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U.S. House of Representatives

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The House of Representatives is the lower house of the United States Congress. It consists of at least one Representative from each state, with more Representatives allocated to larger states in proportion to their population, for a total of 435. There are also nonvoting delegates from the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other non-state entities. The House of Representatives is created and defined in Article 2 of the United States Constitution. The House of Representatives is often referred to as simple "the House".

Definition

The House consists of a number of Representatives from each state commensurate with the state's population. This proportional representation was the result of compromises reached during the Constitutional Convention and addresses one of the major points of contention larger states had with the Congress created by the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles, each state was represented by two to seven representatives, but during voting, representatives voted en banc. This gave unequal representation to smaller states, an advantage larger states were eager to remove.

One of the key compromises of the Convention was to split the legislature into two halves: the House of Representatives would have proportional representation and the Senate would have equal representation. Apportionment of representatives is done on a decennial basis, following a constitutionally-mandated national census.

The original Constitution also had another compromise that directly affected the House: that slaves, referred to as "other persons", would each count toward the population count as three-fifths of a whole person. Delegates from slave-holding states wanted slaves to count as whole persons and delegates from non-slave-holding states (or, at least, lesser slave-holding states) wanted slaves to not count at all. This three-fifths representation was removed with the abolition of slavery by the Thirteenth Amendment and specifically by the restatement of the proportion system in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Constitution dictates only a few qualifications for Representatives. Specifically, Representatives must be twenty-five years old before taking their seat; must have been a citizen of the United States for at least seven years; and must be a resident of the state they represent. Notably, Representatives do not have to live in the district that they represent.

Selection

Representatives are chosen by the people in elections held every two years.

The Constitution does not, nor does federal law, dictate how states are divided into districts, or even if they should be. Modern practice is that states are divided into roughly similarly populated districts, and that citizens of those districts vote for and elect a representative for that district. This is only common practice, however. It is equally constitutionally correct to treat the state as a single district and, for a state allocated ten representatives, elect the top ten vote winners in a statewide election. Connecticut used a system like this until the election for the 25th Congress in 1837. Another method, used by Massachusetts in the election for the 3rd Congress in 1793, was to divide the state into large districts and hold at-large elections within those districts.

The original Constitution did not set an upper limit for the number of representatives in the House, but it did set a lower limit: the ratio could be no lower than 1:30,000, except for the minimum of one representative per state. At that ratio, the House would now have about 12,000 members. In 1911, the number of seats was fixed. Today, there are 435 seats in the House. The number can go up temporarily as new states are admitted, but the number must return to 435 after the next apportionment.

Officers

There is one constitutional officer of the House. The Speaker of the House is elected by the membership to preside over the House. Traditionally, the Speaker has been chosen from the membership of the House and, thus, is a voting member. The Constitution, however, does not dictate that the Speaker be a Representative, though no non-member has ever been elected to the office.

The Speaker typically does not actually preside over the House. Instead, the Speaker often delegates that authority to various members of the House of Representatives.

The Speaker is next in line to succeed to the Presidency of the United States after the Vice-President.

Partisan offices

The House has other officers not provided for in the Constitution, notably the House Majority Leader and House Minority Leader , chosen by House members of their respective political parties. These two officers, along with other partisan officers (e.g., Majority and Minority Whips and their staffs, play a large role in organizing and coordinating the work and schedule of the House.

Committees

Much of the work of the House is done in committees and subcommittees. Most committees are defined in the Standing Rules of the House. See the individual Committee articles for their subcommittees.

Committees usually have a Chair from the majority party and a Ranking Minority Member, appointed by their party leadership. In a few sensitive committees such as Intelligence, the term "Vice Chair" substitutes for "ranking member" to encourage bipartisanship. Several committees, which have large workloads above the subcommittee level, may also elect vice chairs of the majority.

Party leaders have limited committee duties due to their other responsibilities, although they may be members ex officio of certain committees, especially in the national security area.

Meeting place

The House originally met in Federal Hall in New York City, then in Congress Hall in Philadelphia, finally moving to the newly established national capital in 1800. The Constitution forbids the House and Senate to convene in separate places.

In the modern U.S. Capitol complex, the House chamber is on the south side of the building, and the three major House office buildings are immediately to the south, across Independence Avenue. There are underground tunnels among the major buildings; sometimes called the world's shortest and most expensive subway.

Powers

The House shares most of the legislative powers with the Senate. Specifically, all bills passed by the House must be approved by the Senate, and vice versa, before the bill can be sent to the President for signature.

Any bill, except spending bills, can start in either house of Congress. The House, as the "People's House", was given the exclusive power to initiate spending bills.

During any impeachment, the House acts as a sort of grand jury, and is responsible for bringing charges. Impeachment happens on a simple majority vote. After an impeachment, the case is sent to the Senate for trial.