Knowing Your Government: Congressman Job in Plain English

A Congressman’s job in plain English is to represent the people. Knowing your government means knowing what everyone’s job is simply. They function as representatives in making the laws. An individual member of the House can propose a bill to, for example, protect pregnant women from discrimination or outlaw a dangerous drug. The representative and their staff write the text of the bill. Then it goes to one of the House committees for review. If a bill makes it through committee, the House will vote whether to send it to the Senate.

capital hill  congress and senate seats

How Does Congress Work?

The Constitution of the United States of America and the U.S. Supreme Court decisions set limits on what bills are possible. Congressmen have a job to simply represent the people of their districts. The Thirteenth Amendment banned slavery, for instance, so a bill reviving slavery would have zero effect.

Congressmen and congresswomen don’t just originate bills. They study the bills’ effects and costs and propose any amendments they think important. They vote based on the bill’s merits and the views of voters in their home district. There may also have to negotiate with and persuade other members to support their point of view.

What does the Job Require?

To become a congressman or congresswoman, you must be at least 25 years old, be a U.S. citizen for seven years and a resident of the state you’re representing. And, of course, you have to get elected to office. That’s another difference between a senator and a congressman: senators serve six years; congressmen serve two years at a time, and are considered for re-election every even year. At time of writing, campaigning for a House seat costs $1 million to $2 million, and some candidates have spent well over $10 million to win a competitive race.

Money isn’t enough: a representative also has to listen to the voters. A great deal of ink has been spilled over whether members of congress should defer to the wishes of their constituents or vote their conscience even if the voters disagree. It’s unlikely anyone will ever find a definitive answer.

What Do They Earn?

When the House was formed in 1789, the salary was $6 a day. At time of writing, most members get a $174,000 salary. The Republican and Democratic leaders get $193,400 and the Speaker of the House, the chamber’s leader, gets $223,500. They receive extensive benefits such as health insurance on top of the salary.

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