Election Day 2022 is on Tuesday, November 8, so if you’re reading this post, chances are you’re curious about Representatives, Senators, and everything else related to the U.S. Congress—the heart and soul of our democratic republic. Having information about Congress is essential to participating in the country’s public life. The Congressional Institute is dedicated to educating the public about Congress, so we’ve compiled several of our most popular posts that will give you quick intros to Capitol Hill.
Everything You Wanted To Know About Congressional Myths
As the joke goes, Abraham Lincoln once said you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. And there’s a lot on the internet about Congress that you shouldn’t believe. Some “facts” about Congress distort the truth, and others are flat-out made up. “Busting Congressional Myths” arms you with the truth so you can make informed decisions when you participate in the country’s civic life.
Everything You Wanted to Know About Congressional Leadership
Though the country votes on November 8, in the following weeks, the winners of the elections will vote for colleagues who will serve as party leaders in the next Congress. Party leaders are responsible for directing their party’s agenda, devising its legislative strategy, and communicating with the public. Having these responsibilities make strong and effective party leaders incredibly influential in determining the direction of the country. Party leaders include the Speaker of the House, the House and Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and the party Whips.
When a party wins or maintains control of a majority in a Chamber, the winning party typically elects its current leaders as the leaders in the next Congress.
Everything You Wanted to Know About the Speakership Election
Electing party leaders is an internal party affair, and the other party does not have a say over who serves. But there’s one big exception: the House Speakership. The U.S. Constitution creates the office of the Speakership. Article I, section 2, clause 5, gives the House as a whole, not just the majority party, the authority to vote for a candidate for the Speakership. When Congress convenes, after it achieves a quorum, the first item of business is electing a Speaker. Normally the party leader of the majority party wins the Speakership election. However, since the entire House can vote on the Speaker, there have been rare occasions when the unexpected occurs, and another candidate wins the office.
Everything You Wanted to Know About Congressional Salaries
The U.S. Constitution requires the Federal Government to pay Members of Congress for their services. The Framers thought carefully about whether and how Members should be paid since they knew well that control over Members’ livelihoods could control Members. They determined that pay should come from the Federal treasury, not from the Members’ state governments. They also decided that the rate of pay should be set via Federal law, meaning bills affecting Member pay must pass both Chambers of Congress and be signed by the President. Voters, of course, also can weigh in on the matter since the 27th Amendment to the Constitution requires an election to occur before the law changing Member pay goes into effect.
And though Members have a share in determining their own pay, did you know that Members’ salaries have not increased in over a decade? Also, did you know Members can have a side hustle?
Everything You Wanted to Know About Congressional Ethics
One of the misconceptions about Congress is that Members are hopelessly corrupt. That’s simply not true: They represent the population at large, so they reflect the virtues and vices of everyone else. Of course, that means some do act unethically. The Constitution grants each Chamber the authority to discipline its Members. Both the House and Senate have ethics committees to gather information about allegations of misdeeds and recommend punishments. If the ethics committees investigate and recommend punishments, the House and Senate can debate and vote on the committees’ reports. Punishments include reprimands and censures, fines, and expulsion.
Everything You Wanted to Know About Congressional Procedure
No, Congress doesn’t follow Robert’s Rules of Order. In fact, Robert’s Rules was an adaptation of the procedure of the House of Representatives. The Constitution gives the House and Senate the authority to set their own rules. Each Chamber has its own way of conducting business—and they differ significantly. The resources below explain some of the most important procedural concepts for the two houses of Congress.
Everything You Wanted to Know About House and Senate Vacancies
Throughout the next two years, several vacancies in Congress will open up due to the death or resignation of Representatives and Senators. But did you know that House and Senate vacancies are filled in different ways? The difference reflects the government’s checks and balances and the principle of federalism.
Everything You Wanted to Know About a 50-50 Senate
Currently, there are 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans in the Senate. The Vice President, Democrat Kamala Harris, is not a Member of the Senate, but she has the authority to cast tie-breaking votes. So the Democrats are considered the majority. However, due to the even divide among the Senators, they have special arrangements to share power. There’s a good chance the Republicans will take control of the Senate in the 118th Congress, but if the seats are evenly divided, the Senate will still operate under these special procedures.
Everything You Wanted to Know About the Congressional Art Competition
Each year, the U.S. House holds the Congressional Art Competition, where high school students from across the country can compete for the opportunity to have their artwork displayed in the U.S. Capitol. It’s a rare opportunity for students to earn recognition for their hard work and talent. And the exhibit of artworks is America on display: There are scenes of farms and cities; soldiers and immigrants; U.S. presidents, public icons, and grandmas; and, of course, lots of puppies and babies. It also chronicles American history: For instance, the covid-19 pandemic has been the subject of many of the winning pieces of artwork over the last couple of years. The Congressional Art Competition is one of Congress’s best initiatives, and the Congressional Institute is incredibly proud to serve as its sponsor.
All the Resources You Need as a New Member of Congress or Congressional Staffer
January will bring in dozens and dozens of new Members of Congress and hundreds of new congressional staffers. Outside of having served in a state legislature as a member or staffer, little can prepare a newcomer to life on the Hill. Experience is the best teacher. But there are several great resources to help with the transition. The blog post includes information about some of the best books, organizations, and experts to turn to for guidance.
Everything Else You Wanted to Know about Congress
If these resources have provided you with useful and interesting information about Congress, we’d be happy to share more. Sign up for our e-newsletter The Congressional Report!