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  Learn About Congress

Our Government
In this section, you will learn about:

checkmark Representatives in the U.S. Congress

checkmark How to identify and contact your representative

checkmark The role of committees in the legislative process

checkmark The names and jurisdictions of the committees in the House of Representatives

checkmark The House Leadership offices and their duties in Congress


First, let's take a look at the role of Congress and the U.S. government and their effects on American lives, including yours!


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bullet What form of government does the United States have?
Under its Constitution, the United States is a federal, representative, democratic republic at the local, state, and national levels.
  • Federal because power is shared by the local, state, and national governments
  • Representative because delegates are elected by the people by free and secret ballot
  • Democratic because the people govern themselves
  • Republican because the U.S. government derives its power from the will of the people

bullet What is the citizen's role in our government?
The U.S. government is the basis for a participatory democracy, which Abraham Lincoln described as a government made "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Under the Constitution, U.S. citizens have the right to influence public policy. In addition to this, citizens have constitutional responsibilities, such as obeying laws and paying taxes.

The right to vote allows citizens to help choose the officials who will determine public policy. Another way citizens can participate in the electoral process is by contributing their time and money to campaigns to help nominate and elect the candidates they support. The active role of the citizen in the electoral process helps to ensure the legitimacy of a government based on democratic principles.

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bullet What is Congress?
Article I of the U.S. Constitution states that Congress will consist of two separate houses. A lawmaking body with two houses is called a bicameral legislature. The two houses that make up the U.S. Congress are the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Congress is the primary lawmaking body in the U.S. government. To solve problems, Members of Congress introduce legislative proposals called bills or resolutions. After considering these proposals, Members vote to adopt or to reject them. Members of Congress also review the work of executive agencies to determine if they are following government policy, and may introduce new legislation based on what they discover.

bullet How are laws passed?
Bills accepted by both houses of Congress and by the President become law. When the President vetoes a bill and returns it to Congress, Congress reviews the reasons for the rejection but may still act to pass the bill. The U.S. Constitution allows Congress to override the President's veto with a two-thirds majority vote of both the House and the Senate.


Challenge Question icon  

Challenge Question
Look at the table of Presidential Vetoes on the Clerk's Web site.

Which President vetoed the most bills?
(Don't peek until you've figured it out!)
 
 

In-depth Report icon
CRS Report:
Congressional Overrides of Presidential Vetoes [PDF]

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bullet What is the role of the Internet in our legislative process?
The Internet has made it possible for our government to interact with the public in new and exciting ways. Using the Internet, the government can:
  • Publish congressional proceedings more frequently
  • Post the status of bills
  • Publish legislative work schedules and official government records online
  • Update legislative news hourly, or even post it immediately
  • Display notices of public meetings and hearings
  • Show the result of roll call votes on websites
  • Enable citizens to express their views by e-mailing elected officials

 
Parents & Teachers
Tools for Learning

Did You Know?
A Little Known Fact
All the House Office Buildings are named after former Speakers!

Check This Out!
Time Traveler
Travel through time with A. Bill. Choose a Time Warp and learn about House history!

Glossary Terms
Key Words
Use the glossary to learn key terms.

Adjourn
Amendment
Bicameral
Bill
Caucus
Checks and Balances
Citizen
Committee
Conference Committee
Constituent
Delegate
Democratic
Federal
Joint Committee
Joint Meeting
Jurisdiction
Mace
Member
Reapportionment
Redistricting
Report
Representative
Republic
Select Committee
Standing Committee



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