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Legislative Branch (Congress)

Legislative Branch (Congress)

Home Civics Legislative Branch (Congress) Teaching Discussion and Essay Questions

Discussion and Essay Questions

Available to teachers only as part of the Teaching the Legislative Branch (Congress)Teacher Pass

Teaching the Legislative Branch (Congress) Teacher Pass includes:

  • Assignments & Activities
  • Reading Quizzes
  • Current Events & Pop Culture articles
  • Discussion & Essay Questions
  • Challenges & Opportunities
  • Related Readings in Literature & History

Sample of Discussion and Essay Questions

  1. What is Congress?
    • Why is Congress described in Article I of the Constitution?
    • Was this symbolic on the part of the framers?
    • Do you consider Congress still "first among equals"?
      • Which branch is?
  2. Bicameral Structure of Congress
    • Why couldn’t the framers of the Constitution copy the British form of bicameralism?
      • Were the problems more social or ideological?
    • How democratic is the representational scheme of the Senate?
    • How fair is the representational scheme of the Senate?
    • Should it be revised?
    • The framers agreed to grant all states equal representation in the Senate in order to appease the small states—can this decision be philosophically defended?
    • Why did the large states agree to this representation scheme in 1787?
    • Would the small states have enough clout to block an attempt to restructure the Senate today?
  3. House of Representatives
    • The House was designed to be the people’s chamber—the scale of representation was fairly small (1:30,000) and the framers expected a high turnover in House membership. But today, the scale of representation is roughly 1:700,000 and turnover is very low.
      • Is this a problem?
      • How might the House be made more responsive to the public?
      • Could the scale of representation be reduced?
      • Could something be done to increase turnover?
        • What about term limits—i.e., no more than three terms for any member?
          • Would the House be more responsive to the voters?
          • Would this unfairly deny voters the right to re-elect an effective representative?
          • How would term limits impact the operations of the House?
            • For the better?
            • For the worse?
  4. Senate
    • The filibuster is one of the unique features of the Senate—on what principle is it based?
      • Should one member have this much power?
      • Is this the price for preserving the important principle of thorough and unlimited debate?
    • Filibustering has increased in frequency. During the 1960s, there were, on average, seven filibusters per term. Since 2000, the Senate has averaged 49 filibusters per term. In 2007-2008, there were more than 100.
      • Why do you suppose senators filibuster more frequently?
      • Is this a problem?
      • How does this rising use of the filibuster affect the work of the Senate?
      • A filibuster can be broken through a cloture vote of 60 senators. In other words, major legislation now needs 60 votes, not just 51.
        • Is this a problem?
        • Is this consistent with the intentions of the framers?
        • Does this undermine the Senate’s effectiveness?
        • Or does it ensure thorough debate and well-structured, bipartisan legislation?
  5. Powers of Congress/Expressed Powers/Implied Powers
    • What are the implied powers?
    • What is the “necessary and proper” or “elastic” clause?
    • Are these necessary or dangerous?
    • Without an elastic clause, would Congress be able to adapt to changing times?
      • How would Congress find the authority to address unanticipated needs?
        • What is wrong with relying on the amendment process?
    • What are the limits of the elastic clause? How elastic should it be?
      • Who gets to define these limits?
        • Congress?
        • The Supreme Court?
          • Is this too much power for such a small group of life-tenured judges?
  6. Strict Constructionism v. Broad Constructionism
    • Would you consider yourself a strict or broad constructionist?
    • What basic philosophy or fear underlies each of these positions?
    • Why has the trend over the centuries been toward broad constructionism?
      • Has this been demanded by the times?
      • Have those in power pushed for more?
      • Have the people demanded more from government?
      • Have the states been unable to address public needs?
  7. Non-Legislative Functions
    • Do the provisions regarding the election of the president in the House seem appropriate to you?
      • Why was the House, rather than the Senate, given the authority to select the president if no candidate receives the necessary number of Electoral College votes.
      • What potential problems do you see in granting this power to the House?
        • What sorts of states gain influence under this method?
          • (Remind students that each state’s delegation receives one vote regardless of size.) Why not just hold a second election?
    • Is the list of impeachable offenses long enough?
      • Should incompetence be an impeachable offense?
      • Should Congress be allowed to impeach a president for policy differences?
    • How would increasing Congress’s impeachment powers affect the relationship between the branches?
      • Would this be good or bad?
      • Would government become more or less effective? Efficient?