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the House the south wing. It convenes and adjourns by virtue of constitutional authority, and not by virture of a summons or an order from the executive (25).
The President, however, may on extraordinary occasions convene Congress in an extra session (100), and he may also adjourn Congress if the two Houses cannot themselves agree upon a day for adjournment (101).
A majority of the members of each house constitutes the quorum necessary for the transaction of business. When making laws the two Houses must carry on work during the same period of time, although either House may sit alone for a period not exceeding three days (31).
The first Congress began its legal existence March 4, 1789, and expired at the hour of noon March 4, 1791, when the term of the first elected representatives ended; the second Congress came into power March 4, 1791, and ended its career March 4, 1793; the third Congress began March 4, 1793, and ended March 4, 1795; and thus on to the present time. From this we learn (1) that Congresses are numbered according to the biennial periods for which representatives are elected, and (2) that the legal existence of Congress begins on March 4 following the election of representatives and ends March 4, two years later. Representatives are elected in November -except that in Maine and Vermont, they are elected in September—but, unless an extra session is called, they do not actually enter upon their duties until the December of the first year of their legal term—more than a year after their election. If a Congress should choose to do so, it could sit in continuous session from the time it first meets to the expiration of its term. In practice the work of a Congress is done in two regular sessions. The first session begins when a Congress assembles in December for the first time and ends late in the spring or early in the summer of the following year. This is the long session. The second or short session begins when the Congress assembles in December for the second time and ends at twelve o'clock meridian the following March 4. Extra sessions begin on a date fixed by the President and end at the pleasure of Congress.
In the first few days after the assembling of the House several thousand bills are introduced. The introduction of a bill in the House is a very easy matter; the bill is not presented in the open IIouse but is quietly placed in a receptacle—in the “hopper”– from which it is taken by a clerk and filed. But every bill before it can become a law must be taken up in the open House and be duly discussed and disposed of in an orderly decent way. How is this done? How amid the stormy conflicts of interest which are bound to arise in the House, and in the confusion and strife which are attendant upon the proceedings of such a large body, can business be conducted in due form and order? The answer to this question involves the consideration of (1) the speakership, (2) the committee system, and (3) the rules of the House.
I. The Speakership. When the members of a new House assemble for the first time the clerk of the previous House calls them to order, causes a roll to be called, and, if a quorum (27) is present, invites the House to proceed with the election of a Speaker (13) who is always chosen from among the representatives. After the election of the Speaker the other officers of the House (14), the sergeant-at-arms, the clerk and the doorkeeper are elected, and the work of the session begins.
The character of the proceedings of the House depends largely upon the firmness and fairness of the Speaker. The duties of the Speaker are defined by the rules of the House. He preserves order, he puts questions to the House to be voted upon, he decides questions of parliamentary law, and above all, he decides which member is entitled to be heard upon the floor. No member may speak or make a motion unless he has first been recognized by the Speaker.
II. The Committees. A large legislative body in full and open session cannot look into the merits and discuss all the items of every proposed bill. There must be a method of sifting proposed measures and rejecting worthless and absurd propositions so that the attention of the legislature may be given to serious and important matters. From time immemorial this preparation of measures has been accomplished through the agency of committees, small groups of members, to each of which is assigned the duty of attending to a particular branch of legislation. The more important committees of the House consist of from fifteen to twenty-one members. The principal
standing committees—committees which are provided for by the rules, and which continue in existence through the entire session-are those on ways and means, rules, appropriations, the judiciary, foreign relations, currency, commerce, pensions, military affairs, naval affairs, elections, manufactures, agriculture, public lands, and rivers and harbors. The committees are elected by the House but the membership of each committee is determined by party action before the vote in the House is taken.
The work of the House is effected through the committees. When a bill is introduced it finds its way to the appropriate committee. Friends of the bill may appear before the committee and speak in its behalf. The committee may amend the bill, or reject it outright, or pay no attention to it whatever. If a bill is rejected in committee, it has little chance of becoming a law. If it is reported favorably to the House, it has a chance at least of receiving serious consideration. A committee, besides reporting upon measures that have been referred to it, may report bills originating with itself. In practice, before a bill can become a law it must first receive the favorable judgment of a committee.
III. The Rules. When a bill is reported favorably by a committee it is usually placed upon the calendar along with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other bills. By a majority vote of the entire membership of the House a bill may be taken from a committee, and placed upon the calendar without waiting for the action of the committee. This can be done,
however, only after the committee has for fifteen days failed to take action upon the bill. The calendar is a kind of catalogue or register of bills, and has been called “the cemetery of legislative hopes,” because so many bills are never heard of again after they reach it. When a bill has found its way to the calendar its fate henceforth rests with the rules of the House. The rules of procedure are determined by the House itself (28), and are framed with a view of conducting business in a fair and orderly manner. The general rule in reference to bill on the calendar is that it must wait its turn for consideration, a rule which if strongly enforced might postpone action indefinitely. The real agency which can determine what bill shall be taken from the calendar and which in fact largely guides the entire proceedings of the House is the committee on rules. This committee, like the other committees, is elected by the House and consists of eleven members. The Speaker is not permitted to be a member of the committee. The committee on rules has the high privilege of bringing in a “special rule” or order, by which a certain time may be appointed for the consideration of a bill. It can thus at any time, without discussion or delay, order any bill to be taken from the calendar for immediate consideration. This committee on rules can also determine the conditions of debate, how long members may speak, whether amendments to the bill may be offered or not, when a vote shall be taken. The first of the committees, therefore, is the commit