Members of Congress Questions and Answers

Why do we have 100 Senators and 435 Members of the House? Could these numbers be changed?

Which state has the most Representatives in Congress? Which has the least?

What are the qualifications to run for office in the House of Representatives? In the Senate?

Would it ever be possible to eliminate the gerrymandering of congressional districts so that there might always be contest for each congressional district.

Who are the leaders of Congress and what do they do?

What is the ethnic make-up of the members of the current Congress?

How many women Members are there in the U.S. Congress today?

Who are the oldest Members of Congress and who are the youngest and what is the average age?

What is the difference between the junior and the senior senator of a state? Do they have different jobs in the Senate?

What is the salary for Senators and Representatives? What other benefits do they get?

Do Members of Congress pay into the social security system? What kind of retirement plan do they have?

Why are Members of Congress allowed to use their signature instead of a stamp on their correspondence?

What is the origin of the donkey and the elephant as the symbols of the Republican and Democratic Party? How did the parties select these mascots?

 

Why do we have 100 Senators and 435 Members of the House? Could these numbers be changed?

The number of Senators is set by the U.S. Constitution — two per state — and cannot be changed without amending the Constitution. Amending the Constitution is a long and difficult process. It requires a 2/3 vote in both the House and Senate, followed by ratification (approval) by 3/4 of all the states. The Senate reached 100 members when Hawaii was admitted as a state in 1959. The number of House Members is set by public law and could be altered were Congress to pass a new public law changing the size of the House. The House of Representatives has had 435 Members since 1913. When Congress was created in 1789, there were 65 House Members and 26 Senators. In the First Congress, a Member of the House represented 30,000 citizens. Today, a Congressman/woman represents an average of 710,767 citizens.

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Which state has the most Representatives in Congress? Which has the least?

The number of representatives each state has is based on population of the state overall, with a total ceiling of 435 Members allowed in the House. That formula means that today, each Member of the House represents about 710,767 people.

Here are the top ten states:

(1) California (53 Members)
(2) Texas (36)
(3) New York (27)
(4) Florida (27)
(5) Pennsylvania (18)
(6) Illinois (18)
(7) Ohio (16)
(8) Michigan (14)
(9) Georgia (14)
(10) North Carolina (13) 

Seven states have only one Representative, due to their low population. These Members represent their entire state and are formally known as "at-large" Members:

(1) Alaska
(2) Delaware
(3) Montana
(4) North Dakota
(5) South Dakota
(6) Vermont
(7) Wyoming

To see a map of the United States showing how many Members each state has, visit the Census Bureau's website at:

http://2010.census.gov/2010census/data/

 

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What are the qualifications to run for office in the House of Representatives? In the Senate?

The required qualifications are found in Article 1 of the Constitution:

House of Representatives

  • twenty five years of age
  • a citizen of the United States for at least 7 years
  • at the time of election, be a resident of the state

U.S. Senate

  • 30 years of age
  • a citizen of the United States for 9 years
  • at the time of election, be a resident of the state

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Would it ever be possible to eliminate the gerrymandering of congressional districts so that there might always be a contest for each congressional district?

 

Using the redistricting process for partisan purposes has a long tradition in American politics. Remember that the term "gerrymander" (the drawing of boundaries of legislative districts to benefit one party or group and handicap another) dates from the early 1800s. But since the drawing of lines became a computer-assisted process in the early 1980s, mapmakers have increasingly been able to craft districts that are virtually guaranteed to support one party over another. Today there is some recognition that partisanship in redistricting is perhaps the single greatest stifler of competition in congressional elections, which in turn has led to more candidates and legislators who need only to appeal to their party base rather than move toward the center. In an effort to minimize the influence of partisanship in remapping, a few states use non-partisan or bi-partisan commissions or legislative processes to draw their maps. (Examples are Iowa and Washington). Occasionally these days you will read op-ed pieces by reformers calling for more states to switch to non-partisan remapping processes.

But the Supreme Court has been reluctant to take action to discourage partisan redistricting. While the Court ruled in a 1980s case (Indiana v. Bandemer) that partisan redistricting is a justiciable issue (that is, the Court will consider complaints of excessive partisanship in remapping), the Court has not issued any rulings that come down hard on clearly partisan remaps. So the practice of partisan redistricting continues unabated in most states. A recent example that received considerable attention was Texas' map, which was pushed through by the majority party in order to dramatically reduce the number of minority party members in the state's House delegation.

It should be noted that partisan gerrymandering is not necessarily a one-sided affair, e.g. one party drawing a map that benefits itself and disadvantages the other party, as in the Texas example. More common are cases of "sweetheart" partisan gerrymandering, where House incumbents of both parties (and their allies in the state legislature) reach a "gentleman's agreement" that lines will be redrawn in a way that gives all incumbents an excellent chance of winning re-election.

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Who are the leaders of Congress and what do they do?

Here are job descriptions for the top positions.

Speaker of the House (John Boehner, R-OH)
The Speaker is both the presiding officer of the House of Representatives and the leader of the majority party. He is also second to the Vice-President in the line of succession to the Presidency. The Speaker plans and implements the legislative agenda of the House, has administrative control over much of the operations of the House, and controls appointments to special committees and delegations. He also refers legislation to committees, may place deadlines on committee action, and chairs the committee which appoints majority party members to their committee assignments. For further information, see:http://speaker.house.gov/

    John Boehner

House Majority Leader (Eric Cantor, R-VA)

 
The Majority Leader acts as deputy to the Speaker. He schedules legislation for the floor, taking into account factors of political timing as well as policy importance. He acts as a spokesman for the party position during floor debate, plans legislative and political strategy for his party, mediates political disputes among majority party Members, and negotiates agreements with the minority, all under the direction of the Speaker. 

  Eric Cantor

House Minority Leader (Nancy Pelosi, D-CA)
The Minority Leader is her party's chief spokesman, both during floor debate and as a representative in negotiations with the majority leadership and with the White House. She plans the party's legislative and political responses to the majority's initiatives. She directs the process of assigning minority members to committees, and appoints minority Members to conference negotiations with the Senate. 

  Nancy Pelosi

House Majority Whip (Kevin McCarthy, R-CA)
The Majority Whip advises his party's leaders how Democratic Members intend to vote on upcoming bills. He has a team of Members who act as his assistants, gathering intelligence on Members' positions, and responding to leadership requests for head counts on specific bills. The Whip takes the lead in actively encouraging party discipline and unity, and in persuading rebellious Members to vote with the party. He also notifies Members with alerts on floor schedules and timing of votes. 

  Senator Kevin McCarthy

House Minority Whip (Steny  Hoyer, D-MD)
The Minority Whip performs the same functions for the Republican party as his Majority counterpart. 

  Steny Hoyer

Senate Majority Leader (Harry Reid, D-NV)
The Senate Majority Leader is leader of the majority party in the Senate and is also responsible for scheduling the Senate's annual and daily legislative schedule, in consultation with the Senate Minority Leader. He has the authority to adjourn and recess the Senate's daily session. He also selects legislative priorities for each session and decides which legislation to bring up for floor consideration. He negotiates agreements on the floor schedule, agenda, and parliamentary procedures with the Minority Leader and announces them to the Senate.

He also consults with the Speaker of the House to arrange joint sessions and events. He represents the Senate on ceremonial occasions, and hosts special events on behalf of the Senate. The Majority leader also welcomes official visitors and foreign guests to the Senate and provides them hospitality.  

  Harry Reid

Senate Minority Leader (Mitch McConnell, R-KY)
The Senate Minority Leader is elected by his party to be its spokesman on the Senate floor, and to the outside world. He maintains a working relationship with the Senate Majority Leader and negotiates legislative and procedural agreements with him on behalf of his party. He works with his party colleagues to define his party's policy priorities and seeks to insert them into the Senate's legislative agenda. He and his staff monitor the Senate's daily floor proceedings to ensure that his party's procedural rights are protected. When the minority party is the same party as the President, he acts as the President's chief liaison in the Senate. He stays in continuous contact with his party's ranking members on each Senate committee and seeks to coordinate their work to best serve the interests of the party's agenda overall.

Both the Majority and Minority leader seek to encourage unity among the Senators on their side of the aisle. Each party leader is also expected to reconcile personal and policy differences among their party's Senators.

  Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Whip (Richard Durbin, D-IL)
Chief Assistant to the Majority Leader.
The assistant leaders are responsible for keeping track of how their party's Senators will be voting on upcoming issues, rounding up their party's Senators for scheduled floor votes and quorum calls, and substituting for the Majority or Minority Leader as needed on the Senate floor. The full extent of their duties depends on their relationship with their party's Leader and how much responsibility he chooses to specifically delegate to them.

  Dick Durbin

Senate Minority Whip (John Cornyn, R-TX)
Same duties as his majority counterpart.

  John Cornyn

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What is the ethnic make-up of the members of the current Congress?

In the current Congress, the 113th, there are:

  • African-American Members: 42 in House; 2 in Senate.
  • Hispanic-American Members: 35 in House; 3 in Senate
  • Asian-American Members: 11 in House; 1 in Senate
  • Native American Members: 3 in House; 0 in Senate

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How many women Members are there in the U.S. Congress today?

In the House there are 80 female Representatives. The Senate has 20 females. 

Of the 20 female Senators, 16 are Democrats and 4 are Republicans. Of the 80 female Representatives, 61 are Democrats and 19 are Republicans.

Two of the women House members are sisters: Loretta Sanchez and Linda Sanchez, both Democrats from California.

The first woman elected to serve in Congress was Representative Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana. She served from 1917 to 1919 and again from 1941 to 1943. Since then, 277 women have been elected to serve in Congress.

To see a list of all the names of the women who have served as Members of Congress, their biographies, links to the websites of current female Members, and a brief history of women serving in Congress, visit: http://womenincongress.house.gov/

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Who are the oldest Members of Congress and who are the youngest and what is the average age?

Members have gotten older! The average age of a House Member is now 57 years and for a Senator, 62 years.

Patrick Murphy   Ralph Hall
The youngest House Member is Patrick Murphy (D-FL), born in 1983.   The oldest Member of the House is Ralph Hall (R-TX), born in 1923.
     
Senator Chris Murphy   Senator Lautenberg
The youngest Senator is Chris Murphy
(D-CT), born in 1973.
  The oldest Senator is Frank Lautenberg
(D-NJ), born in 1924.

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What is the difference between the junior and the senior senator of a state? Do they have different jobs in the Senate?

There is no difference in job responsibilities between the junior and senior Senator of any state. It is simply Senate tradition to refer to the Senator with greater longevity in the chamber as the "senior" Senator and the more recently elected Senator as the "junior" Senator.

Sometimes Senators tease each other about this ranking, but it has no real impact within the Senate's operations. How deferential the junior Senator is to the senior Senator in any given state is really a matter of personalities and how they relate to each other overall. That varies state by state.

Seniority in the Senate overall does make a difference in perks and responsibilities. Senate tradition uses seniority to assign office space, committee assignments, and some leadership posts. However, a Senator's seniority ranking is calculated against all other Senators, and not state by state.

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What is the salary for Senators and Representatives?

House Members & Delegates and all Senators .......... $174,000

House and Senate Majority & Minority Leaders ......... $193,400

Speaker of the House ............................................ $223,500

Members may choose from any of the various health plans offered all federal government workers. The cost depends on whether they choose an HMO plan or a PPO plan. They may also pay an additional fee and use the services of the Office of the Attending Physician in the U.S. Capitol when they are in Washington, D.C.

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Do Members of Congress pay into the social security system? What kind of retirement plan do they have?

Since January 1, 1984, all Members of Congress participate in the Social Security system and are required to pay Social Security taxes. 

Members of Congress who were elected after 1984 are automatically enrolled in FERS, the Federal Employees' Retirement System.

However, certain groups of federal employees within FERS, including Members of Congress, Firefighters, Law Enforcement Officers, and Air Traffic Controllers are classified as Special Groups and have retirement benefits calculated at a higher rate than other civilian employees. 

See the FERS handbook for details. 

 

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Why are Members of Congress allowed to use their signature instead of a stamp on their correspondence?

Rather than use a postage stamp to carry out official business and representational duties (such as corresponding with constituents), Members of Congress are permitted to sign each envelope in the upper right hand corner. The Post Office accepts this signature, known as a "frank," in place of a stamp.

It is legally acceptable for the signature to be printed on the envelope, as opposed to personally signed. Members of Congress receive hundreds of letters a day from their constituents. Assuming each one gets answered (and thanks to computerized mail, most do), it would be virtually impossible for a Member of Congress to personally sign each letter and each envelope.

Members are not permitted to use franked mail for personal, political, or campaign correspondence. The use of the frank is paid for out of money Congress appropriates annually for running the institution. Congress pays this amount to the U.S. Post Office, which treats it as postal revenue.

The practice of permitting Members of Congress to use a frank dates back to 1775, when the First Continental Congress passed a law authorizing its use. With the exception of one year (1873), it has been in place ever since. And it has been controversial ever since.

Proponents argue that few Members could afford to communicate with all the constituents who contact them if the cost had to be borne personally, and that franking promotes democratic dialogue and representative government. Opponents point to episodes of abuse over the years, and cite increases in the use of the frank during election years, calling that an unfair electoral advantage available only to incumbents. Congress has responded to franking critics by reining in the use of the frank over the years. Currently, House Members may not send out franked "mass" mailings 90 days before an election, while Senate rules prohibit Senators from doing so 60 days before elections.

The public interest organization, Common Cause, brought a lawsuit challenging the legality of franking in the 1980's. A Federal District Court ruled that the congressional practice was appropriate and adequately monitored. The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, which the left the present practice in place.

The amount each Senator and House Member spends on franked mail is now fully disclosed, with annual disclosure reports issued by the Post Office, analyzing the total costs for the entire Congress. Any known or suspected abuses of the franking privilege by Members or their staff are reported to the attention of either the Senate Select Committee on Ethics or the House Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards for investigation.

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What is the origin of the donkey and the elephant as the symbols of the Republican and Democratic Party? How did the parties select these mascots?

They didn't pick them - they got stuck with them! Their origin as symbols for the parties is attributed to a political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, who used the donkey and the elephant in cartoons drawn for Harper's Weekly in the 1870's. Why Nast chose the donkey and the elephant is a pretty complicated story, and requires some understanding of the politics of that day. 

Nast combined these two symbols together for the first time in an 1874 cartoon for Harper's Weekly, called "The Third Term Panic." He drew a donkey disguised in a lion-skin, trying to scare away the animals in a forest. One of the animals frightened by the donkey's roar was an elephant - a symbol for Republican voters, who were abandoning President Ulysses S. Grant's quest for a 3rd term, and in Nast's view, were falling into a trap set by the Democrats. You can see the original Nast cartoon on this website:http://libweb5.princeton.edu/Visual_Materials/gallery/nast/nast1l.html

The cartoon was based on a scandal of the day -  a hoax which had been foisted on its readers by the New York Herald newspaper. The Herald ran a deliberately false story about animals breaking out of the zoo and foraging for food throughout Central Park. Around the same time, the Herald was running a series of editorials against a 3rd term for President Ulysses S. Grant, calling the possibility "Caesarism." In Nast's cartoon, the donkey disguised as a lion is roaring out "Caesarism," and scaring away the elephant.  The donkey was a stand-in for the Democratic-leaning Herald newspaper, and the elephant stood for the Republican party.

Other cartoonists of the time picked up the idea of the timid elephant representing Republicans, and that symbol for the party became widely recognized and accepted by the general public. Nast's cartoon showing a duplicitous donkey attacking a weak-minded elephant, became a handy symbol for other cartoonists wanting to represent Democrats attacking Republicans. 

Popular recognition of the image overrode the party's own wishes - the Democratic party has never officially adopted the donkey as its emblem, but came to accept the reality that the symbol had stuck.  The donkey had been used earlier in our history as a political symbol. In the 1828 presidential campaign, Andrew Jackson was labeled a "jackass," for his populist views. Jackson proudly seized the label and began using donkeys on his campaign posters. During his presidency, cartoonists sometimes used the donkey to illustrate President Jackson's stubbornness on certain issues. After Jackson, the donkey symbol largely faded, only to be revived again by Thomas Nast in his 1870's cartoons. 

Over time, Republicans came to view the elephant emblem as a sign of strength and intelligence, and officially adopted it as their emblem, while their opponents portrayed it as a timid and clumsy behemoth. Democrats seized the "jackass" label, and transformed it into a clever and courageous donkey. As is still true today, it's all in the spin!