a supermajority(>60%) vote, which was intentionally designed by the framers to slow down the legislation process. In the House of representatives, it's easier to pass a bill (>51%), and thus the majority party has a lot more power. In addition, the House has a lot more members, and thus the need to organize the debate is more severe and necessary, which gives the rule committee more power in the policymaking process than the one in the Senate.
      (3 votes)