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Return to Legislative Action Center > Grassroots Toolkit

The Legislative Branch: Building Relationships Today for Results Tomorrow

For the purposes of being an effective Legislative Action Team (LAT) leader or participating in FMA’s legislative advocacy efforts, here are some basic facts, helpful sources of information, and a brief discussion on the importance of congressional staffers.


CONGRESS: THE FACTS

 

  • Under the Constitution of the United States of America, the Congress has the power to make the laws, the Executive Branch is given the power to enforce the laws, and the Judiciary is given the power to interpret the laws.

  • Each Congress lasts for two years. At the end of each Congress all pending bills that have not been enacted die (“sine die”). The 115th Congress convened on January 3, 2017.

  • The legislative process is often long and difficult. It is easier to kill a bill than it is to enact one.

  • Bills pending before Congress are designated as H.R. 123 (House of Representatives, 123rd bill introduced in the House in the current Congress) and S. 123 (Senate, 123rd bill introduced in the Senate in the current Congress).

  • Resolutions are designated as H.Res. 123 (House of Representatives Resolution, 123rd resolution introduced in the House in the current Congress), S.Res. 123 (Senate Resolution, 123rd resolution introduced in the Senate in the current Congress) or H./S.Con.Res. 123 (House/Senate Concurrent Resolution, 123rd concurrent resolution introduced in the House or Senate in the current Congress).

  • Amendments are designated H./S.Amdt. 123(House/Senate, 123rd Amendment offered in the current Congress)

  • There are 435 voting Members of the U.S. House of Representatives who are elected to two-year terms (the District of Columbia and the five territories of Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, North Mariana Islands and American Samoa have non-voting representation). The entire House of Representatives is up for reelection every even-numbered year.

  • There are 100 Members of the U.S. Senate who are elected to six-year terms. Senators are divided equally into three classes so that every two years, one-third of the Senate is up for reelection. Under the Constitution, the Vice President serves as the Senate President Pro Tempore and casts any tie breaking vote.

 

HELPFUL SOURCES OF INFORMATION

 

- www.congress.gov – legislative information provided by the Library of Congress.
- www.house.gov – organizational information on House Members and Committees.
- www.senate.gov – organizational information on Senators and Committees.
- The Legislative Process – available on congress.gov website as well.

 

 

CONGRESSIONAL STAFFERS


When you meet or write your elected official, you will most likely be talking with a congressional staffer. These men and women understand the nuances of the federal workforce and are better informed on what the federal workforce faces on a daily basis. There are about 31,000 congressional staffers within the Legislative Branch. Approximately 12,500 legislative branch employees work directly for the Members of Congress in their personal offices and 6,000 more work on committee staffs, with the remainder working at the Library of Congress and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Congressional staffs are particularly important because they serve as information gatherers, gatekeepers and policy advisers.

While congressional staffers are federal employees, as a group they are quite different from their Executive Branch counterparts. According to the Office of Personnel Management, the average federal employee is 47 years old. The average congressional staffer is 35 years old; however, over 60 percent of the House staff are under the age of 35. House and Senate staff are well-educated, with roughly 85 percent having a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and 20 percent holding advanced degrees. Congressional staffers also tend to be paid less and work longer hours than Executive Branch employees. While Congress is in session, it is not unusual for staff to regularly work 12-14 hour days and long into the night.

According to Syracuse University professor Bob McClure, “The most important currency between a staffer and a person in public life is trust.” It is by proving themselves and gaining the Member’s trust that staffers move into positions of greater responsibility. Congressional staffers typically start their careers by working on a political campaign or interning in a Member’s office. Staffers work their way up from junior positions such as Staff Assistant, Caseworker, and Legislative Correspondent (LC) to senior positions such as Legislative Assistant (LA), Press Secretary, Legislative Director (LD), Communications Director, Administrative Assistant (AA) and Chief of Staff. Senior staffers also gravitate toward committee assignments where they can gain in-depth policy experience on specific issues. Some congressional staff members even become Members of Congress – examples include Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).



 


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