Measurements of Congress' Effectiveness: Responsibilities & Achievements

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  • 0:01 Responsibilities
  • 4:11 Measures of Effectiveness
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will learn about the responsibilities that members of Congress have to their constituents and the ways in which their effectiveness overall is evaluated.

Responsibilities

The United States Congress is the national federal legislative body of the United States of America. The main responsibilities of the members of Congress are to make the laws for the United States that affect our everyday lives and protect our rights! There are 541 individuals in Congress that come from each of the 50 states, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and the District of Columbia.

A new law always begins with an idea. A legislator, be it a Representative in the House of Representatives or a Senator, will get an idea for a new law. This idea may have been e-mailed to him from one of his constituents - a person like you or me! Or this idea may have been a brainstorm of his political party. Once he has this idea, he may tell other legislators about his idea and see if they would like to sponsor it. An example of such an idea for a bill would be a law that grants immigrants who are not naturalized, or full citizens, the right to vote.

At this point, we can see two different responsibilities of the members of Congress. First is the introduction of these new laws and second are the responsibilities of the members of Congress to make sure these laws will meet what their constituents are looking for to happen in their region or in their personal lives. After the legislator thinks of an idea and finds support, the next step is to actually draft the bill. The legislator will find people to help him research and write the bill. They would come up with the processes that would be necessary, the way it would be done and would put it together into the proper report to be presented.

Once drafted and sponsored, the bill is then filed by the legislator in his own chamber - whether that be the House of Representatives or the Senate. Let's assume that our bill for immigrant voting is introduced into the House of Representatives. It is placed in the hopper, which is a special box on the side of the clerk's desk. It is eventually removed from the hopper and assigned a number. Our well-drafted bill is then read in its entirety to the whole House or Senate all at once.

Once the bill has its number it is referred to committee. The committee members are experts in all sorts of different fields. They do some research into the voting topic and discuss potential issues. Here we can see another responsibility of the members of Congress - to serve on these committees. These committees will do an immense amount of research into funding and idea-sharing to determine if this law would be a good one. Additionally, the members of Congress will contact their political parties to determine if the law is something their party would throw their support behind or if the law is something the party would oppose.

The committee has the ability to schedule the bill for hearing. In our case, anyone that has an interest in our bill may speak at the hearing (either for or against it). So there may be people at the hearing who are advocates of immigrants who are not citizens, such as their mentors. Or there may be law enforcement agents who speak against it and may think it is a bad idea. Both of these parties are given leave to speak. They then revise the bill before voting on whether or not to send the bill back to the chamber for voting.

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