Congress: How It Really Works

The members of Congress are concerned about knowing what people in their states need and want. Representing constituents is their job, and if they want to be reelected, they need to do their job well. For this reason, representatives and senators want to connect with constituents.

They all have local offices and want people to meet with them personally. They have email addresses and websites to facilitate communications with voters. All opinions are welcome.

You can do the following relatively easily:

  1. Vote. Have a voice in who represents you.
  2. Stay Informed. Stay current on political issues. Watch the news, read newspapers and news websites.
  3. Discuss Politics. Show interest in not just the problems but the solutions.
  4. Don't Go It Alone. Join with your nurse colleagues who share your point of view.
  5. Be Heard. Be on a first-name basis with your elected officials.

Understanding the Players: Key Staff in Congressional Offices

Senators and Representatives perform the very important work of passing bills and laws that will have an impact on day-to-day life for you and those you care for. They would not be able to do their jobs without the help of legislative assistants (LAs). These (often young) staff members are the professionals who work in the offices of senators and representatives and provide the critical support these legislators need in the areas of administration, public relations, and communications. For each legislator there is a team of LAs focused on an area of policy that the senator or congressman is working on. Don't be discouraged when you visit or call your legislator and are connected with a staffer. LAs pay close attention to constituent (your) input and make recommendations to their boss. Be prepared to speak with them and show them the respect they deserve. Remember, they are indispensable to your legislator.

What Does That Mean? A Glossary of Legislative Terms

Legislation approved by both the House and Senate and then signed into law by the president.

Legislation that provides funding for authorized programs. Budgets for the federal government are provided both in annual appropriations acts and in permanent provisions of law.

Legislation introduced in the House or Senate. Senate bills are numbered with an "S" prefix, while House bills are numbered with an "HR" prefix.

Identical legislation introduced separately in both the House and Senate.

Government program established by law that provides financial benefits to an eligible person or unit of government. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are examples of entitlement programs.

A committee/subcommittee meeting where members hear witness testimony in order to review legislation or operation of a federal agency or program, or to conduct an investigation.

Committee composed of both House and Senate members. These committees are often used to resolve differences between House and Senate bills so that an act can be passed.

The president's rejection of a bill or joint resolution to prevent it from becoming law, returning the legislation to the chamber in which it originated. The veto can be overridden only by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House.