A Guide to Politics: Congress

by Dru Hunsaker

American politics are… tricky. Between the constant changes and election cycles, the endless scandals, the party politics, and legislative language that some law students would have trouble understanding, the governing system is a minefield that’s difficult to navigate without staying informed. However, there are some key pieces of information that any U.S. citizen should know if they want to avoid a political faux pas and contribute some meaningful comments to a dinner table conversation.

Of all the branches of government, the legislative branch might top the list of most difficult to understand, and the constant influx and departure of Senators and Representatives can be confusing. The truth is that few people actually understand the legislative process or the key players that move the chess pieces into place. Because, really, politics is a giant chess match where parties battle for control and strategic maneuvering is the only way to stay in power.

Here are a few things that you should know:

The U.S. has a bicameral, or two-house, legislature. The number of people each state has elected to the House of Representatives is based on the population of the state, so California has more representatives than Rhode Island. However, the number of representatives has nothing to do with the size of the state, so Ohio has more state representatives than Alaska. On the other hand, each state has two representatives (Senators) in the Senate, so representation for that legislative body is equal. Right now the Senate is controlled by the Democratic Party while the House is controlled by the Republican Party. This clash of parties is one of the major reasons that the current Congress has so much trouble passing any kind of legislation.  Typically the most productive legislative bodies are controlled by the same party and, ideally, are the same party as the president.

One of the major power players in Congress right now is the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid is a liberal Senator from Nevada and a major proponent of universal healthcare and clean energy initiatives. He was one of the driving forces of the Democratic movement for Obamacare. The head of the House of Representatives is Ohio Rep. John Boehner (pronounced BAY-ner). He is a Conservative Republican that pushes tax cuts for creation of jobs and energy independence, as well as education reform. He is one of the driving forces behind the effort to repeal Obamacare. Ohio Senators are mixed party. Sherrod Brown is a liberal that has served many terms as a well-known Congressman, while Rob Portman is a conservative who formerly worked under President Bush in the Trade department.

One of the terms commonly used by media outlets but not always understood refers to the Tea Party. The Tea Party is s group of strict Conservative Republicans that typically band together on legislative issues. Some major Tea Party members that currently serve in congress are Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, son of famous libertarian and prior presidential hopeful Ron Paul. The Tea Party has led several movements against Democratic legislation, many of which have drawn criticism from more liberal news outlets, and sometimes from more moderate members of the Republican party.

While the above is a very simple rundown of some key components of the current legislative system, this information is crucial to any American wanting to stay informed in politics. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day and every Congressman started with the basics.

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