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There are a total of 535 Members of Congress. One hundred serve in the U.S. Senate, while 435 serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
House members, referred to as Congressmen/women or Representatives, serve two-year terms and are up for reelection every even year (2006, 2008, etc.). Senators serve six-year terms and elections to the Senate are staggered over even years so that only about 1/3 of the Senators are up for reelection in any given even year.
Since the Senate is made up of 100 Senators, each state sends two Senators to represent them in Washington. In the House of Representatives, a state's representation is based on its population. States with small populations like North Dakota, Vermont and Delaware send only one representative to Washington, while the most populous state, California, sends 53 representatives to serve in the House. Currently, New Jersey sends 13 representatives.
Members of the House each represent a section of their state, a Congressional District, which average about 600,000 people. Senators represent the entire state.
For the 112th Congress, the Senate is made up of 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats, which gives Democrats a slim majority. In the House, there are currently 193 Democrats and 240 Republicans.
In the House the majority party rules. The House conducts most of its important business by passing rules that determine the framework under which a bill will be debated. Since these rules only require a simply majority, the party with the most votes controls the debate. In most cases, rules limit debate so that major bills can be passed during one day of legislative business.
In the Senate, the majority still holds a significant advantage when it comes to scheduling which bills come to the floor, but any single senator can stop legislation from moving forward on his or her own. While debate is limited in the House to the guidelines created by the rule, debate in the Senate does not end until 60 Senators vote for a cloture motion that moves the bill forward for consideration. Since the majority does not currently bring to the table 60 votes on its own, it must work with the minority to set the rules for debate on important legislation. Often, this means that major pieces of legislation can be debated for one or two weeks on the Senate floor.
Since Congress deals with a broad variety of different issues, it is impossible for all work to be done on either the House or Senate floor. Therefore, throughout history, committees have been created to address particular issues. Today, there are 21 permanent committees in the House of Representatives and 15 in the Senate. The main purpose of these committees is to collect information through hearings and investigations, and draft legislation which is then reported out for consideration by the entire chamber.
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