AP US Government : Structure of Congress

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP US Government

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Congress

If given the right conditions, can a minority of the population the majority of the Senate?

Possible Answers:

No; senate seats are proportionally distributed based on geographic region

None of these answers is accurate.

Yes; senate seats are set to two seats per state regardless of population

Yes; the senate does not operate on a vote-majority basis

No; senate seats are proportionally distributed based on population

Correct answer:

Yes; senate seats are set to two seats per state regardless of population

Explanation:

This is a relatively straightforward question, although it’s difficult to wrap your mind around. The short answer is yes, there is a possibility that a majority of the Senate (that is 51 members (or more)) can be controlled by a minority of the population. This is a product of the “flat-rate” apportionment, for lack of a better word.

This, clearly, calls for more explanation. So, first, hopefully you remember that each state is entitled to 2 Senators, regardless of the size of the State’s population. Thus, CA and AK both have 2 Senators, even though their respective populations are polar opposites in size. Second, remember that Senators are not beholden to “districts” in the sense that they run state-wide.

Now, imagine that the population of every “small” and “medium” state is split nearly 50-50 Republican-Democrat. Imagine further that there are barely (just barely) more Democrats in each of these states. On Election Day, however, 100% of the Republicans turn out and vote (for Republicans) and only, say, 60% of the Democrats turn out and vote (for Democrats). All of our “small” and “medium” states have now elected Republicans as their Senators, and we’ll go ahead and say that they make up 26 States (so 52 Senators).

Assume that every “large” state is 100% Democrat, and that everyone shows up, votes for, and elects Democrats on Election Day. Thus those 24 states elect 48 Democrat Senators.

But look what happened! Even though a larger percentage of the population is Democrat (in our example), the Republicans achieved a majority in the Senate!  There are many variations of this, but this is the most extreme way in which a minority party can control a majority of the Senate.

Example Question #12 : Congress

There are never more than ______________ Senators up for reelection at one time.

Possible Answers:

Correct answer:

Explanation:

The correct answer is , or  (that’s actually the more correct answer). The Senate is structured so that there is never more than  of its members up for reelection at one time. Don’t confuse this with the number of years in a Senator’s term. A Senator has a term of 6 years—every Senator has a term of 6 years, but the entire Senate (that is, every Senator) is not up for reelection every 6 years: Senators have staggered terms. Thus, one Senator’s 6-year term may expire, say, in 2016; another’s 6-year term in 2018, and so forth. 

Example Question #12 : Congress

House members are elected to ___________ year terms.

Possible Answers:

Correct answer:

Explanation:

This should be an easy question all around. The answer is 2. Remember: the founders meant for the House to be tied (closely) to the people—hence the short terms. The quick turnover in the House is a compromise between allowing the voting citizenry to express their frustration while it’s still relatively fresh and giving members enough time to actually get something done prior to (maybe) getting voted out of office. In addition to close ties to the people, the Founders created shortened terms as an expression of their belief that the House was the less “mature” of the two chambers.

Example Question #13 : Congress

Which of the following are powers that belong solely to the House and Senate, respectively (answers formatted as: House/Senate)?

Possible Answers:

Proposing bills/ vetoing bills

Treaty ratification/appropriations

Appropriations/Treaty ratification

None of the above

Amending bills/proposing bills

Correct answer:

Appropriations/Treaty ratification

Explanation:

This question turns on your understanding of the Framers’ mindset when writing the Constitution—and their previous experiences. After being under Britain’s thumb and revolting over (among many other things) a variety of taxes, the Framers wanted to make sure that the power to tax and spend would be relegated to the Chamber closest to people—the House. To that end, all appropriations bills (basically when the government wants to “spend” money) MUST originate in the House.

The Senate, on the other hand, was supposed to be the chamber of cooler passions and more deliberation. To that end, the Senate is given the exclusive power to ratify treaties. 

Example Question #13 : Congress

Which of the following is a ‘pocket veto’?

Possible Answers:

The President returns the bill to Congress with a statement as to why he didn’t sign it.

The President puts the bill in a physical pocket and locks it up for 10 days.

The President does not act on a bill (e.g. neither signs nor vetoes the bill) for 10 days after receiving it, and Congress adjourns within the same period.

None of the answers are correct.

The President does not act on a bill (e.g. neither signs nor vetoes the bill) for 10 days after receiving it.

Correct answer:

The President does not act on a bill (e.g. neither signs nor vetoes the bill) for 10 days after receiving it, and Congress adjourns within the same period.

Explanation:

A pocket veto is often confusing to students. That said, it’s a relatively simple process, once you learn the timing. A pocket veto is when the President receives a bill from Congress (that is, it has been passed by both chambers) and then: (1) the President chooses NOT to act on the bill for 10 days and (2) Congress adjourns within the same 10-day period. If, on the other hand, the President simply chooses not to act for 10 days, and Congress is still in session, the bill becomes law WITHOUT his signature—a so-called “pocket pass.”

Pocket vetoes are relatively infrequent for a variety of reasons. First, the meaning of “adjourns” is ambiguous, so nobody is precisely sure how long Congress has to be out. Second, a pocket veto is “absolute” in the sense that it cannot be overridden—the bill must be reintroduced, and then voted upon in both chambers, and then presented to the President (again). Third, in light of the first two, Congress has come up with a variety of clever tactics to essentially strip the pocket veto of its effectiveness (all of which are beyond the scope of your course).

Example Question #15 : Congress

Do both Senators and House members have term limits of 12 years?

Possible Answers:

None of these answers is accurate.

No, neither senators nor house members have term limits.

No, both senators and house members have term limits of 6 years, not 12.

Yes, the term limit for both house and senate members is 12 years.

No, only house members have a term limit.

Correct answer:

No, neither senators nor house members have term limits.

Explanation:

Senators and House members do not have term limits. In fact, the only elected official with a term limit (on the federal level) is the President. Presidents are limited to 2 elected terms (8 years) or two elected terms and no more than ½ of an unelected term, for a total of 10 years. Members of Congress, however, are limited only by the number of terms to which they are (1) alive and (2) electable. Strom Thurmond, for example, served as a Senator for 48 years—he was elected 8 times! That said, he was also over 100 when he died. 

Example Question #14 : Congress

The total number of US Senators was capped at what number in 1911?

Possible Answers:

 

Correct answer:

Explanation:

This is a somewhat tricky question. The US Senate is not capped at anything, although the number of Senators (100) has not changed since 1959 (when Hawaii entered the Union). The House, on the other hand, has been capped at 435 members since 1911, when Congress resolved that any further growth would impede daily activity (in other words, do more harm than good).
That said, it is incredibly important to remember that 435 is the total number cap for the House; the number of House seats per state may fluctuate with the ebbs and flows of population tracked via the decennial census. In other, slightly clearer, words, the total number of House seats is 435, and has been for well over 100 years at this point. Individual states, however, are not capped at any particular number; the number of delegates per state is tied to the population of that state relative to every other state.

Example Question #15 : Congress

A __________ is a type of committee which exists from one Congress to the next; i.e. is a permanent committee.

Possible Answers:

Joint committee

Ad hoc/Select committee

Standing committee

Conference committee

Correct answer:

Standing committee

Explanation:

Standing committees exist from one Congress to the next—in other words, they are (mostly) permanent committees which continue to exist until they are affirmatively disbanded (whether through actual destruction or combination). The easiest way to remember the function of standing committees is that they “stand” on top of Congress—they never go away until Congress tells them to!

Example Question #16 : Congress

A(n) __________ is a type of committee which is created to achieve a particular purpose, and exists only until that purpose is achieved.

Possible Answers:

Conference committee

Standing committee

Joint committee

Ad hoc/Select committee

Correct answer:

Ad hoc/Select committee

Explanation:

An ad hoc or select committee is a temporary committee which is created to achieve a certain goal; after the committee achieves that goal, it (normally) automatically disbands. Ad hoc is Latin for “to this,” and generally means something created, formed, or mentioned for a particular, specific, purpose (as here).

Example Question #17 : Congress

A __________ is a type of committee which is created for the sole purpose of reconciling differences between House and Senate versions of the same Bill.

Possible Answers:

Standing committee

Conference committee

Ad hoc/Select committee

Joint committee

Correct answer:

Conference committee

Explanation:

A conference committee is a joint committee (meaning, with members of both chambers) created in order for the House and Senate to fully reconcile any differences among versions of the bill. Why is this necessary? Remember: both the Senate and the House must pass the exact same version of a bill—thus a Bill that is heavily amended in the Senate after passage in the House must return to the House for a vote on the Senate amendments (or vice versa).

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