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Your guide to the 112th Congress

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THE HOUSE

Majority

The speaker: John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is second in line for the presidency, behind the vice president. His most important daily roles will be setting the floor agenda, keeping parliamentary order, and appointing lawmakers to committee and subcommittee chairmanships, as well as to conference committees that craft final legislation.

The majority leader: Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will have responsibilities including daily, weekly and monthly House floor scheduling; urging the rank and file to support the party line; and countering the opposition's parliamentary maneuvers. The role was created in 1899 as Congress expanded.

The majority whip: Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will be charged with counting GOP votes and reporting to party leaders on a bill's prospects if it's brought to the floor. He will also distribute floor schedules to the rank and file and ensure that members are on the floor for votes.

The GOP conference chairman: Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) will serve as chair of the organizational body for all House Republicans. The group is responsible for picking the party's leadership and approving GOP committee assignments. It also maintains a Web site and develops internal and external communications strategies, including issuing talking points and scheduling media availability for lawmakers.

Minority

The minority leader: Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will serve as the "leader of the ‘loyal opposition,' " as the House clerk describes it, and the "minority counterpart to the Speaker." While the minority leader and speaker share some duties, the minority leader by default defends the minority's rights.

The minority whip: Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) will engage in head counts of Democratic troops to keep them in line for votes and plot strategy with the party leadership. Planning parliamentary protests during floor debate will be an extra arrow in Hoyer's quiver as he tries to keep lines of communication open with the dwindling band of conservative Democrats.

The assistant minority leader: Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) was installed in this new post after he agreed to drop his challenge to Hoyer for the minority leader job. The exact responsibilities of the position remain unclear.

The Democratic caucus chairman: Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.) will head the group that elects the House Democratic leadership and assigns committee and subcommittee ranking members, as well as enforces rules and party discipline. The caucus meets weekly and has standing issues task forces, as well as an annual Caucus Issues Conference.

THE Senate

Majority

The majority leader: Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is the Senate floor leader and the Democratic Caucus chairman, a role that in the GOP is divided among several lawmakers. But as majority leader, he has certain unique privileges that allow him to determine which bills see the light of day, such as calling legislation off the Senate calendar (through crafting unanimous consent agreements governing debate time, or more often invoking cloture) and the right of first recognition if several senators are seeking recognition at the same time.

The majority leader: Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) is also the majority whip and counts heads for the party, ensuring that
Democrats have the votes to invoke cloture and bring important planks of their agenda
to the floor.

The Democratic Policy Committee chairman: Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) will be chief legislative and policy strategist for the next two years, developing policy proposals for Senate Democrats as well as providing research and legislative support for the embattled majority.

Minority

The minority leader: Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is known as a master of Senate procedure and has the right of second recognition, behind Reid, on the Senate floor. But McConnell's real power derives from his ability to obstruct Senate procedure in myriad ways, forcing the majority to work with him.

The Republican whip: Also known as the assistant Senate minority leader, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) is responsible for mobilizing votes within his party in support of an issue and acting as a liaison with the leadership. But his role can grow or decrease in scope depending on the time spent by the majority leader on the Senate floor.

The Senate Republican Conference chairman: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is head of the group of GOP senators that decides party strategy, allots committee assignments and chooses party leadership. Unlike Democrats, Republicans' conference chair has a separate role from that of the floor leader.

-- Rachel Van Dongen, WhoRunsGov.com
THE RULES

OLD HOUSE RULE

No "Constitutional Authority Statement" was required. A similar statement was required only for bills reported out of committee and was included in the committee report.

NEW HOUSE RULE

All proposed bills must be accompanied by a "Constitutional Authority Statement" that notes the specific section of the Constitution that empowers Congress to enact the legislation.

Only bills reported out of committee were required to be "made available" three days before a vote, and they were not required to be posted online.

All bills must be posted online for three days before they are put up for a vote.

Spending increases could be paid for by spending cuts or tax increases.

Spending increases have to be offset by cuts of an equal or greater amount elsewhere and cannot be paid for by tax increases.

Committee chairmen did not have term limits.

Committee chairmen have a six-year term limit.

Legislation was not required to be posted online before it was marked up.

The text of legislation must be posted online 24 hours before it is due to be marked up in committee; the House Rules Committee is exempt from this rule.

The "Gephardt Rule" allowed the House to automatically raise the debt limit when a joint budget resolution was adopted.

A new rule eliminates automatic debt-limit increase upon passage of joint budget resolutions.

The Constitution has never been read in full on the House floor.

A full reading of the Constitution will take place on Thursday, the second day of the 112th Congress.

Three committees have new names: The Committee on Education and Labor is now the Committee on Education and the Workforce; the Committee on Science and Technology is now the Committee on Science, Space and Technology; and the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is now the Committee on Ethics.

By Felicia Sonmez -- The Washington Post
FRESHMEN TO WATCH

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)
Ayotte, one of Sarah Palin's "Mama Grizzlies," was the only woman elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010. A former state attorney general, she defeated a tea party-backed candidate in the GOP primary and then Rep. Paul W. Hodes (D-N.H.) in the general election to keep retiring Sen. Judd Gregg's seat in Republican hands.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)
Coons is best known for defeating Republican Christine O'Donnell, who famously declared "I am not a witch" in a campaign ad. He was a volunteer for Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign and became a Democrat after spending a year in Kenya during college. Coons fills the seat vacated by Vice President Biden.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
Rubio has long been singled out as a rising conservative star, even forcing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist out of the GOP Senate primary to run as an independent. Rubio is the only Republican senator of Latino descent, and party leaders will be counting on the fresh face to reach out to Hispanics, which are crucial to building the GOP brand.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.)
Cicilline, the first openly-gay mayor of a U.S. capital city, gained renown in Providence for trimming the city's deficit and fighting public corruption. He stopped taking contributions from city workers and turned down his own brother in law for employment with the city. Cicilline, who has said he wants to end the war in Afghanistan, replaces Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D).

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.)
Grimm, a former FBI agent and Wall Street analyst, is the only Republican congressman from New York City. Being the only majority member in an otherwise all-Democratic city delegation could enhance his power. As an undercover agent posing as a hedge-fund manager or money launderer, Grimm sported the nickname "Mikey Suits" because of his impeccable fashion sense.

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.)
Noem will be one of two freshman liaisons to the House GOP leadership. The hunter, cattle-rancher and former assistant state majority leader is already being talked about as a potential challenger in 2014 to Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. Noem was tapped last month to deliver the weekly House GOP radio address.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.)
Scott was one of a large handful of Southern Republicans who ousted Blue Dog Democrats in the November elections. His victory over four-term Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) heralded a major shift in Southern politics and helped tip the House to Republicans. Scott's colleagues seem to understand that his legislative savvy will come in handy on Capitol Hill: They picked him as their class president.

Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
Scott and fellow freshman Allen West will be the only two black Republicans in the House during the 112th Congress. Scott first drew national attention when he beat Strom Thurmond's son Paul in the 2010 GOP primary. But he was well-known in the Palmetto State for leading a legal battle for the right to display the Ten Commandments outside of the Charleston City Council chamber. Along with Noem, he will be a liaison to the House GOP leadership.

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.)
A self-described "right-wing extremist," West is a tea party favorite who has denied Islam is a religion and who once called President Obama "the dumbest person walking around right now." West became a national cause celebre for conservatives when he was forced to retire from the Army in 2003 for presiding over the brutal interrogation of an Iraqi police officer who West wrongly believed had threatened to kill him.

Rep. Jaime Herrera (R-Wash.)
Herrera, a college intern in the George W. Bush White House, was elected at age 32 in the open-seat race to replace Rep. Brian Baird (D). She thinks House Republicans put themselves in the situation of having health-care reform foisted on them by President Obama by not acting sooner to control costs. "We basically asked for this," she once told the Oregonian.

-- Rachel Van Dongen, WhoRunsGov.com
STAFFERS TO WATCH

ALEXIS COVEY-BRANDT

Floor director, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.)

Covey-Brandt has been a behind-the-scenes player in every major piece of House legislation. She and Hoyer have a tricky challenge: making things happen in the minority. "I think there are things that we can get done," she said.


AMANDA CARPENTER

Speechwriter and senior communications adviser, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.)

Carpenter was already known as a conservative journalist and frequent cable-news guest when she made the move to Capitol Hill in 2010. For the past year, she has been writing op-eds, floor statements and talking points for DeMint. At last count, she had more than 16,000 Twitter followers.


DAVID KRONE

Chief of staff, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.)

As the top aide to the most powerful Democrat on the Hill, Krone is taking charge of Reid's leadership office at a crucial moment. With Reid at the helm of a more partisan Senate, expect Krone to help him strategize about when to compromise with resurgent Republicans and when to stand for progressive principles.


NADEAM ELSHAMI

Communications director, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

Elshami is taking over as the new minority leader's message maven. He'll help her defend accomplishments Democrats made during the 111th Congress, including the health-care law. Elshami's team is expected to be a liberal voice in an increasingly conservative government.


STEVE STOMBRES

Chief of staff, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

Stombres, a Virginia native and Fairfax City Council member, joined Cantor's staff in 2001. He is now leading the office in charge of House floor operations, including the crucial task of deciding which legislation goes to the floor and when. Stombres says he wants to ensure that any bills that get floor time will create jobs.

ROBBY MOOK

Executive director, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

Under DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.), Mook is trying to orchestrate a House Democratic comeback in 2012 after the party suffered record losses in 2010. "Certainly the last cycle was very tough," Mook said. "But there are a lot of opportunities ahead of us."


JOSH HOLMES

Chief of staff, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

In just five years, Holmes has gone from a junior senator's office to heading McConnell's communications shop. At 31, he's taking the helm of McConnell's personal office, where his focus will turn toward serving Kentucky constituents and pushing for legislation to reduce spending, reduce the national debt and reform entitlement programs.


NICK SCHAPER

Director of new media, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio)

Schaper spent 2010 in charge of new media for the innovative communications team that rocketed Boehner to speaker. Watch for him to spend the session not only distributing Boehner's message but also helping the 85 new House Republicans learn the ropes of communicating online. "I'm probably most excited about learning from them," Schaper said.


DOUG STAFFORD

Chief of staff, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

Stafford's job is a high-profile test case for the fortunes of the tea party movement in Washington. It's telling that as his top staffer, Paul chose Stafford, a campaign aide who had never worked on the Hill. That's not to say that Stafford doesn't know his way around the legislative process. He spent the past dozen years at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.


CYNTHIA HERRLE

Assistant for policy to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio)

In more than 15 years on the Hill, Herrle has worked for five members. As Boehner steps into the role of speaker, she has become his point person for coordinating with other House and Senate Republican leaders. Her top priority is organizing a united front to cut spending and "get this country back on solid fiscal footing," she said.

-- Beth Marlowe, WhoRunsGov.com
Online Poll

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State of the Union

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In a minute or less, tell us what you think is the biggest challenge facing our nation.

A daunting first day

Amid all the pomp, circumstance and history-making Wednesday on Capitol Hill, three Virginia Republicans went through a more basic ritual: their first day in a new job.

GOP freshmen: That was odd

They called Washington a cesspool, then they brought family and friends to watch them dive in.

Daley visits White House

His visit adds to speculation that he is the frontrunner to become the president's new chief of staff.

A changing of the gavel

The House and the Senate have a split personality by design, but Wednesday's debut of the 112th Congress revealed a stark contrast between the two chambers that could define the direction of every major debate over the next two years.

New GOP rules lay out battlefield with White House

Their adoption marks the first move in what is expected to be an extended battle between Republicans and the White House over fiscal policy.

Pelosi perma-grins and bears it

She is better in the fight than she is in charge, a more able warrior than lawmaker.

Follow the freshmen on Twitter

What will the newest members of the 112th Congress be tweeting as they're sworn in tomorrow? Follow along with this handy aggregator.

GRAPHICS AND DESIGN: Katie Myrick and Kenneth W. Smith Jr. / The Washington Post