Congress U

The United States Congress, both the House of Representatives and the Senate, can be a confusing place. Over our nation’s history, each institution has developed its own facilities, legislative processes, and political language to describe it all.

"Congress U" is a regular feature in my weekly e-newsletter, "The 47th Flyer," that answers some everyday questions about Congress. Here are each of the Congress U entries since I started the feature in July, 2013. To have Congress U delivered to your email box each week, along with much more information about the 47th District and Washington, D.C., please sign up to receive The 47th Flyer by clicking here.

"Where do Congress members meet to vote?"
"Where do Congress members sit while in the House chambers?"
"Who are the people always sitting and standing at the front of the House floor?"
"Appropriations Bill"
"Congressional Recess: Vacation or Work"
"Congressional Resources"
"Budget Terms"
"Caucuses"
"The Congressional Record"
"What Is The Continuing Resolution?"
“Regular Order”
"Conference Committee"
"Cloture"
“Motion to Recommit”
"Sessions of Congress"
"Discretionary vs. Non-discretionary Spending"
"How do 'Extended Unemployment Benefits' differ from regular unemployment benefits?"
"Congressional Sessions"
“Hopper at the Rostrum”
"State of the Union"
"Amendments"
“Congressional Budget Office (CBO)”
“Germane”
“Speaker of the House, and Majority and Minority Leader”
“Mark-up”
"Point of Order"
“Hearing”
“Voice Vote”
"Proposed Budgets vs. Continuing Resolutions"
“House & Senate Gallery”
“Concurrent Resolution”
“Revise and Extend”
“En Bloc” and “Voice Vote”
"Select Committee"
"Electronic Voting"


July 16, 2013

"Where do Congress members meet to vote?"

You may occasionally find me referring to the House "floor" when talking about legislation. The "floor," or chamber, is the large meeting area inside the United States Capitol where members of the House assemble to conduct debate and vote. In fact, legislation can only be passed on the floor. Members are said to be "on the floor" when they assemble, and "to have the floor" when they speak. In the opposite wing of the Capitol, the U.S. Senate has its own chambers.

"Where do Congress members sit while in the House chambers?"

Both chambers are shaped like an amphitheater, with the Member’s pewlike seats fanned out in a half-circle. On the House floor, members do not have assigned seats, though they do in the Senate. Facing the dais, Democrats traditionally sit to the left of the center aisle, and Republicans to the right. Two lecterns are stationed in the open area between the dais and the members' seats, an area known as the "well." Each party also has two tables on its side of the center aisle of the House.

"Who are the people always sitting and standing at the front of the House floor?"

In the front center of the chambers is a three-tiered dais, or raised platform. At the two lowest levels of the dais sit the various clerks and other permanent House floor staff. At the top tier sits the House Speaker, or presiding officer (also called the Speaker Pro Tem if the Speaker is not attending).


August 2, 2013

"Appropriations Bill"

One of the bills that made its way to the House floor this week was the transportation appropriations bill for 2014, officially called the "Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014". While the bill wound up being pulled, it does raise the question many people ask me: "What exactly is an appropriations bill?" Simply put, an appropriations bill gives the government the authority to spend money. The government cannot spend any funds without an appropriations approval. However, prior to this and as part of a two-step process, there also has to be an authorization bill that approves the allocation of the same funds. So, in the case of the transportation appropriations bill, before it could even come up for a vote, there had to be a transportation authorization bill. Interestingly, to keep a separation of powers, Congress members that sit on appropriations committees--the bodies that draft appropriations bills--cannot sit on authorization committees. And, even more in the vein of power separation, appropriations bills, by tradition, must originate in the House.


August 9, 2013

"Congressional Recess: Vacation or Work"

For many people, say the word recess and they think of those short breaks at school that weren't lunch. In the Congress, recess has several meanings. A recess is when there is a break in the House or Senate's business, like when a committee takes a break, but returns a short time later. This type of recess could last just a few minutes. Another meaning refers to a break concluding the end of the day's business. Unlike an adjournment, a recess at the end of the day does not interrupt unfinished business. The Senate often recesses at the end of each day, while the House adjourns.
Each month the House takes a one week recess to allow members to return to their districts and meet with constituents. This is often called a district work period, as most members continue working in their districts during these breaks.
The final type of recess is the August recess, or the August District Work Period. For many years, foreign diplomats stationed in Washington received hardship pay for enduring the city's oppressive summer heat. Members of Congress received no such bonus. Consequently, unless the demands of war or other national emergencies kept them in session, for most of the 19th and 20th centuries Congress tried to take a break before high temperatures and humidity overwhelmed the Capitol. Even with the introduction of cooling systems in the Capitol starting in the late-1920s, the summer months of July and August remained the least productive of the Congressional year. Although it has been a tradition since the summer of 1791, August recess actually became a legal mandate with the passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970. It remains the only statutory recess on the House and Senate calendars. I look forward to being back in the district during the month of August for meetings with constituents, events related to timely policy debates, and to be with my family, friends, and the residents of the 47th Congressional District.


August 16, 2013

"Congressional Resources"


Congress members have numerous resources available to them for research or analysis. Three of the most important are the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and, the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Known as Congress's think tank, the CRS is Congress' public policy research arm. An agency within the Library of Congress, CRS works primarily and directly for members of Congress, their committees, and, their staff on a confidential, nonpartisan basis. The CBO provides Congress with budget-related information, reports on fiscal, budgetary, and programmatic issues, and analyses of budget policy options, costs, and effects. The GAO assists Congress in reviewing and monitoring the activities of government by conducting independent audits, investigations, and evaluations of effectiveness and efficiency of federal programs. Collectively, the three agencies provide critical resources to the Congress and are invaluable to my ongoing work in Washington .


August 24, 2013

"Budget Terms"

Over the next month or so, you will be hearing a lot of federal budget terms in the news. In this issue of Congress U, I thought we could look at one or two of these to hopefully help demystify this complex, but necessary process. You may remember several issues ago, we talked about how the federal budgeting process works. Government action on spending typically occurs in this order: authorization, appropriations, conference, vote, and then to the President if passed. It starts with an authorization bill, which is just legislation establishing a program and setting funding limits--but not actually setting aside or authorizing any money. This is followed by an appropriations bill, which is legislation actually providing money for the program previously covered by an authorization bill. Keep in mind that both the House and Senate typically work on their own versions of each spending bill. In the next step, the House and Senate each hold a conference to work out the differences between the two versions of the appropriations bill. If it passes, then it goes to the President for his signature. But what if it doesn't? What if the House and Senate cannot resolve the differences of a spending bill? Well they can pass a continuing resolution, or CR. A CR continues funding for a program if the fiscal year ends without a new appropriation in place, but this is temporary funding at current levels. Unfortunately, because neither the House or the Senate have been able to resolve their differences on the budget, CRs have become the standard method for getting spending bills passed. My hope is that the Congress can return to regular order and do the difficult work of resolving our differences and passing the legislation to adequately fund the critical programs of the federal government.


August 30th, 2013

"Caucuses"

From the Algonquian Indian language, a caucus (kaw-kes) meant "to meet together." Caucuses are an informal organization of Members of the House or the Senate, or both, that exists to discuss issues of mutual concern and possibly to perform legislative research and policy planning for its members. There are regional, political or ideological, ethnic, and issue-specific caucuses. Here are a few of the nearly two-dozen caucuses of which I am proud to be a member, or you can click here to see a full list. Ports Caucus The Ports Caucus was developed to promote the importance of our nation’s ports with regard to our nation’s economy and the need to secure them by promoting dialogue between Congress, the Administration and relevant federal agencies, as well as important industry officials. Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) is comprised of Members of Congress of Asian and Pacific Islander descent and members who have a strong dedication to promoting the well-being of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. CAPAC has been addressing the needs of the AAPI community in all areas of American life since it was founded in 1994. Congressional Maritime Caucus The Congressional Maritime Caucus is a devoted ally of all components of the maritime industry and aims to tailor our maritime policy to meet the challenges of the 21st century by empowering the industry with the tools necessary to increase GDP and expand exports. House LGBT Equality Caucus The mission of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus is to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality. Veterans Jobs Caucus The Congressional Veterans Jobs Caucus works to decrease the unemployment rate of the nation’s veterans who are currently looking for work.


September 16th, 2013

"The Congressional Record"

First published in 1873, the Congressional Record is the printed account of what is said and what takes place on the House and Senate floors. Printed each day while Congress is in session, each daily issue of the Congressional Record is broken into four sections, including the House section, the Senate section, the Extensions of Remarks, and, since the 1940s, the Daily Digest. The House and Senate sections contain the daily proceedings of each chamber. The Extension of Remarks section contains speeches, tributes and other extraneous words that were not actually uttered during open proceedings. Located in the back of each issue, the Daily Digest summarizes the day's floor and committee activities and serves as a table of contents for each issue. At the end of each Congressional session, a bound volume containing each issue of the session's Congressional Record issues is printed. In 2011, members of Congress were asked if they preferred receiving multiple printed copies of the daily Congressional Record, or access to an online version. Most congressional offices, including ours, opted out of the paper record in exchange for the digital version.


September 23rd, 2013

"What Is The Continuing Resolution?"

The federal government's annual budget calendar runs from October 1 through September 30. Under a normal budget process, Each year, the Congress authorizes each department, agency, or program to spend a specific amount of money, and the President signs the bill into law. This money may not be spent, however, until it has been appropriated for a given purpose. The Department of Justice, for example, is authorized to spend $22.2 billion each year, but may not do so until Congress passes a law that says so. Under this system, Congress must pass separate spending bills every year to keep the government going. If Congress doesn't, or if the President refuses to sign a budget, non-essential functions of the government can no longer spend money and must stop. To prevent this from happening, Congress will often pass a continuing resolution. This authorizes government agencies to fund their agencies at the current level until either the resolution expires, or an appropriations bill is passed. A continuing resolution must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President.


October 25th, 2013

“Regular Order”

You have heard me talk a lot about “regular order” this month. Regular order can be defined as those rules, precedents, and customs of Congress that constitute an orderly and deliberative policymaking process. The process includes an objective assessment of the problem through inclusive information-gathering; a balanced weighing of alternative solutions, and coming to final judgment on a solution through robust debate among all parties. In its simplest form, it means that both the House and the Senate abide by their standing rules. A key component of regular order is getting the House and Senate to pass the 12 appropriations bills that fund our government without depending on continuing resolutions that only provide short-term funding. When the House and Senate come together to work out long-term budget solutions (and the differences they have in funding various programs, necessitating compromise and consensus), it is often referred to as a budget


November 1st, 2013

"Conference Committee"

As I mentioned earlier, Congress has entered into a “conference committee” on the budget. This committee is a temporary, ad hoc panel composed of House and Senate conferees which is formed for the purpose of reconciling differences in legislation between what passed the House and what passed the Senate. The conference committee is usually composed of the senior members of the respective House and Senate standing committees that originally considered the legislation. After deliberation, the conferees may make one or more recommendations, and they conclude business by having a majority of both House and Senate delegations to the conference sign the conference report. The report is then presented as an amendment to the original bill passed by each chamber, and then it proceeds to the floor of each chamber for a vote where it cannot be amended. This conference committee must negotiate on a long-term budget deal that will be voted upon by both Chambers of Congress, before going to President Obama. According to the U.S. Constitution, both houses of Congress must pass identical legislation for the bill to become law. I am looking forward to voting on a long-term bipartisan budget deal that not only funds key programs and services, but also restores the funding cuts to critical federal programs by sequestration.


November 10th, 2013


“Cloture”

When you hear the word “cloture” in Congress, it is easy to just think of the word “closure”. A cloture vote is a procedural vote in the Senate that closes the window for debate—it provides closure on the topic being discussed and allows it to move forward in the legislative process. Only the Senate takes cloture votes. They do not exist in the House. It is the vote on cloture in the Senate that can overcome an ongoing filibuster. This usually takes 60 votes majority to do so. In the case of Monday’s cloture vote in the Senate on ENDA, 60 members of the Senate voted “yea” on the cloture vote; therefore, the bill was then allowed to move forward and be considered, or voted on, in its entirety.


November 22nd, 2013


“Motion to Recommit”

The “Motion to Recommit” (MTR) provides the Minority Party one final chance to amend a bill before it is voted on by the full House of Representatives. After the MTR is offered and disposed of, the House must then immediately vote on final passage of the underlying bill, as amended. The MTR is rarely adopted, since it has come to be seen as a typically party-line vote for both parties. In the case of my Motion to Recommit that I offered this week regarding transparency in fracking activities, I asked for recorded vote, but regrettably, the motion was defeated, 232-188.


December 6th, 2013


"Sessions of Congress"

The annual series of meetings of a Congress is called a “session”, and there are two sessions in each elected cycled which are based on the constitutional mandate that Congress assemble at least once a year. The first session, the current session, ends on December 13th, 2013. The constitutional mandate, Section 2 of the 20th Amendment, states: “The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3rd day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.” The 113th Congress has enacted a law that begins the second session on Monday, January 6th, 2014. At the end of the second session, we then enter into the 114th Congress.


December 13th, 2013


"Discretionary vs. Non-discretionary Spending"

As mentioned earlier, the House passed the Bipartisan Budget Act, which sets overall discretionary spending for the current fiscal year at $1.012 trillion. Discretionary spending refers to the portion of federal government spending that is decided upon by Congress each fiscal year through appropriations bills and they are usually divided into two categories: defense and non-defense. Discretionary spending is used to fund departments, agencies, and programs such as the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and our nation’s nutritional assistance programs. A good way to remember this fact is to know that “discretionary” spending requires Congress’ “discretion” or action. Discretionary spending is different from mandatory spending, which is also called “non-discretionary spending.” Non-discretionary spending goes toward programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid (in California, Medicaid is called “Medi-Cal”). The funding for these programs is, unlike discretionary programs,
required by law.


January 10th, 2014


"How do 'Extended Unemployment Benefits' differ from regular unemployment benefits?"

Unemployment insurance (UI) benefits are intended to serve as temporary financial assistance to unemployed workers who meet the requirements of State law; and, Extended Unemployment Benefits (EUB) are available to workers who have exhausted regular UI benefits during periods of high unemployment. The basic EUB program, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor and each respective State, provides up to 13 additional weeks of benefits when a State is experiencing high unemployment. Many States, including California, fall into this category. Eligibility for unemployment insurance, benefit amounts, and the length of time benefits are available are determined by the State law under which unemployment insurance claims are established. To learn more about Extended Unemployment Benefits, visit: http://www.edd.ca.gov/unemployment/FAQ_- _Extended_Unemployment_Benefits.htm.


January 17th, 2014


"Congressional Sessions"

A Congressional session is the period during which Congress assembles and carries on its regular business. Each Congress generally has two regular sessions (a first session and a second session), based on the constitutional mandate that Congress assemble at least once each year. The current Congress, the 113th, began its First Session in January, 2013. The Second Session of the 113th Congress began on January 7th, 2014. In addition to regular session, the Constitution gives the president the authority to recall Congress for special sessions. A Special Session of Congress may be convened after that Congress has already adjourned for the close of either the first or the second regular session, but before the next session begins. Typically this is done in an emergency situation. Since the first Congress met in 1789, 27 special sessions have been held. The last was called by Pres. Harry Truman in 1948.


January 24th, 2014


“Hopper at the Rostrum”

The hopper is a mahogany box located at the rostrum, which is where the Speaker of the House presides. The hopper is where Members place bills they are introducing. Every time I wish to introduce a bill or a resolution, I must drop it into the hopper where it then gets a bill number and is referred to the pertinent committee. In the Senate, there is no box. Instead, Senators hand their bill to a clerk at the Senate rostrum.


January 31st, 2014


"State of the Union"

The State of the Union is an annual address by the President of the United States to both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The annual address, which was President Obama’s fifth State of the Union address, reports on the condition of the nation and allows him to outline his priorities for the next year. The State of the Union is actually constitutionally mandated under Article II, Section 3: “[The President] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as [the President] shall judge necessary and expedient.” Several interesting facts: • Starting with Thomas Jefferson and until the administration of Woodrow Wilson, almost all Presidents communicated the State of the Union to Congress in writing. • Prior to FDR first officially calling it the “State of the Union” address, the written or verbal address was generally known as “the President’s Annual Message to Congress.” • In political circles and the political media, the address is often called the ‘SOTU,’ which is pronounced ‘sew-too.’


February 7th, 2014


"Amendments"

An amendment changes the text of an existing bill or of another existing amendment. Members of Congress can offer amendments either in committee sessions or on the House floor. Amendments can be offered to add text, remove existing text, or remove existing text and replace them with substitute language. Another kind of amendment is a Constitutional amendment, which makes formal changes to the U.S. Constitution. These amendments require a 2/3 supermajority of both the Senate and the House to be sent to the states for ratification. Threequarters of the states must then approve a Constitutional amendment for it to be ratified. There have been 33 Constitutional amendments and all but six have been ratified. Interestingly, four of these six unratified amendments, some dating back to the 1700s, are technically still pending before state lawmakers.


February 14th, 2014


“Congressional Budget Office (CBO)”

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), is a nonpartisan governmental office that produces independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process. Every analysis done by the CBO is objective, impartial, and has no political affiliation. While the CBO does not issue specific policy recommendations, each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies, which aid and influence much of the policy debated in Congress. All of CBO’s products, apart from informal cost estimates for legislation being developed privately by Members of Congress or their staff, are available on www.cbo.gov.


February 21st, 2014


“Germane”

When offering an amendment to a bill, Members of Congress must ensure that it is “germane,” meaning it must be relevant to the main issue being addressed in the bill. For example, one cannot offer an amendment about Syria to a bill that addresses the drought in California. That amendment would not be germane, and could not be brought to the House floor for a vote. The House requires germaneness of an amendment at all times unless an exception is made by special rule. However, in most circumstances, the Senate does not require germaneness. Senate rules permit Senators to offer amendments on any subject even if unrelated to the bill's topic.


February 28th, 2014


“Speaker of the House, and Majority and Minority Leader”

The Speaker of the House, a member of the Majority party, is the presiding officer in the House of Representatives, and is responsible for the day-to-day functions of the House, as well as advancing the legislative agenda of his political party. Should an emergency occur, the U.S. Constitution names the Speaker of the House as second in the line of succession to the Presidency, after the Vice President. The Speaker of the House in the 113th Congress is Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio. In addition to the Speaker, the majority Republicans and minority Democrats in the House each have their own party leadership positions known as Leaders, who each serve as their party’s principal spokesperson and legislative strategist. The Majority Leader in the 113th Congress is Republican Eric Cantor from Virginia. The Minority Leader in the 113th Congress is Democrat Nancy Pelosi from California, who, herself, served as speaker from 2007 to 2011.


March 7th, 2014


“Mark-up”

When a bill is introduced by a Member of Congress, it is then referred to the relevant House Committee. For example, a bill that relates to veterans’ benefits would be referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Once the bill is received, the Committee convenes and its members offer and vote on proposed changes to the bill's language, known as amendments. Most mark-ups end with a vote to send the new or “marked-up” version of the bill to the floor for the full House to consider.


March 17th, 2014

"Point of Order"

A term used in committee and on the floor to object to an alleged rule infraction and to demand that the chair enforce the rule. The point of order immediately halts the proceedings until the chair decides whether the contention is valid. If the chair sustains a point of order against a measure, amendment, or motion, it may not be considered; against a provision in a measure, it is immediately deleted; against a conference report, it is automatically rejected; and if against remarks by another member, that member must yield or proceed in order. If the floor manager of a bill concedes a point of order, the chair immediately sustains the point of order. Otherwise, the chair usually permits members to present arguments for and against it before announcing a ruling, but is not required to do so and can cut off discussion whenever he or she chooses. With some exceptions, a member may appeal the chair's ruling. Appeals are rarely demanded in the House and even more rarely succeed. They are demanded more often in the Senate and are occasionally successful. The Senate's presiding officer has the option of submitting a point of order to the decision of the Senate, but must do so when a constitutional question or certain Senate rules is involved.


March 21st, 2014

“Hearing”

Congressional committees or subcommittee usually hold hearings, or forums,to take testimony from invited witnesses and to question them on their support or opposition to a bill. Legislative hearings may focus on a specific bill, or bills, or just explore a subject matter in general to see if Congress should pursue any legislation in a particular area.


March 30th, 2014

“Voice Vote”

A voice vote is a type of floor vote where Members who support a bill say"aye" aloud as a group, subsequently followed by opposition saying "no."The presiding officer of the session, either the Speaker of the House or another member of the Majority party designated to lead the session, then decides which group was the loudest and announces the result. Although the names of those who participate in a voice vote are not recorded, members who do not agree with the result may request a recorded vote.


April 4th, 2014

"Proposed Budgets vs. Continuing Resolutions"


Each year, the President releases a proposed budget, where it is then given to Congress for their review. Congress then creates several separate bills, called appropriations bills, that authorize government spending that could be similar or completely different from what was in the President’s proposed budget.If Congress cannot agree to spending levels in either the President’s proposed budget or in their appropriations bills, then they vote on a Continuing Resolution(CR), which is a short-term bill to fund the government. The CR is temporary measure that keeps the current level of funding so that Congress has time to workout a longer term spending plan. To keep the federal government running in the event of a failure to pass a full budget, Congress must pass the CR, or the government risks being shut down.


April 11, 2014

“House & Senate Gallery”

Each chamber of Congress has a public seating area called a “gallery” that overlooks each chamber. Both galleries have separate seating sections for the public, members of the press and media, staff, and family members. When Congress is in session, people in the gallery must remain silent as members of Congress vote or debate the day’s legislative business.
 
The House gallery reserved for members of the press is located behind the Speaker's rostrum and just in front of the voting board.

When you come to Washington, D.C., my staff can help you and your friends and family get gallery passes so you can experience a little piece of the legislative process. Learn more about visiting Washington, D.C. by going to my website: /constituent-services/washington-dc.htm


April 18, 2014

“Concurrent Resolution”

A concurrent resolution is a legislative proposal, such as Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal I mentioned above, that requires the approval of both houses of Congress. Concurrent resolutions do not require the signature of the President, nor do they have the force of law. Such legislation serves to express the opinions of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Not only can concurrent resolutions be used to express opinions on legislative proposals, but they can alsobe used to convey congratulations to another country. For example a concurrent resolution can be used to congratulate a country on the anniversary of their independence.


April 25, 2014

“Revise and Extend”

Whenever Members of Congress deliver a speech on the House floor, they must first ask permission of the chamber and the presiding officer to revise their remarks in the Congressional Record, and extend them by inserting material additional to their spoken words, such as editorials, relevant newspaper articles, or constituent correspondence.

While permission is nearly always granted, members must begin each speech with “I ask unanimous consent to address the House for X minutes and to revise and extend my remarks.”


May 2, 2014

“En Bloc” and “Voice Vote”

This week, an amendment I cosponsored was passed successfully on the House floor by a voice vote and was added to H.R. 4486, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY 2015.

Two things about this might be of interest to regular readers of Congress U.

First, the amendment moved en bloc. This means that several amendments to the same bill, in this case H.R.4486, are grouped together and voted on as a package. This grouping is done by unanimous consent of the House, typically by a voice vote.

A voice vote–the same mechanism used to pass my amendment–is just what it sounds like: instead of an electronic vote, where the Members enter a voting card into a machine to tally the votes, a voice vote is done by calling for 'ayes' and 'nays' on the floor. Whoever the Speaker or presiding Chairman of the House determines is in the audible majority—the ayes or the nays—carries the vote.

Many House actions begin with a voice vote. While a voice vote is recorded as an up-down vote with no details on who specifically voted one way or the other on whatever was being decided, a provision in House rules allows for any Member to request a recorded vote, in which case the Members must record their votes by electronic device.


May 9, 2014

“Select Committee”

This week, the House voted to set up a Select Committee to investigate the 2011 attacks on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi. A special, or “select,” committee is usually tasked with investigating or addressing a very specific issue, such as the attack on 9/11, the Watergate scandal, or in this case the Benghazi attacks. Select Committee members are announced by the Speaker of the House, and then the House of Representatives must vote on a House Resolution to approve the committee’s establishment.

Once approved, the Select Committee is then recognized as any other congressional committee. This means that they are allowed to hold hearings, debate, and vote on pieces of legislation related to their investigation or issue.

(I voted against the newly-formed Select Committee on Benghazi because it did not include an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, which would ensure a bipartisan review of the evidence.)


May 16, 2014

"Electronic Voting in the House"

Most recorded and roll call votes on the floor of the House, unless the Speaker of the House chooses a different method, are conducted electronically. Every Congress Member is provided with a personalized and unique Vote-ID Card which can be used to vote electronically. Vote stations are positioned at various locations on the floor of the House chamber.


Each vote station has a slot into which the voting card is inserted and is equipped with buttons marked "yea," "nay," and "present." The stations also have an "open" light, which is lit when a vote is in progress and the card station is ready to accept votes. Members vote by inserting the voting card into the card slot and pressing the appropriate button to indicate the Member's choice.

Members, if they wish to skip the electronic voting system, can submit their physical vote on a paper ballot to the Tally Clerk, who then records the vote electronically according to the indicated preference of the Member. Like the buttons on the electronic card stations, the paper ballots are green for "yea," red for "nay," and amber for "present."

The first electronic votes on the floor were held January 23, 1973.

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