House of Representatives

In 1787, fifty-five delegates from the original states met in Philadelphia with Gen. George Washington presiding. The purpose of this meeting was to draw up a constitution for The United States of America.

After four months of debate and compromise, the Constitution was finally adopted and referred to the states for ratification. Another year and a half passed before 3/4ths of the states ratified the new constitution and the new federal government was established with George Washington as President.

Today we will discuss part of Article I that deals with the legislative branch of the government. What do we mean by legislative branch? The Congress. What two legislative bodies make up the congress? The House of Representatives and the Senate.

Our subject today will be the House of Representatives, and the following weeks we will follow up with a discussion of the United States Senate and the judiciary and the executive branches of our government. Members of the House of Representatives are usually called Congressmen and members of the Senate are called Senators.

The Founding Fathers wisely provided in the Constitution that The House of
Representatives would be made up of members elected by the people. They even forbid governors from filling a vacancy by appointment. They have to call a special election to fill a vacancy. How many members are there in the House? There are 435 plus one delegate each from the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The chief function of the Congress is the making of laws. So now let’s look into the inner workings of the House and see how laws are made. You wonder how a large body such as the House can ever accomplish much in the hustle and bustle of the legislative process. But the House is efficiently organized into committees and subcommittees and debate on the floor is strictly limited. A member is usually allowed to speak only once on a bill being debated and is limited to five minutes.

Any member of the House can introduce a bill on a prescribed form by merely dropping a typed copy in the “hopper” or receiving bin beside the desk belonging to the Clerk of the House. The bills are printed each night and listed in the Congressional Record available each morning. The Speaker of the House assigns the bills to the various standing committees. There are 19 standing committees in the House, and all members in the past were assigned to various committees by the Ways and Means Committee, which was chaired by Rep. Wilbur Mills. When Rep. Mills was recently removed as chairman, because of very unfavorable publicity, a special leadership conference of the House was given the job of making committee assignments.

In addition to the nineteen committees, there are numerous sub-committees. The chairman of a committee assigns the bills to his various sub-committees. However, if it is an important, bill he may have the full committee hold open hearings and consider the bill. After hearings, bills are either approved or rejected in an executive session of the full committee. If approved, the bill is reported and entered on the House calendar for action by the full House.

There are thousands of bills on the calendar, so to insure special handling of important bills, there is a Rules Committee that acts as a traffic policeman to see that important legislation is not delayed and to keep an even flow of bills to the floor of the House for final action.

The Rules Committee also sets the date and time allowed for debate on a bill when it is brought to the House floor. The time allotted is usually divided equally between those in favor of the bill and those opposed.

In passing bills on the floor of the House, there are four ways of voting: (1) by voice; (2) by division; (3) by tellers; and (4) by Yeas & Nays. After a bill passes, it is checked for correctness and then printed and a copy sent by messenger to the Senate for action by that body. All of this takes time, but it is the democratic process and part of the checks and balances wisely written into our Constitution by our Founding Fathers.

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