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Because of their similarities in organizational patterns, we consider the federal and state legislative bodies together in the following discussion. Congress consists of two separate bodies—the Senate and the House of Representatives. These two bodies differ in several respects and are eager to protect their privileges and power. The House members are apportioned among the states on the basis of population. After each decennial census, the apportionment of representatives among the states normally changes: States with the fastest-growing populations gain representation, and those with little or no population growth or with declining populations lose representation. By contrast, each state is entitled to two senators regardless of any population changes. Unlike the situation in the House, where members come up for election every 2 years, Senate terms are staggered. Only one- third of the Senate is up for election every 2 years, which ensures a greater continuity of both formal and informal organizational arrangements.

Herbert Asher (1973) pointed out that a set of informal norms influences behavior in both the Senate and the House: (1) Newcomers to the legislative body serve a period of apprenticeship in which they accept their assignments, do their homework, and stay in the background while learning their jobs; (2) members become specialists in the work of the committees to which they are assigned; (3) members avoid personal attacks on each other; (4) members are willing to reciprocate by compromising and trading votes (supporting each other’s proposals) when possible; and (5) legislators do nothing that will reflect adversely upon the integrity of the legislative body and Congress as a whole. The same informal norms and rules operate in state legislatures.

Avoidance of personal disputes, restriction of full participation in the legislative process to senior members, and the norm of reciprocity all function ideally to minimize conflict within legislative bodies. The emphasis on specialization provides Congress with the opportunity to deal with the increasingly complex issues it must consider, though specialization may also create some organizational problems. In general, House members are more likely than senators to specialize in the work of the committees on which they serve. Senators, on the other hand, are more apt to draw the attention of the media and have presidential ambitions. This is due, in part, to the length of time they are elected to serve. The norm of protecting the integrity of the legislative body may, and often has, led to controversy between the Senate and the House, and between Congress as a whole and the president.

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