There are seven main functions of congress. Under the lawmaking function Congress has the responsibility to establish public policy for the nation. While the President must still sign a bill into law and can veto it, Congress can still override the veto. Laws may be created about issues such as television regulation, federal budgets, gun control, and health care reform, among many others. The representation function of congress is organized by three models. Based on the instructed delegate model they make decisions based on what the majority of their constituents want while the trustee model dictates they do whatever they see fit. The politico model combines these two models. Congress’s function of service to their constituents includes such responsibilities as casework, cutting through red tape to allow constituents access to their office and the ombudsman’s role. They act as an ombudsperson investigating for example, complaints against government agencies or employees. Under their oversight function are the powers of Congress to impeach executive and judicial officials. Congress follows up on laws it has created to ensure they are being enforced and administered in the way intended.
Congress reviews what the executive branch does and ensures that its laws are carried out as intended. Congress has a function of public education whereby they are expected to make problems public and propose solutions to what they spotlight. They often use websites and public mailings for their constituents to accomplish this function. Congress holds public hearings, and engages in debate on a variety concerns in areas such as immigration, global warming, aging, illegal drugs, and the welfare of small business. As part of public education, they set agendas deciding which public policies will be debated. The conflict resolution role dictates that Congress attempt to resolve the differences among competitive groups using their lawmaking function to accommodate the views of as many interested parties as possible. Under their advise and consent role Congress advises the President on his appointments and votes on the appointments decided on and ratifies treaties (Davidson, Oleszek, Lee, & Schickler, 2013).
A filibuster is a tactic used in the United States Senate whereby a Senator attempts to block the vote on a measure under consideration. Filibusters cannot happen in the House of Representatives because they have strict time limits on how long a member can speak once recognized. In contrast, Senators once recognized can speak as long as they choose providing they don’t take a break or leave the senate floor. They can yield for questions. Additionally, they do not have to speak on the issue providing they continue speaking of someone else does in the form of asking a question. The only matter Senate will not allow a filibuster on anything falling under the budget reconciliation process. There are two ways to end a filibuster. The Senate can vote before a matter is considered and by unanimous assent limit debate. Once a filibuster has begun, a cloture vote can shut it down but this is an extremely time consuming process. Cloture votes only occur after two days of filibustering has occurred. At this time, a cloture vote occurs automatically when a vote is taken. If three fifths of the Senators vote to invoke cloture then additional debate is limited to 30 hours at which time a vote is called for. However, this means that a filibuster could continue for over three days prior to it being stopped (Davidson, Oleszek, Lee, & Schickler, 2013).
The number of elected members sent to Congress from each state differs for the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Senate currently has 100 member as it is made up by two senators from each state. The Senate is not affected by the population of the state and it only changes in terms of number of members when a new state is admitted to the union. The last time new Senators were added to Congress was in 1959 when Hawaii became a state. The number of Representatives each state gets can change however. Representatives represent specific districts in their state. Congressional districts are defined as the electoral division of a state. Each district sends one elected official to the House of Representatives. Reappointment in Congress refers to recounting the population of a state in order to determine the number of congressional representatives each state is allowed. Reappointment occurs every ten years and is based on U.S. Census. According to the Constitution, districts represented by members of Congress must have equal populations. Redistricting is the process of adjusting district boundaries in order to maintain population equality. Redistricting also occurs every ten years and is based on census data. Since each state legislature is generally controlled by a single party it is in their best interests to redistrict the state to ensure their party has the most number of seats in Congress possible.
Gerrymandering is the illegal process of altering congressional districts through redistricting to benefit the party in power to make sure it has more seats in Congress than the opposing party. Minority-majority districts are districts in which minority groups make up a majority of the districts total population. The population in such a district must be big enough that it is possible for the minority to elect a candidate of their choice. (Wawro & Schickler, 2006. As of 2013, the United States was home to 113 congressional majority-minority districts. This represented approximately 26 percent of the nation’s 435 House districts.
While some majority minority districts come about naturally, many others occur through redistricting and racial gerrymandering. Just like with regular gerrymandering, State legislatures cannot create districts which are based only on racial considerations. In Shaw v. Reno (1993), the US Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina’s redistricting plan was unconstitutional since it created a majority minority district that was so bizarrely shaped that it ultimately completely separated votes based on race which violated the 14th amendment. Thus, racial gerrymandering has been considered illegal like regular gerrymandering has.
- Davidson, R. H., Oleszek, W. J., Lee, F. E., & Schickler, E. (2013). Congress and its Members. Cq Press.
- Wawro, G. J., & Schickler, E. (2006). Filibuster: Obstruction and lawmaking in the US Senate (p. 262). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.