Citizen Action Kit: Congress 101

The Physicians Committee

Citizen Action Kit

Congress 101

In the United States, Congress holds the power to write and pass bills, which then become laws if the President approves them. Congress is made up of the House of Representatives (“the House”) and the Senate. Federal taxing and spending policies also fall under Congress’ power. Congress shares powers with the President in matters such as military issues.

Congressional elections occur every two years. During these elections, voters choose all members of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. Members of the Senate are elected every six years.

Members of the House and Senate each have their own office and staff in Washington, D.C., and several in their districts. Their office staff is there to work on legislation and to help and listen to constituents.

When they are in session, Members of Congress vote on legislation in their respective chamber in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. At other times, they may return to their home state to meet with constituents.

House of Representatives
There are 435 members in the House of Representatives. The number of Representatives for each state is determined by its population. There are also several nonvoting members who represent U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.

Representatives advocate for the interests of residents and businesses within their districts, as well as on issues of national or international importance. They debate and vote on the House floor, oversee government agency spending, and serve on committees. At other times, Representatives return to their home state to work closely with their constituents. All House of Representatives seats are voted on every two years.

Learn about your Representative in the House by typing your ZIP code into the box in the top left corner of this page>

There are 100 U.S. Senators. Each state is represented by two senators, regardless of the state's population. Senators' terms last six years.

Senators deliberate over proposed legislation. The Senate divides its tasks among 20 committees, 68 subcommittees, and four joint committees, each of which has jurisdiction over a certain set of issues and oversees particular government agencies. Each committee adopts its own rules. Some of the most powerful committees include those that control funding, including the Appropriations Committee.

Senators spend a portion of their time in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., acting as advocates for the political interests of residents and businesses within their districts as well as dealing with issues that affect the nation and other countries. In addition to serving on committees, they debate and vote on the Senate floor and oversee government agency spending. At other times, Senators return to their home state to work closely with their constituents.

The Senate also has informal groups of members who share interests in specific issues or philosophies. These groups are called caucuses.

Learn about your Senators here >