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U.S. Government

U.S. Government and Politics FAQs

Updated 20 January 2014

How many members of Congress are there, and how long are their terms of office?

The U.S. Congress is bicameral, composed of two bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Senate has 100 members: two senators for each of the fifty states. Senators are elected for six years. One third of the Senate is elected every two years. The House of Representatives comprises 435 Representatives. The number representing each state is determined by the population, but every state is entitled to one representative. Representatives are elected every two years. A Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico, and Delegates from American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Virgin Islands complete the composition of Congress. The Resident Commissioner and Delegates have no vote in the full House but they do vote in the committees to which they were assigned.

Which is the "upper" house in Congress?

Neither. By virtue of its smaller membership, the longer term of office for its members and higher age requirement, the Senate perhaps conveys a more prestigious image than the House of Representatives and while many Representatives leave the House to run for the Senate the reverse rarely happens. However they are of equal rank in most matters. The Constitution has given each some specific responsibilities. For example the House originates all revenue bills, it elects the President if the electoral college fails to do so and it recommends impeachment of federal officials. The Senate has the power to confirm executive appointments and recommend treaty ratification and it is the chamber which has the power to convict on impeachment charges.

What is the salary of a member of Congress?

Senators and Representatives each earn $174,000 per annum. The majority and minority leaders in both bodies earn $193,400 and the Speaker of the House earns $223,500. (Jan. 2009)

How does a Congressional bill become Federal law?

This complicated process is explained in the House of Representatives document How Our Laws are Made (156K). Broadly speaking, a proposed law, whether initially introduced in the House or the Senate, and some bills are introduced in both houses simultaneously, must be passed by both the House and the Senate, in exactly the same form, and then approved by the President, before becoming law.

What is the American equivalent of Hansard, the daily record of proceedings in Parliament?

The Congressional Record, available fulltext at FDsys - GPO Access, a service of the US Government Printing Office, is the daily record of proceedings on the floor of the House and the Senate. Note that the Congressional Record does NOT include the texts or transcripts of House or Senate committee hearings. The CR is held by some libraries in the United Kingdom. The Information Resource Center can advise on particular locations where you can access the the Congressional Record or Congressional committee hearings.

In the United Kingdom, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg lead the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties respectively: who are the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties?

The political parties do not elect leaders as such. National party leadership rests in two spheres -- presidential and congressional. President Barack Obama is the most powerful Democrat in the country, but as chief executive he has no direct opposition party counterpart. Arguably the most powerful Republicans are the Republican Leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell.

In the 114th Congress Senate Leadership is made up of:

Senate Majority Leader: Mitch McConnell (Kentucky)
Assistant Majority Leader (Democratic Whip):  John Cornyn (Texas)

Senate Minority Leader: Harry Reid (Nevada)
Assistant Minority Leader (Republican Whip): Richard Durbin (Illinois)

The House Leadership consists of:

Speaker of the House of Representatives: John Boehner (Ohio)
House Majority Leader: Kevin McCarthy (California)

House Democratic Leader: Nancy Pelosi (California)
House Democratic Whip:  Steny Hoyer (Maryland)

See also: 114th Congress Convenes with Fresh Faces, Altered Dynamics.

Where can I find rules, regulations and notices and notices issued by the U.S. government?

The Federal Register (FR), available full text since 1994 at FDsys - GPO Access, is published each federal working day. Final rules, regulations and decisions are cumulated annually in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The FR and the CFR are held in some libraries in the United Kingdom. The Information Resource Center may be able to advise on how to locate these publications.

What is the current membership of the U.S. Cabinet and what other departments comprise the Executive branch?

A list of previous visits of Presidents of the United States to the United Kingdom can be found here.