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Process & Structure
Hi welcome back. I bet you were wondering about that strong thermostat, what really happened with the federal civil rights act of 1957? You’re going to have to stay tuned for a second on that one. We’ll get to it in this episode.
We’re going to talk about three things here, and take a closer look at Congress in Congress 101, Congress 102. Starting out with nuts and bolts. We're going to talk about qualifications, terms, demographics, court cases, things that you should already know. But we'll give you a checklist on that.
Secondly, we’re going to go through what you already know as well, how a bill becomes law. But maybe, more importantly, why so few bills do become law.
Finally, we’re going to warp this up talking about the job of a Congress person or Senator. What do they really do in day-to-day life? Then we’ll pass it over to Congress 102.
First of all you know this. From Article 1 in the constitution, you want to run for the house, you got be 25 years old. You want to run for the Senate, you got to be 30 years old. Citizenship qualifications seven years for the house, nine years for the United States Senate. You also know that the term in the house is for two years. It means that you’re constantly running for office in the House of the Representatives. Every even year, there’s an election, you want your job back, you’re running again. That’s going to be important when we talk a little bit more about money.
Senator, six years. If you run in 2008, you won’t have to run again in 2014. We only re-elect one-third of the senators. So this time 33 are running for re-election. I believe only 32 of them are standing for re-election, the next time 33, the following one 34.
Of the 435 people in the house or Representatives, only 74 of them are women. 73 of the are non-whites. For the first time. we have two Muslims in the House of the Representatives. There’s five Buddhists and one Atheist.
You know this case Shaw versus Reno? You should. Let’s go over it real briefly. First of all in the 1980s, Congress tried to address the fact that there was not enough people of color in Congress to represent proportionately. They passed laws to draw district lines that could include race as one of the factors. That went about as far as North Carolina where a man sued, because he thought it was unfair to do that. The Supreme Court of the United States said in Shaw versus Reno, you cannot include race when you’re drawing the district lines. We’ll pick up more of that in Congress 102.
Now before we talk about how a bill becomes law, you know these things. Let me tell a quick story, because I’m not sure that that’s really how a Bill becomes law.
Several years ago, I sued to live in a small town. A local Congressman would come to school every now and then to talk about the job of a Congressman. In one particular occasion, he came and he said he had a bill that he really passionately believed in. This was in agricultural region. He was concerned that there was too much chemical on the fruits and vegetables for the region. He wanted a study done before these chemicals were allowed. He proposes a bill, gives it to the speaker. It goes to the Hopper all those things you already know. It gets assigned to the agriculture committee, nothing happens. Well session comes, a session goes. He proposed it again, goes to committee, nothing happens.
Finally, the Congress person goes over to the committee chairperson of the agriculture committee. Turns out to be a guy from a tobacco state, who’s about 80 years old and he’s hooked up to an oxygen machine, from smoking for 50 years, doesn’t think it has anything to do it. He asks him about his Bill, he says, “I’d like to see my Bill heard in this committee,” and the Congressman doesn’t even say hello to him. He turns around, he goes to his computer and he types in and he gets back to our local Congressman and he says, “Congressman, you voted to ban smoking on domestic airliners. Why are you in my office? Good day sir.” Didn’t even give him the time of day and the local Congressman walk out with his tail between his legs. He thinks that’s it. The bill’s dead, not going to happen. But it did happen in a strange sort of way.
Six months later, the phone rings and it’s the Congressman from North Carolina. He says, “I’m ready to hear your bill now, but you’ve got to so something for me.” Well, what is that something for me? It seems the Congressman wants some money for a fishing project off of the coast of North Carolina. “If you do that for me, I’ll do that for you.” It’s called logrolling in Congress. More than any other thing, that’s probably why it is that bills do become law.
Let’s briefly review why it is that bills don’t become law. There’s dozens of steps literally dozens in this. If a bill gets stopped at any place along the way, it’s derailed, it’s done, it’s going to start again in the next session.
First of all, it’s assigned to a committee. It might get assigned to many different committees. If it gets put on the bottom of the pile in a committee, that’s called pigeon-holing, it’s done for that session. More importantly, it can get stuck in the Ways and Means committee in the House of Representatives, or the Rules committee. These are the two most powerful committees in the House. All money bills start in the house and all money Bills must go through the Ways and Means committee.
Since the Democrats control a majority in the House right now, and Speaker of the house is a Democrat, there’s going to be a committee chairperson who’s a Democrat. If the chairperson doesn’t like the Bill, it’s done. The same is true in the Rules Committee. Do you remember what that’s for? The Rules committee is going to limit debate. If it doesn’t give out the rules, it doesn’t happen.
Another way that bills can be derailed is that there are lobbyists constantly visiting the offices of Congress person. That’s not a newsflash to you. But you probably also know, that there is over 4,000 political action committees that try to influence legislation in Congress. One of the easiest ways to do it, is to try to pay people by giving money to their political campaigns, in order to drop legislation or to make sure that it doesn’t get through.
In Senate, a Bill can be filibustered. With that Bill the strong fairly and filibustered 24 hours, 19 minutes, well it didn’t pass. The filibuster works. The famous civil act of 1964 is seven years later. That filibuster put it off for seven years.
You finally get a bill through both houses of Congress, it may go through the committee in order to make sure that the bills are even between the house and Senate, and the president decides to veto. You should know that the president doesn’t veto very many Bills. But the amount of times that a president vetoes the Bill, you can count perhaps on your hand in a session. The amount of times that the presidential veto is overwritten sometimes is zero.
Just recently, a bill was overwritten by the house and the Senate with the two-third majority about the mortgage crisis and to try to help out some people with their housing. President Bush vetoed it, the Congress overwrote it with a two-thirds majority. It happened, I think one other time, in this entire four year time that a Bill survived the presidential veto.
The last reason that Bills don’t tend to become law is that sometimes people propose Bills when they don’t really think that it’s going to pass, or they don’t have an interest in carrying that bill all the way through. They just want to look good to the folks back home. I can think of an example where a Congress person introduced a particular bill, and he said he wanted to reintroduce prayer in the public school. He knew that bill wasn’t going to pass and become Law. But his folks were values voters and he wanted to get it on the record.
Finally, what are the jobs that a Congress person does? Obviously, in the Senate and the House, they vote on the Bills that affect the nation. It’s probably also true that they’re representing the people on their District or their state. A good example of that might be found with the agricultural states in the bread basket of America. Corn is king in Iowa for example. Iowa farmers are very interested in the idea that ethanol fuels can be made from corn. To get legislation passed, they’re going to represent their states and their districts when they vote in Congress.
Finally, they represent the people in their districts, the individuals in their district. They’re called constituents. You might get tickets to the gallery in the House or the Senate, and then they help you with the visa problem that kind of thing.
According to our local Congressman, he said there’s another constitutional duty, but he smiled when he said it. That has to do with raising money to get re-elected. If you don’t get money to get re-elected, you don’t keep your job. He said, “I like my job. I’d like to stay at it for a while,” Unfortunately for him, he took an unpopular stand on the Iraqi war, the first Iraqi war and he lost his job.
Let’s do a personal inventory for you. Can you tell us what are some of the bills that have gone through Congress in the last two years? For the AP exam, you’re probably going to need to know that sort of thing. You’ll also need to come up with some examples of how Congress goes forward with their duties in oversight. Can you give some examples of that? You should. You’ll be expected to on the exam.
Then there is a few court cases, Wesberry versus Sanders. The equality of districts and the Supreme Court said that there must be of equal nature. Buckley versus Valeo, it’s almost on every AP exam. Free speech is equated with money. You can’t limit money, because you are limiting free speech.
Finally, a less known case, but also important to put in your tool bag, New York versus Clinton. Congress passed a law that gave president the Line-item veto, but the US Supreme Court said that gave too much power to the executive. So we’ll take a look at that.
Check out your bonus material if you don’t feel like you know enough about those particular cases. Do you know for example who the leaders of the Senate are? The Speaker of the House? The senator from Nevada, who leads the Senate. If you don’t again check your bonus material. So there you have Congress 101.
We’re going to play a game in number 102. We’re going to talk a little bit about why some districts are not fairly represented. We’ll see you on then other side.
Let’s take a quick look back. What do we know? First of all, you pretty much have the nuts and bolts down by now. You know the qualifications, the terms, the demographics in Congress. You also have some reasons why so few bills become law. Then thirdly, you know a little bit about the job of each particular Congress person. Now let’s just talk one more thing in you tool bag for your AP exam. I’ll say some need to knows. Do you know these things? Let’s do a personal inventory.
First of all, can you tell us some current legislation in your current town? What’s happened in the last two years? If you can include that in your AP exam, you’re going to be at extreme advantage. Also can you give examples of Congressional oversight? How congress oversees the executive? You’ll want to know some of those as well. Three important court cases that we haven’t mentioned yet, but you’ll see them in other episodes.
Let’s just check in on them now. Wesberry versus Sanders. The idea that districts need to be approximately the same size to ensure equal protection under law. Important case, you’ll probably see it on your exam.
Then Buckley versus Valeo appears more often than not. The idea that spending money is free speech and that it’s real difficult to limit the amount of money that a candidate can spend.
Then finally a lesser known case but important as well; New York versus Clinton. Congress gave the president the Line-item Veto in the middle 1990s. And everybody was fine with it except the Supreme Court. They said it gave the executive too much power.
Lastly, do you know who the current leaders are of congress in the current session? Who’s the speaker of the house? Who’s leading the senate? You should know those. You should be able to refer to them as well in your AP exam. If you have any questions about any of that, go check out your bonus materials and then we’ll see you on the other side.