The U.S. House of Representatives

The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate make up the two chambers of Congress. The House has 435 members, the number representing each state is determined by population.

Composition and Organization:-

The Constitution does not specify the size of the House beyond stipulating that representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, and that there shall not be more than one member for every thirty thousand people and that every state is entitled to, at least, one representative irrespective of its population.

The actual enumeration was to be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress and within every subsequent period of ten years in such manner as determined by law. Elections are to be held every second year by the people of the several States. The times, places and manner of holding elections shall be prescribed in each State by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations.

Apportionment of seats has caused periodic controversies. The original 65 members of the House were allocated in the Constitution. Thereafter allocations were made by Congress after each census, ranging from the basis of one representative for each 30,000 in 1792 to one for 4,12,000 in 1961. After 1920 census Congress failed to carry out the constitutional mandate to reapportion seats after every ten years. The Reapportionment Act of 1929 set the permanent number of the House at 435. The admission of Alaska in 1958 and of Hawaii in 1959 brought the total membership to 437, but it dropped back to 435 in 1962 and remained there.

The formal qualifications which a member of the House of Representatives should possess are that he must not be less than twenty-five years old, should be a citizen of the United States of, at least, seven years standing, and an inhabitant of the State from which he is elected.

Custom has laid an important qualification regarding residence. The Constitution requires only legal residence in the State. It has since been modified to mean residence of the Congressional district. Custom has been so insistent on the locality rule that no choice of the candidate is likely to be made unless he is resident of the locality from which he seeks election. In fact, no candidate offers himself for election from a district in which he does not reside.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., after deciding to run for the New York Congressional seat vacated by the death of Sol Bloom, rented an apartment in the district and announced that address as his legal residence. Helen Gahagan Douglas rented a hotel room in the industrial commercial district in Los Angeles which she represented, though she continued to live in fashionable Beverly Hills. In case of death or resignation of a member during his term, the Governor of his State may call a special election for the unexpired portion of the term.

The Constitution provides certain disqualifications. It provides that no person holding any office under the United States shall be a member of either House of Congress during his continuance in office. This provision was adopted for the purposes of keeping separate, as far as practicable, the Executive and Legislative Departments. Secondly, no Senator or Representative may, during the time for which he or she is elected, be appointed to any civil office which shall have been created or the emoluments of which shall have been increased during such time. The purpose of this provision is to prevent Congress from creating new offices or increasing the salaries of existing offices for the benefits of members who might desire to be appointed to them.

The Constitution provides that Congressmen will be paid salary and other perquisites of office as determiner by law. The law fixed the salary subject to the national income tax. In addition to it, traveling allowance is paid for one trip in each session from the Member’s home to Washington. Every member has a franking privilege too of free postage on official correspondence and all other official mail matter, such as pamphlets and reprints of speeches sent free to the constituents.

Stationery and office supplies, telephone and telegraph service are provided. Free medical service is made available to all members. Allowances for clerks and secretarial service are also made: $12,500 per year for a Representative and $25,000 to $60,000 per year for a Senator, depending upon the population of his home State. Retirement annuities have been provided since 1946.

Congressmen are exempt from legal process in all civil actions while attending the sessions of Congress and when going to or returning thereto. This immunity, however, does not cover indictable criminal offenses. They are also legally immune from prosecution or suit, as for libel and slander, for anything they may say on the floor of the House.

The House of Representatives has a term of two years only. In 1966 President Johnson proposed that the term of Representatives be increased to four years. This would, it was argued, relieve members of the House of fresh elections after every two years. It was also argued that synchronization of the term of the House with that of the office of the President would reduce considerably the possibility of deadlock with a President of one party and the House majority of another.

But the four-year term of the House is likely to create problems in connection with the term of the Senate, as the present constitutional arrangement requires election of one-third of the Senators every two years. If the term of the Senate is increased to eight years, one-half of the Senators retiring after every four years, this scheme too, might lead to deadlock between a President and the Senate majority if both belong to two different parties. The other alternative is to reduce its term to four years. But the Senate is not likely to agree to it, two-thirds of which must vote affirmatively to submit the necessary constitutional amendment.

Before the adoption of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, the term of the Representatives began on March 4, following election, although they did not assemble till next December unless called in a special session. The old Congress, therefore, remained in office and continued functioning for about four months after a new Congress had been elected.

The members defeated at elections would continue to make laws for their constituents who had not approved their re-election. These defeated members were popularly known as lame-ducks and the session of the House so convened as lame-duck session. The Twentieth Amendment sought to remove the evils inherent therein by providing that Congress must assemble at noon on January 3, unless another date is provided by law it means that a new Congress fresh from electing of November, must begin legislative work ear, in January. Under the Legislative Reorganization Act, 1946, the regular session adjourns on July 31 unless otherwise provided by Congress.

The President may call either House or both in a special session. T he Senate in Particular is called to confirm appointments OF ratify treaty. As a rule, the President only SUMMONS the legislature in special session to deal with a matte; of national urgency and usually announces his purpose well in advance so as to focus the attention of Congress and the country sharply to the business in hand.

The Constitution permits both the Houses to adjourn simultaneously. But what is to be done, if crisis happens during the adjournment and the members desire to assemble in a session ? The need fora decision on this issue happened in 1939 after the outbreak of the Second World War. The opponents of Roosevelt feared that, by taking drastic actions during an adjournment, he might involve the country in the War and consequently Congress remained almost in continuous session in 1939, 1940 and 1941.

In 1941, it was in session for 365 days; in 1942, for 346 days, with a brief recess in December. If 1943, between January and July, it was in-session for 184 days, an a the need fora vacation was generally recognize. But many members were unwilling to adjourn even for a brief recess without making some specific provision for meeting earlier than the stipulated date in a resolution of adjournment.

The resolution, accordingly, provided for adjournment on July 8 and reassembling on September 14, 1943, or until three days after they were notified to reassemble whichever event occurred first. The President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House were authorized to call the Houses whenever in their opinion legislative expediency might warrant it.

The resolution further provided that Congress was to be recalled whenever the majority leader of the Senate and the majority leader of the House, acting jointly, or the minority leader of the Senate and the minority leader of the House, acting jointly, file a written request With the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House that Congress reassemble for the consideration of legislation. According to this precedent, Congress can now reassemble on the call of the majority or minority leaders and it has been freed from the pleasure of the President to call a special session.

The Rules of the House of Representatives provide for securing the attendance of members if the required quorum for the transaction of official business Is not present. Fifteen members of the House may compel the attendance of absences by instructing the Sergeant-at Arms to arrest them and bring them in the House.

The Speaker:-

With regard to the internal organization of the House of Representatives, the Constitution simply says that members shall choose their speaker and other officers. It does not say anything about his powers and functions. Nor Hoes the Constitution require that the Sneaker must be a member of the House, although every: speaker has been at the time of his selection a member of the House.

The election of the Speaker takes place at he beginning of each new Congress and the nominee of the majority party is invariably elected by the House. Here it differs from the office of the Speaker of the British House of Commons. Unlike Britain, the election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives is not unanimous.

Nor the Speaker of the preceding House need always be elected, although the tradition is now well established that Speakers are re-elected in subsequent Congress if their party maintains a majority; Sam Rayburn remained in office for 16 years. With the coming tn of the other party in majority, the Speaker must change. Seniority is, no doubt, an important consideration in choosing a Speaker, but personal popularity and political backing are the most important prerequisites.

Unlike the impartial and judicial of the British House of Commons, the speaker of the House of Representatives acts as a leader of his Party and uses the powers of his office to Promote his Party’s programme. There are two important reasons for such development. The Constitution did not provide the House with an official leadership. Apparently the statesmen 1787 took it for granted that the hers and its legislative business expanded, the need for guidance and leadership developed and this devolved upon the Speaker as a leader of the majority Party.

Beginning with Henry Clay, the Speaker gradually became the recognized leader of the majority party, and hence of the House as a whole, He became the man on whom the majority depended for getting its measures safely through the majority of rules. More and more authority was absorbance into his hands until he became a vital dictator legislation.

During the decade around the fury of the present century Speaker Thomas B. Reec was frequently referred to as Czar Reed, Jeseph G. Cannon, popularly known as Uncle Joe, held the same position. A simple Chairmanship,as Ogg and Ray put it, grew into a vital dictatorship carrying the power over life and death over almost everything that the House undertook to do.

Before the revolution of 1910-11 which was directed against the Speaker of the House, he appointed all Standing as well as Select Committees and the Committee appointments went for those who could be depended upon to follow his: wishes. And as legislation in the United States is really the work of the Committees, he had the virtual power in the shaping of legislation.

As a Chairman of the Rules Committee, he would give place on the order of the business only those measures which he desired to be enacted. Moreover, until 1910, his power of recognition that is, the power to grant or withhold the right of discussion, enabled the Speaker to a large degree to prevent consideration of measures to which he was opposed and to cut off debate by members of the minority Party.

The Speaker’s denial of the right of debate in many cases, together with the necessity of going to his room in advance in order to secure a promise to recognition, led in 1910 to revolt against Cannonsism by a wing of the Republican party, the insurgents. They were joined by the Democrats. The coalition of Democratic minority leaders and progressive Republican insurgents brought about several amendments to the rules.

The Speaker was removed from the Rules Committee and the power of selection of all. Standing Committees, was restored to the House itself. His power of recognition, the chief source of complaint, was also taken away. All told, the blow to the powers of the Speaker was so severe that the office has never been since then quite the same.

Nevertheless, the Speaker is still the Commanding figure in the House and many important duties belong to the office. He presides over the sittings of the House, arranges for the orderly conduct of the business of the House, preserves order and decorum. In case of disturbance or disorderly conduct he may either suspend business or instruct the Sergeant-at-Arms to quiet any disorder in the House. But the Speaker cannot censure or punish a member; only the House itself can do that.

Then, he recognizes? members desiring the floor; the only power left out of the Speaker’s three potentially great powers. The rules of the House provide that if two or more members rise, the Speaker shall name the member who is first to speak. This in effect gives the Speaker wide discretion.

The Speaker has the right to interpret the rules of the House. Though he must follow the established precedent, but it is within his power to disregard them and to create new ones, provided that the House agrees. A majority of the House of Representatives may overrule the interpretation placed on a rule by the Speaker, but they rarely exercise this prerogative.

All the same, the ruling of the Speaker is not final as it is with the Speaker of the House of Commons in Britain. He puts questions to a vote, signs all acts, addresses joint resolutions, writs, warrants and subpoenas ordered by the House.

The Speaker appoints Select and Conference Committees and has the right to refer bills to Committees, though the Bills now are automatically sent to Committees by the Clerk of the House on the basis of their subject matter. Occasionally, when the competency of a Committee which is to receive the Bill is disputed, the Speaker decides.

As a member of the House, the Speaker has the same right to speak and vote as other members, although he does not vote, except when the House is voting by ballot or when there is a tie. But the Speaker of the British House of Commons never participates in its deliberations and he votes only when there is a tie and that, too, he does according to the established customs of the House.

The Speaker of the British House of Commons becomes a non-party man immediately after his election to that office, But unlike his British counterpart, the Speaker of the House of Representatives is actively and openly identified with his party’s organization in the House. As a leader of the majority party in the House, the Speaker is frequently called to the White House to go over legislative matters with the President.

Today, the Speaker is relatively weak, yet he still has many weapons which he can use to influence the course of legislation. He is by tradition and practice the active member of the majority party in the House, the elect of the elect and is second in succession to the Presidency. He, therefore, occupies an office of great prestige and importance in the Federal Government.

House Floor Leaders:-

Each of the parties, majority and minority in the House, has a Floor Leader, chosen or approved by the party caucus, to take charge of the party interests during legislative sessions. As his title indicates, the floor leader is normally the chief strategist and tactician on the floor for his party. The majority leader, when of the same party as the President, often is the administrative spokesman.

Each floor leader is manager of his party’s programme on the floor of the House and has effective control, through co-operation with the Speaker, over important aspects of procedure. He takes the initiative in planning the course of debate on the floor, determines the order in which. members of his party may speak, and maintains party regularity. If the floor leader is the party general in the Chamber, the party whips are its colonels.

Dimock analyses the qualities of a floor leader and says,

The successful leader must be a born politician in the best sense of the word. He must be personally popular, be a good judge of men, have his ear to the ground, and know what not to believe. He must be able to cooperate with party leadership and the chief executive and yet have a mind of his own. He must possess that keen sense of timing and the judgment and fitness which characterizes the successful executive.

When the Republican Party assumed majority in 1947, it designated as floor leader Charles A. Helleck of Indiana, who had been & member of the House since 1935, and the Democrats designated as minority leader Sam Raybum of Texas, who had long served as Speaker of the House.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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