Overview of the Internal Workings of Congress

Most people do not need a solid understanding of the internal workings and dynamics of Congress. However, without warning, it can become necessary to understand as much as possible regarding how Congress works. This is precisely what occurs when individuals find they must testify before Congress or they decide to become involved in grassroots advocacy. Organizational leaders and business people often do not have a solid understanding what actually occurs in Congress. As a result, they often waste significant amounts of money and fail to make the impact they could if they understood Congress better.

Hot Sausage, Sweet Sausage
Creative Commons License photo credit: wharman

One of the most important things to understand about Congress is that every single member of Congress volunteered for the job. Holding a seat in Congress can have its advantages but it can also subject members to continual pressure. Any interaction with a member of Congress should be based on that understanding.

Understanding how congressional leaders are elected is also essential. Members of caucuses elect each party’s leaders in Congress. Once elected, those leaders use persuasion to accomplish goals. One of the most misunderstood aspects of Congress is that party leaders usually have far more influence than regular members of Congress. Therefore, it is imperative to work to build relationships with key party leaders. Party leaders are responsible for determining which members of Congress are appointed to which committees as well as which Congressional members lead those committees for their parties.

The majority of the detailed work regarding legislation is performed in committees. Committees actually take on more importance in the House than in the Senate. This is because Congressional members who are not actually members of critical committees do not have as many chances to provide floor amendments. When targeting who is most important in terms of relationship building, it is important to focus on those members of Congress who serve on the committees that oversee issues relevant to you and your organization.

Congressional staffers Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson can also have a tremendous amount of influence regarding Congress. Therefore, it is important to develop a relationship with the staffers associated with issues important to you.

Finally, Congress is governed by internal rules and regulations, and the rules differ between the House and the Senate. Those rules and regulations can affect outcomes so you want to have an understanding of how those rules can impact your particular situation. For more information, consider our Advanced Legislative Strategies course or our Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Summary of Chapters 3-7




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