Social Policy & Programs Consulting
Training and Services for agencies working toward social and economic justice
The 118th Congress Is Open For Business
What is a “Congress” anyway?
January 3, 2023
Every two years, Congress reboots. Like a bright New Year’s Day, it’s fresh, and clean, and brief. The 118th Congress assembled today, January 3 – a day for family and tradition, smiles and handshakes. They’ll return to the backstabbing soon enough.
THE U.S. CONSTITUTION
Most Americans are politically ignorant because our schools refuse to teach civics properly.
Many Americans think that “Congress” is the House of Representatives. It is not.
Article I, Section 1 of the United States Constitution says:
"All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."
That means that BOTH the House AND the Senate are equal parts of Congress.
It is incorrect to refer to the House of Representatives as “Congress”.
Two senators represent each state. House members are assigned to states by population. Each state has at least one House Representative, also called a congressman/woman. Congress makes the national laws and authorizes all federal spending.
The president can’t spend a dime without Congressional approval.
The Senate also examines and confirms (or rejects) presidential appointments and all treaties.
The Constitution requires that a new "Congress" convene every two years. In even-numbered years, every one of the 435 House seats and one-third of the 100 Senate seats, called a “class”, are up for election in November. That election creates a new Congress, which opens early in the following January. There are two sessions of each Congress; each lasts one year. The first Congress was elected in 1788 and assembled in 1789. The 117th Congress will officially close at noon on Tuesday, January 3, 2023 and the first session of the 118th Congress will open moments later. The second session of the 118th will open in January 2024.
The Constitution requires only the House Speaker, Vice President as President of the Senate, and Senate President Pro Tempore as Congressional officers, but it gives the members authority to elect any additional officers they choose.
The Speaker of the House is traditionally a member of the majority party, but that is not required. House members can elect anyone – even a non-member – as their Speaker. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) relinquished her role as Speaker, but retains her seat representing California. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) will serve as Democratic Minority Leader.
As the Republicans now hold the House majority, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is trying to gather enough votes to be named Speaker. At this time, it’s uncertain whether he’ll win. Drama ensues.
Vice President Kamala Harris is President of the Senate. While not required, the title of Senate President Pro Tempore traditionally goes to the Senator from the majority party who has the most seniority. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will serve in that capacity. The President Pro Tem has the right to speak first on any measure brought to the Senate floor. She can also be very influential in persuasion and in moving legislation. Because the Democrats retained the majority of Senate seats in November’s election, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) remains as the Senate Majority Leader and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remains as the Minority Leader.
You can see the other leaders at House.gov and Senate.gov.
DIVERSITY IN CONGRESS
While still predominantly composed of upper-middle class white men who claim to be Christians, the 118th is the most diverse Congress in history. It includes:
OPENING OF CONGRESS
The first day is, by tradition, a family day. Members' families visit their offices, and the House and Senate Chambers, and attend the swearing-in. Contrary to common belief, the House oath takes place in a group, not individually. Vice President Kamala Harris, in her capacity as President of the Senate, will swear in the senators in groups of four. Members may hold bibles or other documents if they wish, but are not required to do so.
The Constitution requires that members take an oath before starting their terms, but does not specify what the oath should be. However, the Constitution does give each Congressional chamber the power to write its own rules of procedure. So the oath has evolved over the years, and is the same for House and Senate:
"I, (name of Member), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."
Since the election, new members have been requesting committee assignments and joining caucuses, and have attended various orientation sessions in Washington to acquaint them with the buildings, their offices, government employment policies, and routine procedures. Each member’s individual website will be up and running soon.
LEGISLATION IN CONGRESS
All of the bills that were pending before Congress, but not passed, at the end of 2022 have expired.. Congress will consider only new legislation from this point forward. Anything that didn't pass in the 117th can be re-introduced, but has to undergo the legislative procedure from the beginning.
The House and Senate clerks number the bills in the order in which they are introduced - HR 1, S1, and so on. Laws passed by Congress and signed by the president are called "Public Laws" and are numbered consecutively. The first law passed by the 118th Congress will be P.L. 118-1. You can see all Congressional activity at Congress.gov.
While the actual bills have died, many important issues remain unresolved. Congress will still attempt to tackle or obstruct federal spending, the budget, gun control, immigration, climate change, infrastructure, jobs, national security, marriage equality, reproductive rights, and other matters. House Republicans have threatened to investigate the activities of the 117th Congress’s Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. More drama.
Congress does most of its work through committees, which are very powerful. Committees are organized by topic, such as Defense, Agriculture, Budget, Judiciary, etc. Look at the House and Senate websites for complete committee lists. All committee chairs are members of the majority party. The "ranking member" is the most senior member of the minority party in each committee.
READING THE CONSTITUTION
When the 112th Congress opened in 2011, Speaker John Boehner demanded that the House read the entire U.S. Constitution aloud, on the House floor, as its first order of business. It was quite a spectacle as dozens of members took turns reading passages. It would have been nice if anyone had bothered to stick around to listen to the entire reading.
Not one member did so.
Now, Rep. Kevin McCarthy - if he wins the Speakership - says he will order the reading again.
We’ll see what happens.
However, it’s a good idea for all Americans to read the Constitution occasionally. Take the time to read it now. The original text, without signatures, contains only 4,400 words. The full text, including all 27 amendments, has 7,591 words.
It only takes about an hour.
I’d be surprised if even half of the members of Congress have read the document which they so avidly swear to uphold.
KEEPING UP WITH EVENTS
You can watch live Congressional proceedings on C-SPAN TV. The House and Senate each have their own channels. Check your listings for the channel numbers. You can also get it on c-span.org and a cell phone app, available wherever you get your other apps.
All Congressional activity – bills introduced, laws passed, committee reports, treaties, hearings, etc. – is available at Congress.gov. The Congressional Record contains a daily journal of all speeches, remarks, and documents submitted to Congress.
This is your government. If you don’t take the time to use the resources available, don’t complain that you don’t know what’s going on. Use the links below to find the names of your representatives. Browse their websites to see what they think is important. Then write a letter about something that’s important to you.
GET WHAT YOU WANT
Regardless of political persuasion, Americans want a lot of change from the new Congress.
If you want something, now is the time to get started lobbying for your issues.
Lobbying is not what the politicians and media tell you it is.
"Giving buckets of money to legislators" is not lobbying.
Lobbying is the act of trying to convince elected officials - local, state, and federal - to support or oppose legislation and policies that you care about.
Lobbying is the only thing that can restore our
Every legislative victory that occurs is the direct result
Our schools are supposed to teach this stuff, but they
don't want you to know that YOU have the power to
influence your government.
Legislators listen to corporate lobbyists because they're the only ones doing the talking.
If you want your representatives to listen to you, then start talking to them.
If the 99% would do more lobbying, the 1% would have less power.
Lobbying is more important than voting.
Everyone can do it.
And it doesn't cost a dime.
America will work for you when you know how to make it work.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
U.S. House of Representatives
USA.gov: Every federal, state, local, and tribal government department and agency
Daily Kos: Guide to 2018 Congressional Elections
Learn how to lobby
Contact Pat to get email notice of all new Community Matters articles.
Patricia A. O'Malley
Social Policy & Programs Consulting ~ Community Matters
412-310-4886 ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright Patricia A. O'Malley ~ All rights reserved
THE PHYSICS OF GOVERNMENT
Nothing moves in government unless someone pushes it
The harder you push, the more it can move.
But be prepared for someone to push back.