Posts tagged ‘congressional deskbook’

Four Out of Ten Books Published by TheCapitol.Net Receive High Honors at Benjamin Franklin Awards

How many presses can claim 40 percent of their books as winner or finalist in one of the publishing industry’s most prestigious awards? TheCapitol.Net is one that can. The Virginia-based DC-area publisher has published ten titles, all on understanding how the federal government, Washington, and the media actually work. Four of them have received recognition at the Benjamin Franklin Awards–the premier award in the independent publishing world.

Benjamin Franklin Awards, Finalist Benjamin Franklin Award, Winner

Organized by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), and selected, in 2011, from some 1300 entries, the Benjamin Franklin Awards often go to much larger publishers, such as John Wiley & Sons, Dorling Kindersley, and Harvard Common Press.

Yet, at IBPA’s 23rd annual award ceremony held at Book Expo America (BEA) in New York recently, The Capitol.Net’s Testifying Before Congress: A Practical Guide to Preparing and Delivering Testimony before Congress and Congressional Hearings, by William N. LaForge, took top honors in the Professional and Technical category, while A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results, by Joseph Gibson, was a finalist in the Politics and Current Events category.

These two books, honored at the 2011 awards ceremony, join previous finalists Congressional Deskbook (2006) and Common Sense Rules of Advocacy for Lawyers (2005) in achieving this honor.

Publisher Chug Roberts commented, “I’m thrilled that the quality of our books continues to be validated by this group of very tough judges. We’ve always tried to create books that complement our courses and are truly useful to those trying to get something done at the federal level, and this recognition demonstrates that we’re succeeding.”

Common Sense Rules of Advocacy for Lawyers, by Keith Evans Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative Reform
Common Sense Rules of Advocacy for Lawyers Congressional Deskbook
Finalist, 2005
Congressional Deskbook
Finalist, 2006
Testifying Before Congress
Winner, 2011
A Better Congress
Finalist, 2011

To see more information about TheCapitol.Net’s books, go to

TheCapitol.Net is a privately held, non-partisan publishing and training company based in Alexandria, VA. For over 30 years, TheCapitol.Net and its predecessor, Congressional Quarterly Executive Conferences, have been training professionals from government, military, business, and NGOs on the dynamics and operations of the legislative and executive branches and how to work with them.

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A Guide to Voting on the House Floor

There are four types of votes that occur in the House of Representatives. They are voice, division, yea and nay, and record votes. A voice vote refers to members calling out ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ whenever a question is put in the House. The Speaker will determine the outcome of the vote by the volume of each response. In some instances, the Speaker can say a variation on a voice vote, which means that the question is adopted.

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A division vote may be demanded by any member after a voice vote has been taken. First, the members in favor will stand and be counted. Next, those opposed will stand and be counted. A division vote will show only vote total and will not provide a record of how individual members voted on the question.

Under automatic yea and nay votes, a member may choose to “object on the ground that a quorum is not present and make a point of order that a quorum is not present.” The actual vote can then be determined for the presence of a quorum as well as the outcome of that particular pending question.

A record vote will be taken if 1/5 of quorum, which is 44 members, stand and support the request. Just as in the case with a yea and nay vote, a record vote will be taken by the electronic voting system.

Both voice votes and division votes Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneiderwill be taken in the Committee of the Whole. In order to obtain a record vote, 25 members must support the request of a member for a record vote. If there are fewer than 100 members present, which is the minimum number required for a quorum of the Committee of the Whole, a member may choose to demand a record vote.

The minimum amount of time for a record vote or quorum call is 15 minutes. This applies to both the House and the Committee of the Whole. The Speaker does have the authority to postpone and then cluster certain votes as well as to reduce the time to five minutes after an initial 15 minute vote. Cluster voting allows for sequential recorded votes on a series of measures or amendments that the House has completed debating at an earlier time. The Speaker retains the option of reducing the minimum amount of time for the second and subsequent votes in series of five minutes each.

To learn more about how Congress works, consider these courses sponsored by TheCapitol.Net: Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, Advanced Legislative Strategies, or Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 8.130 House Floor: Voting

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Federal Financial Support for State and Local Governments

Federal assistance provided to states, local governments and Indian tribes can take the form of grants, loans, loan guarantees and tax subsidies. Such assistance is intended to provide these entities with the ability to address national objectives.

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One of the most common forms of financial support provided to states and localities is federal grants. Federal grants issued to states and localities cover a broad range of government sponsored and supported services and objectives. Grants may include health services, training for displaced workers, transportation, empowerment zones and enterprise zones for community development.

Grants can take the form of either categorical or block grants. As a result of federal legislation in the 1990s, financial assistance was provided to states and localities in the form of block grants. Existing categorical grants were combined for the specific purpose of providing block grants. Categorical grants provide spending that is targeted to specific purposes. Block grants offer a wider level of discretion to state and local governments for the purposes of identifying problems and then designing programs that will meet the goals of the block grants.

Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy SchneiderSome programs, such as Medicaid, may be classified as direct or mandatory spending. In such cases, an authorizing law provides the actual spending authority for those outlays. Grants provided for infrastructure, community development, education and other purposes are considered to be discretionary and are funded through the appropriations process.

Conditions are typically attached by Congress to spending programs. Furthermore, Congress may attach other conditions in law related to the spending under a program as an attempt to ensure the integrity of the program’s management. In some cases, further conditions may be attached by Congress as a way of achieving a national purpose. One of the most famous instances of this took place when Congress wished to encourage states to increase the legal drinking to 21. As a way of doing so, the receipt of the full allocation of federal highway funds by states was conditioned upon each state adopting age 21 as a legal drinking age.

Congress may also choose to attach financial participation or matching funds requirements to programs. These efforts are often intended to promote better program administration, since state and local government funds are also at risk.

For more information about federal and congressional budgeting, see TheCapitol.Net’s 1-day course The President’s Budget, 1-day course Understanding Congressional Budgeting and Appropriations, and 2-day Advanced Federal Budget Process.

Source: Congressional Deskbook: The Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Congress, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Sec. 9.40 Presidential Budget Process, and Sec 10.200 Congress and Federalism: Financial Support for State and Local Governments.

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Appointment and Confirmation of Federal Judges

The power to appoint all federal judges is shared by the president and the Senate. The legal framework for such appointments is established by provisions within the Constitution under Article II, Section 2, Clause 2.

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Nominations for judicial appointments by the president are transmitted by message to the Senate. The message is read and the Senate executive clerk assigns a consecutive number to the message. In most instances, the Senate Judiciary Committee begins the consideration of a nomination by gathering more information about the individual nominated. The nomination of federal judges is subject to a committee hearing, during which the nominee and others testify.

Several options are available to the Judiciary Committee regarding the disposition of a nomination, and the Committee is not required to act upon nominations at all. In the event the Committee chooses to report a nomination, it can choose to do so favorably, unfavorably or without any recommendation.

The committee chair usually reports the nomination to theCongressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider full Senate. The legislative clerk then notifies the executive clerk, who assigns the nomination a number and places it on the executive calendar of the Senate. When a nomination is considered by the full Senate, it is done in executive session, not a legislative session. The procedures utilized during an executive session are similar in nature to a legislative session. One exception is that floor consideration may not begin until a nomination has been placed on the calendar for a minimum of one day, except in the case of unanimous consent.

Only rarely does the Senate vote to reject a nomination. Unsuccessful nominations typically die from inaction. On occasion, a nomination may be sent back to the Committee for further consideration. Under Senate rules, pending nominations may be sent back to the president when the Senate recesses or adjourns for more than thirty days. The Senate retains the right to waive this rule by unanimous consent.

When a nominee is confirmed, the secretary of the Senate will attest to a “resolution of confirmation,” which is then sent to the White House. The president may also choose to withdraw a nomination at any time, which ends the nomination process.

To learn more about Congressional hearings, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1-day course in Washington, DC: Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process; or the 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 10.80 Congress and the Executive: Appointments, and Section 10.81 Confirmation Procedure.

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A Guide to Reconciliation Legislation

Congress has utilized reconciliation more often than not, beginning in 1980. This special type of legislation is often used for implementing significant budget policies and for bringing existing revenue and spending law in line with policies in a budget resolution. Although reconciliation is an entirely optional process, it has been increasingly used in recent years.

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There are two stages to the reconciliation process: the adoption of reconciliation directives and the enactment of reconciliation legislation. Specific procedures for reconciliation can vary from year to year.

Reconciliation can provide an avenue for changing the amount of revenues, outlays or budget authority that is generated by existing law. In a rare number of cases, reconciliation has also been used for adjusting the public-debt limit.

The reconciliation process always begins with a directive in a budget resolution that instructs designated committees to recommend legislation that will change existing law. There are three components to such directives. First, they serve to identify the committee or committees that are directed to recommend legislation. Second, they specify the precise amounts of changes in outlays or revenues that are to be achieved by the changes in law. Third, directives typically establish a deadline by which committees must make recommend changes in law.

Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy SchneiderThe directives do not specify the way in which the changes are to be made, precisely which laws are to be changed, or the programs that are to be affected.

Committees maintain the discretion to determine the legislative changes that are to be recommended. While committees are not bound by any program change recommendations, it is expected that the committee will recommend legislation that will produce the amounts noted in the reconciliation directives.

Whenever multiple committees in the House and the Senate are subject to reconciliation directives, proposed legislative changes will be consolidated into an omnibus bill by the Budget Committees. The Byrd rule was adopted in 1985 as a way of curbing practices such as the inclusion of provisions that had no budgetary effect or that violated the jurisdiction of another committee.

Debate on reconciliation legislation by the Senate is limited to twenty hours. The Senate may choose to continue consideration of amendments, appeals and motions following those twenty hours, but no further debate is allowed on the subject.

For more information on reconciliation, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 2-day course in DC, Advanced Federal Budget Process.

Adapted from the Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 9.110 Reconciliation Legislation

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Reapportionment and Redistricting

Every ten years, following the decennial census, seats in the House are reapportioned among the states based on each state’s population relative to the other states.

April10 618
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Under the Constitution (Article I, Section 2), each state is entitled to at least one seat. Seven states, due to their small populations during the 2000 census received only one seat. These states included Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming, and these seven states will all remain at one House seat after the 2010 census. The largest state in the country, California, was apportioned with 53 seats after both the 2000 census and the 2010 census.

A shift of seats is typically explained by a rapid growth in some states in relation to other states. States may lose population from one census to the next. The results of the 2010 census have revealed a shift in population toward the West and the South. Leading the way were Texas, which will gain 4 seats, and Florida, which will gain 2 seats. Results of the census revealed that only one state, Michigan, actually lost population during the preceding ten year period.

States each gaining a seat for the 113th Congress a seat included Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, Utah, Washington and South Carolina. New York and Ohio will lose two seats each while Illinois, Louisiana, Iowa, Michigan, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania each lose one House seat. As a result of the latest reapportionment, Florida will now be able to lay claim to the same number of House members as New York: 27 each. For the first time in history, California will not gain a House seat following a census and remain at 53 seats.

Once House seats are reapportioned, state legislatures, Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneidercommissions, state and federal courts then redraw congressional district boundaries. The goal is to obtain an equal population for each district within the state, although other goals can include the favoring of a particular political party within some districts. Historically, court cases have been used for the purpose of challenging redistricting decisions. As a result, several states have been redistricted.

Reapportionment does not affect state representation in the U.S. Senate. Each state is entitled to two senators under the Constitution (Article I, Section 3), regardless of a state’s size or population. Reapportionment also does not affect nonvoting representation of American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands or Guam in the House.

Reapportionment is based upon the total resident population within each of the fifty states, but can also include federal employees, such as military personnel, that are stationed abroad. Nonresident citizens of other nations, foreign officials and residents of the District of Columbia, commonwealths and territories are excluded from the calculation.

To learn more about reapportionment and redistricting, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1-day program New Congress, and the 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 2.13 Reapportionment and Redistricting


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Early Organization Meetings of Congress

Since the mid-1970s, both chambers of Congress have convened early organization meetings in November or December of even-numbered years as a way to prepare for the beginning of the new Congress in January of the following year. Such meetings serve educational as well as social and organizational purposes.

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Educational sessions of early organizational meetings can range from meetings held on legislative procedures to hiring staff. Seminars on current policy issues may also be held. These sessions are typically taught by current congressional members or in some cases, former members, government practitioners and academic experts. Current issue sessions commonly focus on prior attempts at legislative changes, administrative policy and the outlook for action within the new Congress.

For new members of Congress, organizational sessions also provide a first introduction to Congress. Meetings areCongressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider held for all freshmen, although other meetings may be held for all members of the incoming Congress. Meetings may also be organized according to party affiliation. Class officers are usually elected at the early meetings while party leaders are selected and chamber offices are chosen later. In addition, regional representatives to steering committees are named. Actions involving committees are subject to official ratification by the Senate or the House at the beginning of the new Congress.

Official orientation programs for members-elect as well as their families are organized by the House Administration Committee and the Senate majority and minority leaders. During this time, orientation handbooks are provided, describing the official rules of each chamber, ethics regulations, office equipment information, roles of the chamber offices and services for legislative support agencies. During this time, party organization meetings are typically held for returning members and members-elect.

Along with the formal Senate and House programs, other orientation programs are available. In recent years, numerous outside organizations have begun holding policy seminars. For instance, a policy program for newly elected House members is presented by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. The program runs for several days. The Heritage Foundation provides a seminar on policy issues for both House and Senate members-elect. Soon after the swearing-in ceremony in January, the Congressional Research Service usually conducts a series of procedural and policy briefings specifically for newly elected House members and their families.

To learn more about the new Congress and about congressional sessions and organization, look at TheCapitol.Net’s 1-day program New Congress, and the 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 7.30 Early Organization Meetings

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Understanding Filibusters in Congress

Filibusters are made possible in part due to Senate rules providing that when a senator is recognized to speak regarding a pending measure there are few limitations. Debate is typically unlimited regarding pending measures. Once a senator is recognized, she can yield to another senator for the purpose of a question, but the senator that has been recognized still controls the floor. When a senator continues to speak for an extended period of time it is known as a filibuster.

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Throughout the history of America, there have been some notable instances in which extended filibusters occurred in the Senate. The longest filibuster to date is credited to Strom Thurmond, who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes on the civil rights bill in 1957. Wayne Morse spoke for 22 hours and 26 minutes on the Tidelands oil bill in 1953. William Proxmire actually held the floor for more than 25 hours in 1961; however, he yielded the floor to other senators for several hours during that time period.

The modern approach to filibusters is often referred to as the tag-team approach. In this approach a senator will speak for a period of time and then yield to another senator. In a situation in which several senators participate in an extended period of debate it can actually take some time for the Senate to recognize that a filibuster isCongressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider being conducted. As a result, the mere threat of a filibuster carries significant weight in the Senate.

Debate within the Senate is limited only under certain situations. These situations include when:

  • Cloture is invoked
  • Debate is limited by unanimous consent
  • The Senate operates under a unanimous consent time agreement
  • The Senate considers a motion to table
  • The Senate considers a measure governed by a rule-making statute

Each senator is prohibited from speaking more than twice on the same subject on the same legislative day under Senate rules. Due to the fact that each amendment is considered to be a different subject, the two-speech rule is actually not a practical limit on debate.

To learn more about how Congress works, consider these courses held in DC: Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, Advanced Legislative Strategies, or our Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 8.210 Consideration and Debate on the Senate Floor-Filibusters

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Congress: Informal Groups, Caucuses, and Congressional Member Organizations (CMO)

Most people are quite familiar with the idea of committees and subcommittees within Congress, but there are also many informal congressional groups. These groups can include informal groups, caucuses and Congressional Member Organizations (CMOs). While they may be called by different names, all of these groups refer to ad hoc social or policy groups that include a subset of Congressional members of one or both chambers. These groups are not recognized in chamber rules as they are voluntary associations. Some of these groups have been present over a long period of time, while others made brief appearances in only a few Congresses.

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These informal groups operate outside the formal committee structure. They are also separate from official party organizations. Even so, they still form an important part of the policy chain, often initiate policy action, and in some cases they can impact legislation.

Caucuses can vary in terms of range of interest, membership, issue focus, strategy and activity. Some caucuses are aimed at influencing policy while others are formed to function as information clearinghouses. Some groups are partisan, others are bipartisan. The way in which such groups function can vary quite significantly. Some groups meet frequently, other groups meet only infrequently.

Most such groups have chairs and many also have co-chairs. Groups that are primarily comprised of House members will frequently have executive or steering committees. Larger caucuses frequently organize members into subgroups that represent ideological or regional perspectives.

CMOs can represent regional concerns, national constituencies, industry issues, state or district issues, party or political agendas and personal interests. CMOs are registered with the House Administration Committee as informal groups. No office space or congressional money is received by these groups.

Members of informal groups in the Senate and CMOs in the House are subjected to rules and ethics codes for their respective chambers. They may not use official funds or hire staff.

To learn more about the Congressional Member Organizations and the legislative process, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1-day course Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, and their 3-day Advanced Legislative Strategies.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 7.60 Informal Groups and Congressional Member Organizations


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Basic Guide to Party Leadership in Congress

Party leadership is responsible for bringing efficiency and order to the legislative body. Party leaders have partisan and institutional functions. The responsibility of the majority leadership is to set the agenda as well as determine legislative priorities and political strategies, assess support for legislation, schedule measures for floor action and round up votes for the passage of legislation. The minority leadership is responsible for devising strategies for the purpose of upsetting the majority’s plans.

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The position of Speaker of the House is provided for in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. This is the most senior officer of the House and also the third most senior official in the federal government. The Speaker presides over the House and also refers measures to committees. Other responsibilities include making rulings on points of order and setting the agenda. Additionally, the Speaker has priority for recognition on the floor. This position is elected by a majority vote of the House. Candidates may be nominated by their respective party caucus.

The second most senior official in the House is the majority leader. This is the person who is responsible for the day to day management of business on the floor. The majority leader is elected by the majority party caucus and is responsible for building and managing their party’s consensus on legislation.

The job of the majority whip is to persuade members to support the position of his or her party. The majority whip is responsible for measuring and rounding up support for party positions. There are also numerous assistant whips that work with the majority whip. This network of assistant whips can include chief deputy whips, regional whips and even class whips. The majority whip is elected by the majority party caucus.
Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider
The minority leader is the senior official for the minority party and is responsible for working within the party to set a message, agenda and strategy. They may also appoint minority party members to commissions and task forces. The minority leader is elected by the minority party caucus.

The minority whip is responsible for persuading members to support their party’s position. They also count votes. A network of assistant whips also work with the minority whip.

To learn more about the subject of party leadership and how it functions within Congress, consider TheCapitol.Net’s half-day course, Congress in a Nutshell.

Also see for a listing of the current congressional leadership.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 7.40 Party Leadership

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