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How Our National (Federal) Government Is Organized

“Each House may determine the rules of its pro-

-First Article of the Federal Constitution.

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In our last chapter we discussed the organization of both Houses of the Congress and pointed out that all the States have equal representation in the Senate, but that in the House of Representatives the number of Members allotted to each State depends on the size of its population. While every State is guaranteed at least one Representative, no matter how small its population may be, yet in general the present allotment of membership of the House is about 1 Member to each 300,000 inhabitants of a State. You also learned that the two Houses of the Congress have almost the same authority in the making of laws, and that either House can begin the consideration of a new law (except a law to raise revenue) and, on the other hand, may refuse to pass a law on which the other House has already voted favorably.

It will now be interesting to consider what kind of laws the Congress has authority to make and how it operates to make such laws.

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You will recall that the people, through the Constitution of the United States, delegated certain powers to the Federal Government. In doing so, however, it definitely listed 19 subjects on which the Congress might make laws and left all other lawmaking power to the States. The subjects,


as listed in the eighth section of the First Article of the Constitution, are very broad and important ones.

Among the powers delegated by the Constitution to the Congress are the following:

1. To lay and collect taxes. 2. To borrow money.

3. To make rules and regulations for commerce between the States and with foreign countries.

4. To coin money, to state its value, to fix the standard of weights and measures, and to provide for the punishment of counterfeiting.

5. To make a uniform rule about naturalization.

6. To establish uniform laws for the whole country on the subject of bankruptcy.

7. "To establish post offices and post roads. 8. To issue patents and copyrights.

9. To set up a system of Federal courts having less power than the Supreme Court set up by the Constitution.

10. To punish piracy.
11. To declare war.
12. To raise and support armies.
13. To provide for a Navy.

14. To make rules and regulations for the Army and Navy.

15. To provide for calling out the militia to enforce the Federal laws, to suppress lawlessness, or to repel invasion.

16. To cooperate with the States in organizing and arming the militia.

17. To make all laws for the District of Columbia.

18. To make all laws needed to put into effect all the powers given by the Constitution to the Government of the United States or to any agency or officer of the United States.

19. To make laws, rules and regulations about the territory and all property belonging to the United States.

Among the things which the Constitution does not allow the Congress to do are:


1. To suspend the writ of habeas corpus, except in time of rebellion or invasion.

2. To pass laws which condemn persons of crimes or unlawful acts without a trial.

3. To pass any law which will declare to be criminal any act already done which was not criminal when it was done.

4. To lay direct taxes on citizens of States, except on the basis of a census already taken.

5. To tax exports from any State.

6. To give especially favorable treatment in commerce or taxation to the seaports of any State or to the vessels using such seaports.

7. To authorize any titles of nobility.


CONGRESS? The Constitution provides that the Vice President shall be president of the Senate, but shall have no vote except in case of a tie. It also provides that the House of Representatives shall choose its own Speaker and other officers, and that the Senate shall choose a president pro tempore (to preside if the Vice President is absent) and other officers. The Speaker is always a member of the political party to which the largest group of Members of the House belong and has great influence both in the selection of Members for important committees and in conducting the business of the House.

The members of each political party represented in the Senate meet at the beginning of each new Congress and select a “floor leader” and appoint various Senators of their own party to help him; and the members of the political parties in the House do the same thing. These leaders are not selected in accordance with any law but according to the custom of each political group. But they do very important work in helping the passage of laws which their parties favor and the defeat of laws which their parties oppose. They have come to be important parts of the constitutional process of lawmaking.

HOW DOES THE CONGRESS MAKE THE LAWS? It is easy for any of us to understand that 435 Members of the House of Representatives cannot possibly work well as a single group in deciding on the wording of some new law or in studying just what the effect of all its provisions will be. This is also true of the Senate with its 96 Members. For the careful work and study of preparing workable laws and determining that they do not cause confusion with the many thousand laws already in force, both Houses of the Congress have come to rely upon the work of smaller groups of their Members called committees.

Each house always arranges for a number of important committees. Among them are committees to consider such important subjects of lawmaking as Agriculture, Appropriations, Banking and Currency, Commerce, Finance, Foreign Relations, the Judiciary, Labor, Manufactures, Rules, and Military and Naval Affairs. In the House of Representatives there is a Committee on Immigration and Naturalization; in the Senate, a Committee on Immigration. The Senate has over 30 committees, and the House of Representatives has more than 40. Each committee has a chairman who is usually one of the older Members of the Congress in length of service.


What do these committees do? Every bill introduced in either House by one of its Members is referred to one of these committees for study. Where do these bills come from? Some of them are drawn up by the committees themselves, or by special committees of the Congress, to meet special needs of the people. Some are suggested by the President or other executive officers to meet new executive needs or to improve old ways of doing things. Others are suggested to Members of the Congress by citizens or organizations; while still others represent the personal views of Congressmen themselves. But whenever a bill is introduced in either House, it is read by its title, given a number, and then referred by the Clerk of the House to the proper committee. A bill to help the wheat growers, for example, would be referred to the Committee on Agriculture. If hearings are held by the committee, persons who favor or oppose the bill may appear and state their views. Sometimes the arguments for and against a bill at a committee hearing may last several weeks or months.

What may the committee do with the bill? The committee may (1) recommend it to the Congress just as it was introduced, (2) change it slightly, (3) rewrite it entirely, or (4) ignore it altogether. If the bill is ignored, the committee does not report it back to the House in which it was introduced, and usually it does not receive further consideration. However, it is possible for a majority of the Members of the House of Representatives, by signing a petition, to take a bill away from a committee and bring it

а before the House for action. In the Senate a committee can be discharged from consideration of a bill through a motion passed by a majority of the Senators present. This procedure is called “forcing a bill out of committee."



What happens to a bill after it is reported back to the House in which it was introduced After a committee reports a bill back to the House, the Members usually discuss it in open debate and then vote on it. In the House of Representatives, because of the large number of Members, the Rules Committee usually sets a time limit on the debate; but in the Senate the debate can usually go on as long as Senators have anything to say. If a bill is passed by one House, it is sent to the other House for action.

In the second House the bill goes through much the same procedure as in the first House. The second House may pass or defeat the bill. If the bill is passed by the second House with amendments, it must be returned to the House in which it was first introduced. If the first House refuses to agree to the changes, the bill may go to a “conference committee,” on which each House is equally represented. If the conference committee can adjust the points of dif

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