The House of Representatives is made up of 435 elected leaders — some from each state. Its main job is to make and approve new laws. The House of Representatives and the Senate together make up the U.S. Congress.
You’ll also hear the House of Representatives called a “legislative body” and “one half of the bicameral legislature.” “Legislative” means “makes laws,” and “bicameral” refers to Congress having 2 branches — the House and the Senate.
States have different numbers of Representatives. The more people live in your state, the more Representatives you have. For example, Illinois has 13 million people and 18 Representatives, and Montana has 1 million people and 1 Representative.
Every 10 years, the U.S. government counts how many people live in the country and in each state. This is called the census. After the census, the government adjusts how many Representatives each state gets. The total number hasn’t really changed since 1913 — the seats are just re-distributed according to how many people live in each state.
What’s the House of Representatives do?
The House of Representatives’ main job, along with the Senate, is to make laws. Like the Senate, the House has a bunch of committees, or small sub-groups of its lawmakers. These committees look over bills before they make it to the floor for a vote. They also monitor various government agencies and programs.
The House has a couple of special responsibilities that make it different than the Senate. First, the Constitution says that bills that raise money (e.g. taxes) must start in the House.
Second, the House is where impeachment begins.
Impeachment is basically a trial for a government official, such as a judge or the President, who’s been accused of corruption.
Here’s how impeachment works: First, the House of Representatives draws up and “articles of impeachment,” which say why an official is corrupt, and then votes on them. If more than half of the Representatives agree that the official is corrupt, impeachment moves to the Senate. If 2/3rds of the Senate votes for impeachment, the official is convicted and removed from office.
Finally: The House decides who becomes President when nobody gets the majority of electoral votes. On the rare occasion when this happens, the House picks from the 3 candidates who got the most electoral votes. This happened in 1801, when the House picked Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr, and also in 1825, when it picked John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson.
Important positions in the House (i.e. Who’s in charge here?)
First, there’s the Speaker of the House, who sets the agenda, manages debate, and picks Representatives for important roles. The Speaker is elected by all the members of the House. This has always meant that the Speaker is from the party with the most House members — the “majority” party. For example, if Republicans have 235 House members and Democrats only 200, the Republicans will select a Republican to be Speaker.
Since the Speaker sets the agenda for the House, this means that whoever the party who has the majority of House seats also sets the House agenda.
The Speaker is also next after the Vice President in Presidential Succession (i.e. who becomes President if the President leaves office).
There are a few other important House positions, too. Each party elects a leader: The party with the most seats elects a Majority Leader, and the party with the least seats elects a Minority Leader. (This would be more complicated if there were more parties in Congress, but there are really only 2 with influence: Democrats and Republicans.)
The Majority Leader’s job is usually to schedule debates for laws and manage committees. The Minority Leader is the spokesperson for their party. Also, if an election causes the minority party to become the majority party, the Minority Leader has a good shot at becoming Speaker of the House.
Last, each party has a whip. The whip’s job is to make sure that everybody in the party votes the way they’re supposed to. This is called “whipping the votes.” Members don’t always vote with their parties, but whips try to get them to. Whips are also elected by their parties.
House members make the same as Senate members: $174,000 per year. Leaders earn $193,400 per year, and the Speaker gets $223,500.