The People's Branch?
The Framers of the Constitution created a republican form of government, one in which the people elect representatives to make public policy decisions for them. At the national level, the people vote directly to choose members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of Congress, both House members and Senators, provide the people of this nation with their most direct link to the decisions and policies made by the national government. Because members of Congress are chosen directly by the people, the Congress is often referred to as the "People's Branch."
Who Represents You in Congress?
There are 435 Members of the House of Representatives. Each member represents a Congressional District with roughly the same population, about 600,000 people. The voters living in each district select the person that represents them in the House. If you know your Postal Zip Code, you can find out who represents you in the House by visiting the House's "Write Your Representative" page.
There are 100 Senators in the United States Senate. The people of each of the fifty states select two Senators to represent them in the Senate. Both of the Senators from a state represent the entire state--they do not divide the state in half geographically, along party lines or on any other basis. Each resident of a state, then, is represented by two Senators. To find out who the two Senators are from your state, you can browse the Senate's directory of Senators listed by the State they represent.
What Do Members of Congress Do?
Members of the United States Congress perform two major functions. First, they represent the people from the Congressional Districts and States in which they live. Second, each member of Congress, together with the other 534 Representatives and Senators, makes decisions in the national legislature that establish this nation's laws and public policies. In many instances these two functions conflict with each other and members of Congress must make difficult decisions about which one to prioritize. The dimensions of these decisions and the different ways members approach them will be discussed in "Congressional Representation."
As they do their jobs both at home and in Washington, members of Congress meet and talk with the people they represent, interact with other members of Congress and political leaders, give speeches, hold town meetings, review and draft legislation, participate in committee meetings and legislative business on the floor of the House or Senate, attend party meetings, coordinate their staffs, respond to media inquiries, attend special public and political events and campaign for reelection. If there is any time left, a member of Congress might spend some time with his or her family.
Being a member of Congress is a difficult, intellectually demanding and time consuming job. Ultimately, however, there is little sympathy for a member of Congress who does not meet the expectations of his or her constituents. When a man or woman chooses to run for Congress, he or she also accepts the responsibilities that go along with the job. They are expected to meet all of the demands placed on them and, if they don't, there is always someone else ready and willing to take their place. Members of Congress are ultimately accountable to their constituents through "frequent elections." As Madison argued in The Federalist No. 52:
As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the [Congress] should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people. Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured.