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Whip it Good

We'll get to the whip in a moment, but first, Congress.

The United States Congress is the legislative branch of government and is responsible for making our federal laws. It has two chambers, and every piece of legislation must pass through both chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate, before it can be signed into law by the president.

What's the difference between the House and the Senate?

The House of Representatives

  • 435 members
  • Number of reps for each state are determined by population, which is determined by the Census
  • Two-year terms

Here's how the House's leadership structure works:

  • The leader of the House is the Speaker of the House. The Speaker is elected by the majority party, which also elects a Majority Leader (kind of the Speaker's #2) and a Whip.
  • The minority party elects a Minority Leader and a Whip as well.
  • Every member of the house belongs to a few committees focused on specific policy areas, all of which have their own leadership structure. The leaders in the House have the power to punish or reward members of their own party by giving them good or bad committee assignments.
  • Here's the house leadership right now.

The Senate

  • Each state gets two Senators
  • Six-year terms

Here's how the Senate's leadership structure works:

  • The leader of the Senate is technically the Vice President of the United States
  • Usually the most senior member of the majority party oversees the Senate in the Vice President's absence. This position is known as President Pro Tempore.
  • The Senate Majority Leader is elected by the members of the majority party. They also elect a Whip.
  • The Senate Minority Leader is elected by members of the minority party, as is a Whip.
  • Here's who's in Senante Leadership right now. (There's a couple more leadership positions than the House and we couldn't fit it on this page, so just go take a look)

Great, but what the heck is a whip?

In Congress, a Whip's job is to assist party leadership in rounding up members for votes. They're also the enforcers of party discipline - they are tasked with persuading party members that are on the fence, literally "whipping" them into shape.

The origins of the word are, well, just the kind of thing stodgy aristocrats would come up with. The term "whip" comes from a fox-hunting expression "whipper-in," a reference to the members of the hunting team responsible for keeping the dogs in line during a chase.

You might not hear about them much, but they are the ones working behind the scenes to get the votes needed to pass laws.

You get the idea.