Understanding Congress

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The House of Representatives is one of the two chambers of the United States Congress; the other is the Senate. Each state receives representation in the House in proportion to its population but is entitled to at least one Representative. Washington currently has 9 representatives. Below are answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Congress and links to additional information related to the legislative process. Click on the below questions to view the answers.

How are laws made?
How many members of Congress are there?
How long do members of Congress' terms last?
What does a member of Congress do?
How can I tell what is currently happening on the House floor?
How can I watch the proceedings on the House floor?
How does a Representative introduce a bill?
How can I find out what bills Jim has introduced or co-sponsored?
How do I find out the status of a particular bill in the House of Representatives or the Senate?
What is the Congressional Record?
What is a roll call vote? And, how can I find out how Jim voted on a bill?
Who are my U.S. Senators from Washington?

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How are laws made?

Congress is responsible for making laws. The legislative process involves a number of steps. For an overview of the legislative process and how a bill becomes a law, click here.

If you would like more in-depth information on the legislative process, click here.

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How many members of Congress are there?

There are 435 voting members in the House of Representatives, 100 members in the Senate, and 5 delegates. 

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How long do members of Congress' terms last?

Members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms, while Senators serve six-year terms. There are no limits on how many terms a member may serve.

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What does a member of Congress do?

Members of Congress are responsible for representing the people of their District in the United States Congress. Part of this responsibility is writing and voting on bills in the U.S. Congress. All bills must pass Congress before they can go to the President to be signed into law.

In order to do his job well, Jim spends a lot of time meeting with people who live in Washington to tell them about what is happening in government and to listen to their ideas about how to improve life in the 7th District.

Another important part of Jim’s job is to help residents of the District if they have a problem with the federal government.

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How can I tell what is currently happening on the House floor?

Activities on the House Floor are updated on-line throughout the legislative day. To view the current floor schedule, click here.

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How can I watch the proceedings on the House floor?

Go to Jim's "Recent Votes/Floor Activity" webpage by clicking here.  There you will find a image of the C-SPAN Live video player below Jim's recent votes.  When the U.S. House is in session, you can watch the House floor proceedings by clicking on that linked image. (When the House is not in session, the link will take you to C-SPAN's alternate broadcasting.) 

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How does a Representative introduce a bill?

Before a bill is introduces, it is typed on a special House form and signed by the Representative who will introduce it. A Representative may introduce a bill any time the House is in session by placing it in a special box known as the "hopper," which is located on the Clerk's desk on the House floor.

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How can I find out what bills Jim has introduced or co-sponsored?

Use THOMAS for information about legislation Jim has introduced or co-sponsored.

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How do I find out the status of a particular bill in the House of Representatives or the Senate?

Click here to access THOMAS, a website provided by the Library of Congress, to look up legislation and public laws, monitor floor votes and proceedings, and stay informed about what's going on in Congress.

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What is the Congressional Record?

The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of Congress. It is published by the United States Government Printing Office, and is issued daily when Congress is in session. To search the Congressional Record, click here.

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What is a roll call vote? And, how can I find out how Jim voted on a bill?

A roll call vote is a vote in which the names of those voting for and against a bill are recorded. Not all votes are taken this way. In the House, legislation can also be decided by voice vote, which is not recorded -- members are just asked to respond verbally with “aye” or “no” on a bill. To learn more about congressional voting, or see how Jim voted on a particular bill, click here. 

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Who are the U.S. Senators from Washington?

Senator Patty Murray and Senator Maria Cantwell

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