The United States Congress: Myths and Facts

Too many Americans don’t know what Congress is, or how it works.

Congress has most of the political power in the United States. Public support for Congress has reached another all-time low. Our disapproval should be based in reality, not in fantasy, rumor, or ignorance. Our schools don’t bother to teach this stuff.

What’s a Congress?
The Constitution requires that a new “Congress” convene every two years. Members are elected in November of even-numbered years and the new Congress opens in the following January. There are two sessions of each Congress; each lasts one year. The first Congress assembled in 1789. The 113th Congress opened in January 2013 and will close in January 2015, when the 114th Congress will open.

All of the bills that were pending before a Congress, but not passed, expire when that Congress ends. Anything that didn’t pass will have to be re-introduced.

Somehow, a lot of Americans got the idea that there is something called “Congress and the Senate”.  There is not. After the Preamble, the very first section of the United States Constitution defines Congress. US Constitution, Article I, Section 1:

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Yes, folks. Congress consists of the House AND the Senate. They are called the two “houses” or “chambers” of Congress.

And yes, ALL legislative powers. Presidents do not make laws. Government agencies do not make laws. Corporations do not make laws.  Political parties do not make laws.  Members of Congress make laws.  And we need to hold them accountable for the laws they make – or don’t make.  The Constitution does permit Presidents to issue Executive Orders and executive branch agencies to issue regulations, but those are not laws.

There is no limit to the number of terms that members of Congress can serve. They serve until they retire, die, or the voters elect someone else.

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How a Federal Government Shutdown Affects You

Here We Go Again.

News reports have been chattering about a possible government shutdown since July. Both Democrats and Republicans have been posturing and saber-rattling and making a lot of noise, but none of them bother to explain what that means for the public.

First, some background. Each federal fiscal, or budget, year begins on October 1 and ends on September 30. Fiscal year 2013 began on October 1, 2012 and ends on September 30, 2013. Fiscal year 2014 will begin on October 1, 2013. Federal law requires Congress and the president to agree on a final budget before each fiscal year begins. They couldn’t reach that agreement in 2012, so the United States government has been operating on a series of continuing resolutions since October 1. That means that the government can keep operating and paying its bills temporarily. When there is no funding, federal law requires the government to cease all non-emergency activities. The current resolution ends on Monday, September 30.

While it’s possible to operate on continuing resolutions, and without a real budget, indefinitely, it has been unlikely until now. The politicians usually make noise until one side or the other blinks. It appears that the Democrats have finally grown a spine and won’t give in this time.  But I could be wrong. Contrary to what many believe, the Constitution does not give all budgetary power to the House of Representatives or require budget bills to begin in the House. It doesn’t even require that Congress produce an annual budget. The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 does that, but not the Constitution.

Until we have a budget, the Republicans threaten to block new continuing resolutions and shut down the federal government unless the Democrats agree to eliminate all funding for the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. President Obama has said that he will veto any bill which does that.

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The 113th Congress Opens for Business

Just What is a “Congress” Anyway?

 

Every two years, Congress reboots. Like a bright New Year’s Day, it’s fresh, and clean, and brief. The 113th Congress assembled on Thursday, January 3 – a day for family and tradition, smiles and handshakes. They’ll return to the backstabbing soon enough.

For some reason, many Americans think that “Congress” is only the House of Representatives. It is not. Article I, Section 1 of the United States Constitution says:

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

That means that Congress makes the national laws and authorizes all federal spending. Yes, that’s right. The president can’t spend a dime without Congressional approval.

The Constitution requires that a new “Congress” convene every two years. In even-numbered years, every one of the 435 House seats and one-third of the 100 Senate seats, called a “class”, are up for election in November. The new Congress opens early in the following January. There are two sessions of each Congress; each lasts one year. The first Congress was elected in 1788 and assembled in 1789. The 112th Congress officially closed at noon on Thursday, January 3, 2013 and the 113th Congress opened moments later. The second session of the 113th will open in January 2014.

WHY don’t Americans know this stuff?

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http://voices.yahoo.com/the-113th-congress-opens-business-11963389.html

 

Health Reform Case Illustrates Supreme Court Process

Learn How the Supreme Court Works

This week, the United States Supreme Court is hearing arguments about whether the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is constitutional. Republicans call it “Obamacare” and claim that it reforms health care. It does no such thing. PPACA does not change the way doctors treat patients. It changes the way we pay for health care.

The Supreme Court is very powerful, but few Americans understand how it works. Our schools don’t teach this stuff because they don’t want you to know it.

Despite what most people believe, the Constitution does not give the Court the power to decide whether a law or an ction is constitutional. The Court decided that for itself.

There’s a lot at stake this week. It’s a shame that the government attorneys are making the wrong argument.

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http://voices.yahoo.com/health-reform-case-illustrates-supreme-court-process-11168952.html?cat=37

 

Nationwide Grassroots Project Will Amend U.S. Constitution to End Corporate Power in Elections

Restore American democracy. Corporations are not people.

Who inspires you? Abolitionists? Suffragists? Union organizers? Civil rights workers? Peace activists? Occupiers? They all have one thing in common. They were ordinary people faced with extraordinary injustice. Then they stood up, walked out of their comfort zones, and into history. They made the world better for all of us. Now we can all join them. 

Thanks to our right-wing activist Supreme Court, corporations and billionaires now legally and proudly own our politicians. Our elected representatives no longer have to pretend that they give two hoots about us. Americans’ confidence in our public institutions is at an all-time low. But there is a way to turn things around. There are people already working on it. And we need your help.

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http://voices.yahoo.com/nationwide-grassroots-project-will-amend-us-constitution-11090618.html?cat=9

 

 

An Overview of American Political Parties

Most of the American political debate centers on the two major parties – Democrats and Republicans. Today, most Americans are fed up with politicians and would like to eliminate political parties altogether, but it would never work. Aristotle noted that humans are political animals and will always form associations based on common beliefs and experiences. Or more succinctly, we spend our time with people who see life the same way that we do. Contrary to common belief, the US Constitution does not require a two-party system, or any parties at all. They’re not even mentioned.

A political party is an organization with a distinct view of the purpose of government and seeks to hold power in that government through the electoral process. In his farewell address to the nation before his retirement, George Washington warned us not to let the parties become too powerful. He said they too easily sink to pettiness and favoritism, and would distract from the important business of governing. Hmmmmm.

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http://voices.yahoo.com/an-overview-american-political-parties-11056704.html?cat=37

 

It’s Easy to Find Government Information

Like it or not, government is a big presence in the United States. The considerable number of bureaus, departments, and offices has always made it difficult for citizens to find their way around. And then the Internet arrived.

Today, the United States government has just about the largest internet presence on earth. And it’s all at your fingertips.

USA.gov is your access to a mind-boggling supply of information. It links all of the individual government sites into a single place. It can connect you with every bit of public information in every government office and agency at every level – federal, state, local, and even American Indian tribal governments. That’s right. All of it. Of course, no one wants all of that information, but every piece is important to someone. Now there’s a way to find it.

Since the site is so massive, it includes a search function, a Help page, a Frequently Asked Questions page, a site index, and online tutorials. You can even email questions to the managers. However, I’ve found that the best way to use it is to spend just a few minutes poking around and getting used to it.

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