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House of Representatives
The lower chamber, or larger branch, of the U.S. Congress, or a similar body in the legislature of many of the states.
The U.S. House of Representatives forms one of the two branches of the U.S. Congress. The House comprises 435 members who are elected to two-year terms. The U.S. Constitution vests the House with the sole power of introducing bills for raising revenue, making it one of the most influential components of the U.S. government.
According to Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution, a member of the House must be at least twenty-five years of age and a U.S. citizen for seven years before his or her election. In addition, representatives must reside in the state that they represent. Members of the House are generally called congressmen, congresswomen, or representatives.
During the First Congress (1789–91), the House had sixty-five members, each representing approximately 30,000 people. Until 1929 the law required the number of members in the House to increase in proportion to the national population. That year Congress passed the Permanent Apportionment Act (46 Stat. 21, 26, 27), which limited the size of the House to 435 representatives. During the 1990s each House member represented an average of 572,000 people.
Reapportionment or redistribution of House seats—a process whereby some states lose House representatives while others gain them—occurs after census figures have been collected. The Constitution requires that a census be conducted every ten years (art. 1, § 2). Each state must have at least one representative.
Puerto Rico elects a nonvoting resident commissioner to the House for a four-year term. Nonvoting delegates from American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands are elected to a two-year term. These special representatives are allowed to participate in debates and vote in committees.
House committees are responsible for most of the work involved in the creation of new laws. After a bill is introduced in the House, it is referred to a committee. The committee studies the bill and may hold public hearings on it or suggest amendments. If the bill has the support of a majority of committee members, it is reported to the House, which then debates it and votes on it. The Committee on Rules determines how long a bill may be debated and the procedure by which it is amended.
The number of standing, or permanent, House committees has varied over time. In 1800 five standing committees existed. By 1910 the number of standing committees had increased to sixty-one. Between 1950 and the 1990s, the total stabilized at nineteen to twenty-two. During the 104th Congress (1995–97), there were nineteen standing committees in the House: Agriculture; Appropriations; Banking and Financial Services; Budget; Commerce; Economic and Educational Opportunities; Government Reform and Oversight; House Oversight; International Relations; Judiciary; National Security; Resources; Rules;
Science; Small Business; Standards of Official Conduct; Transportation and Infrastructure; Veterans' Affairs; and Ways and Means.
Each committee has an average of eight to ten subcommittees. Committee membership is determined by a vote of the entire House, and committee chairs are elected by the majority party. The House may also create special committees, including investigative committees.
The Speaker of the House has the most powerful position in the House and is traditionally the leader of the majority party. The Speaker interprets and applies House rules and refers bills to committees. Party leadership positions in the House include the majority and minority leaders, or floor leaders, and the majority and minority whips.
The elected officers of the House include the clerk, the sergeant at arms, and the doorkeeper. The clerk oversees the major legislative duties of the House. He or she takes all votes and certifies the passage of bills, calls the House to order at the commencement of each Congress, administers legislative information and reference services, and supervises television coverage of House floor proceedings. The sergeant at arms, a member of the U.S. Capitol Police Board, is the chief law enforcement officer for the House. The sergeant maintains order in the House and arranges formal ceremonies such as presidential inaugurations and joint sessions of Congress. The doorkeeper monitors admission to the House and its galleries and organizes the distribution of House documents.
U.S. House. 1994. Committee on House Administration. History of the United States House of Representatives, 1789–1994. 103d Cong. 2d sess. H.Doc. 103-324.