How Congress Works

Oftentimes, people have questions about how Congress works.  To help answer those questions, I have put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the U.S. Congress.  If your question is not answered here, please feel free to contact me.

View the Constitution.

What does a member of Congress do?
Members of Congress represent the people of their district in the United States Congress by holding hearings, as well as developing and voting on legislation. All bills must pass Congress before they can go to the President to be signed into law.

In order to provide the best representation for Michigan’s 7th District, I spend many hours each week meeting with people in South Central Michigan to discuss my current activities in Congress and listen to their concerns and ideas regarding a variety of issues.

In addition, I am also available to help you if you are experiencing difficulties dealing with a federal agency. To see how I can help you, click here.

What are the qualifications to run for office in the House of Representatives and Senate?

The required qualifications are found in Article 1 of the Constitution:

House of Representatives
-         25 years of age
-         A citizen of the United States for at least 7 years
-         At the time of election, be a resident of the state

U.S. Senate
-         30 years of age
-         A citizen of the United States for 9 years
-         At the time of election, be a resident of the state

How many members of Congress are there?
There are a total of 535 Members of Congress. 100 serve in the U.S. Senate and 435 serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

How long do members of Congress’ terms last?

Members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms and are considered for reelection every even year. Senators however, serve six-year terms and elections to the Senate are staggered over even years so that only about 1/3 of the Senate is up for reelection during any election.

How many members of Congress come from each state?
Each state sends two Senators to represent their state in the U.S. Senate. However, in the House of Representatives, a state’s representation is based on its population.  For example, smaller states like Vermont and Delaware have one representative while large states like California have 53 representatives.

Currently, the Michigan Congressional Delegation is composed of 14 representatives in the House and two Senators in the U.S. Senate.

How many people do congressmen and senators represent?
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives each represent a portion of their state known as a Congressional District, which averages 700,000 people. Senators however, represent the entire state.

How do the House and Senate chambers differ?
In the House of Representatives, the majority party holds significant power to draft chamber rules and schedule bills to reach the floor for debate and voting. In most cases, House rules will limit debate so that important legislation can be passed during one legislative business day.

In the Senate however, the majority has the power to schedule when various bills come to the floor for voting but a single Senator can slow legislation from coming to the floor for a vote. Since debate in the Senate is not concluded until 60 senators vote for a cloture motion to approve a bill for consideration, the majority must also coordinate with the minority part to set the rules for debate on legislation. Under this system, legislation can be debated for one or two weeks on the Senate floor alone. 

Why does Congress use the committee system?
Congress deals with a broad variety of different policy issues and it is more efficient to have work done at the committee level than on the House or Senate floor. In addition, this system allows members to gain expertise in specific issue areas they are interested in. Throughout history, committees have been created to address particular issues before Congress. The House has 23 committees while the Senate has a total of 20 committees.

How does a bill become a law?
Passing legislation into law is a complicated and lengthy process between the House and Senate before the bill is presented before the President to be signed into law. For a thorough explanation of the legislation process, please see the How a Bill Becomes a Law section on the House website.

Do Members of Congress pay into the social security system?

YES. Since January 1, 1984, all Members of Congress participate in the Social Security system and are required to pay Social Security taxes.

What kind of retirement plan do Members of Congress have?

Members of Congress who were elected after 1984 are automatically enrolled in the Federal Employees' Retirement System (FERS). For more information on FERS, please visit the FERS handbook for details.

What kind of health care do Members of Congress receive?

As written into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, P.L. 111-205), on January 1, 2014, Members of Congress are no longer eligible for health plans offered to federal government employees.  They instead must enroll in the District of Columbia’s Health Exchange in order to obtain employment related health plan coverage.