Control of Congress


In both the House and the Senate, each political party maintains machinery to assist it in guiding and controlling the activities of Congress. The party caucus, or conference, consisting of all members belonging to the party in the particular house, functions in matters of organisation. The steering committee, or policy committee, formulates party policy and carries on continuous supervision of legislative and other congressional business. The floor leacer* serves as “chief strategist’’ in directing the affairs of the-party. Party “whips’’, under the supervision of the floor leader, see that party members take part in significant votes and also canvass members to find out their views on issues and policies.

The Vice-President of the United States (elected every four years with the President) is the presiding officer of the Senate. He is not one of the 100 members of the Senate, and may vote only in case of a tie, to decide an issue one way or the other, his titlein that capacity being President of the Senate. The Senate also elects from one of its members a President pro tempore*, who presides in the absence of the Vice-President.

The presiding officer of the House of Representatives is the Speaker, nominated by the majority party and elected at the beginning of each new Congress* by the entire membership of the House. The Speaker may appoirit a Speaker pro tempore, but not for more than three days at a time without the consent of the House. The Speaker is entitled to all privileges of an ordinary member, but usually votes only in case of a tie. He is always a member of the majority party in the House. He presides over sessions of the House, announces the order of business, and sees to it that members stick to that order. He may give the floor (privilege of speaking) to Representatives in any order he wishes, and directs his party lieutenants* to guide the debate. He also appoints the chairmen of temporary committees.

When Congress meets, its daily proceedings are usually in the following sequence — the Members are called to order by the Speaker and the Sergeant at Arms* places the mace at the right side of the Speaker’s platform. Next, the Chaplain offers a prayer. Then the clerk reads the Journal of the preceding day’s transactions. Committee members make reports on the bills their committees have been considering. Next, the House will consider a bill left over from the day before, or, if there is no unfinished business, proceed to the discussion of a new bill. If the mace is not on the pedestal it means that the House is sitting as the Committee of the Whole, and a Chairman of the Committee of the Whole is presiding and not the Speaker.

There are instances also when the House will hold secret sessions that is, when the President transmits a confidential message, or when the Speaker or other members announce that they have communications of a confidential nature, the House can be cleared of all persons except members and duly designated officials.