An open rule permits amendments and often has less strict time limits, allowing for input from other members. The Rules Committee is controlled by the Speaker, and in recent years, has put more and more restrictions on bills, giving Rules even more power. CAUCUSES Although Congress is organized formally through its party leadership and committee system, equally important is the informal network of caucuses , groupings of members of Congress sharing the same interests or points of view. There are currently more than seventy of these groups, and their goal is to shape the agenda of Congress, which they do by elevating their issues or interests to a prominent place in the daily workings of Congress. Some caucuses are regionally based, such as the Conservative Democratic Forum (also known as the Boll Weevils because they are mostly from the South), the Sunbelt Caucus, and the Northeast-Midwest Congressional Coalition. Others share racial, ethnic, or gender characteristics, such as the Congressional Black Caucus, or the Women’s Caucus. One of the oldest is the Democratic Study Group, which encourages unity among liberal Democrats. Others share specialized interests, such as the Steel Caucus and the Mushroom Caucus. Within Congress caucuses press for committees to hold hearings, and they organize votes on bills they favor. Caucuses also pressure agencies within the bureaucracy to act according to the interest of the caucus. STAFF More than 30,000 people work in paid bureaucratic positions for Congress. About half of them serve as personal staff for members of Congress or as committee staff members. The personal staff includes professionals that manage the memberâs time, draft legislation, and deal with media and constituents. Staffers also must maintain local offices in the memberâs home district or state. The average Senate office employs about thirty staff members, but senators from the most populous states commonly employ more. House office staffs are usually about half as large as those of the Senate. Overall, the number of staff members has increased dramatically since 1960. WHO IS IN CONGRESS? Members of Congress are far from typical Americans, but they have a number of characteristics in common: 90% are male. Most are well educated. Most are from upper-middle or upper income backgrounds. Most are Protestants, although in recent years, a more proportional number have been Roman Catholic and Jewish. Most are white, with only a handful of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans The average age of senators is about 60; representative average about 55.
40% are lawyers; others are business owners or officers, professors and teachers, clergy, and farmers. The fact that members of Congress represent privileged Americans is controversial. Some argue that the composition of Congress does not provide adequate representation for ordinary Americans. Others believe that a group of demographically average Americans would have difficulty making major policy decisions and that elites can represent people who have different personal characteristics from themselves.
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- Winter '14
- United States Congress, United States House of Representatives, 109th Congress