WASHINGTON — On January 3, the 115th Congress was sworn in, a formality juxtaposed with a spike in Google searches for “Who is My Representative?” January 20, when President Trump took office, marked the first time since 2007 that Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. As the heated debate on the Affordable Care Act rages on as one among hundreds of significant issues, Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives will vie to best represent their constituents.
The House of Representatives mirrors the history of America. The House assembled for the first time in 1789. In 1865, the House passed the 13th amendment abolishing slavery, and since 1901 the number of African-Americans serving in Congress has steadily increased. In 2017, there will be more than 50 new members in the House and they will serve in the most diverse Congress to date.
How are Laws Made?
- When a representative sponsors a bill, it is assigned to a committee for study.
- If the committee approves the bill, the bill must garner a simple majority (at least 218 votes) to progress to the Senate.
- In the Senate, a committee reviews the bill and, if approved, senators move to vote on the bill.
- If 51 senators vote in favor of the bill, the bill moves to a conference committee comprised of House and Senate members who collaborate on any differences between House and Senate versions of the bill.
- This final bill returns to the House and Senate for final approval.
- The bill is sent to the president and he must sign or veto the bill within 10 days. The bill becomes law if the president signs and passes it. A pocket veto occurs when the President does not do anything while congress is in session; after 10 days, the bill also becomes law. If the president vetoes the bill, then the Senate and House can override the veto with support from two-thirds of the Senators and Representatives.
Who Is My Representative?
With 435 Representatives in the House, each serving two-year terms, it is an arduous task to meticulously follow each move a Representative makes. Govtrack.us, an independent entity which does not receive funding from outside organizations, is the first tool to provide open data about Congress. Using statistical analyses and bill summaries, the tool puts a wealth of legislative data into simple and concrete updates.
For example, let’s suppose a search for a state representative returns Frank Pallone. On Govtrack.us, the first paragraph is a brief summary of his role in Congress. The next section analyzes the congressman’s career actions and summarizes its findings. For example, in his 2016 report card, Congressman Pallone placed 12th among all representatives in the category, “Working with the Senate.” The excerpt includes that working with a sponsor in another chamber makes a bill more likely to be passed in both houses.
In the “Sponsorship Analysis” section, Pallone has a relatively average leadership score and is a moderate Democrat. In an easy-to-read format, the website includes committee membership, enacted legislation, voting record, missed votes, among many other categories. From 1989 to 2017, Congressman Pallone missed only 1.8 percent of roll call votes, on par with the average of 2.1 percent.
Americans live in a country where the voices of constituents can greatly influence those governing them. With a changing political climate, it becomes increasingly important to become involved in the political process.
– Andy Jung