US Congress FAQs


Here is a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the U.S. Congress.

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.

What are the qualifications to run for office in the House of Representatives and the 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 an 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 an 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 an 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.

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 party 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.

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