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A bicameral system is a legislative system in which the power of law making is vested in two houses, or chambers, both of which must approve a bill before it becomes law. There are a few general guidelines by which most bicameral systems, including the United States, operate. The upper house, The Senate, is made up of members selected on a territorial basis. Therefore, senators represent states, or other political subdivisions instead of the people themselves. They also serve longer terms than members of the lower house. The lower house, the House of Representatives, is composed of members selected according to population. They serve shorter terms and have closer identification with the districts they represent. This makes it much more possible for members to strongly reflect the existing mind of the electorate. This bicameral system is in force in all states except Nebraska which, since 1937, has had a unicameral legislature. Throughout the world, national parliaments are about equally divided between bicameral and unicameral systems.

Throughout the history of the United States bicameral system, committees have served a primary role. Standing, or permanent, committees were not new when established in America; rather, the concept originated in British Parliament. Therefore, when the American colonial assemblies and the Continental Congress implemented the committee into their legislative structures, the people were familiar with committees and their functions. In the early days of U.S. Congress, most bills were determined in the full chamber, leaving only details and clerical tasks for ad hoc committees. This system was flexible and responsive to the preferences of the entire House or Senate. However, as the duties of Congress grew, permanent committees were necessary.

The First Congress created a standing Committee on Enrolled Bills in 1789. This was the first permanent committee created, and coexisted with ad hoc committees. More and more standing committees were created, and the House had 10 standing committees by 1810. This system was expanded drastically during Monroe s Administration.

In contrast, the Senate only created four permanent committees during its first quarter century. Two of those committees were joint House and Senate panels and all were chiefly administrative. Then, in 1816, the Senate established 12 permanent committees, after which the system grew steadily.

In 1942, California Democrat Jerry Voorhis stated, I believe Congress must realize that only Congress can restore Congress to its proper place. During this time of turmoil in the nation, Congress took and introspective look at itself and established the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which is often regarded as the blueprint of the contemporary Congress. This act systematized and reorganized the committee system in the House and Senate, increased congressional access to technical information, increased staffing, removed some workload of Congress, improved control over the budget, increased Members pay, and required lobbyists to register with the House and Senate. This introduced the modern era of Congress.

Despite the 1946 Act s accomplishments, it had many deficiencies and failures that were soon realized. As Representative Estes Kefauver rhetorically asked, Did we modernize Congress? and answered, Not nearly enough. By the mid-1960s, the time had come to reform once again. Both Chambers agreed to a resolution in 1965. Primarily, the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 revised committee procedures. It encouraged open committee hearings, mandated written rules in committees, allowed media coverage of hearings, and safeguarded the rights of minority party members on the committee, among many other things.

The 1970 act is believed to be a more modest accomplishment than its 1946 predecessor, mainly because it did not generally change the organization of Congress in fundamental ways. However, it did relieve a wide range of procedural and institutional strains, marking a turning point in the reform movement.

Current issues in bicameralism in the United States today are primarily the differences and rivalries between the two houses. While this has always been a problem in Congress, inter chamber tensions have heightened in recent years. There are several factors which account for this issue. Some commentators suggest that the Clinton Administration followed a pro-House strategy during its initial days in office, triggering a hostile response by the Senate to the House s actions on administrative proposals. For example, a lengthy talkathon was launched in the Senate that derailed the President s economic stimulus plan. Furthermore, House members have always had problems with the Senate s use of filibusters and non-germane amendments. Senators, on the other hand, are much less vocal with their complaints about the House.

In conclusion, the bicameral system of legislation in the United States has obviously made great strides since the First Congress met. While there are still many problems in the system, bicameral legislation has met the needs of American society.

Works Cited

Davidson, Roger. Two Avenues of Change: House and Senate Committee

Reorganization, in Congress Reconsidered, 2d ed.

Luce, Robert. Congress: An Explanation, Cambridge, Harvard University press, 1926.

P. 31.

Merida, Kevin. House-Senate Relationships Fray, The Washington Post, July 14, 1993,

P. 2151


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