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Office of the Legislative Counsel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Office of the Legislative Counsel
Agency overview
JurisdictionUnited States
Agency executive
  • Ernest Wade Ballou Jr., Legislative Counsel Edit this at Wikidata

The Office of the Legislative Counsel of the United States House of Representatives is a nonpartisan government organization which assists the House with the drafting and formatting of laws. The Office was first created as the Legislative Drafting Service in 1918 before being chartered as the Office of Legislative Counsel in 1970 via 2 U.S.C. § 281. The Legislative Counsel is appointed by the Speaker of the House.

The current Legislative Counsel, Ernest Wade Ballou Jr., was appointed by Speaker Paul Ryan in July 2016.[1][2]

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[Music] Article I of the U.S. Constitution grants all legislative powers to a bicameral Congress: a House of Representatives and a Senate that are the result of a "Great Compromise" seeking to balance the effects of popular majorities with the interests of the states. Our system currently provides for a two-year term of office for House members from the 435 population-based districts. In the Senate, voters of each state elect two Senators, who serve 6-year terms that overlap (such that only one-third of the chamber is up for election in any given election cycle). The two chambers are fundamentally equal in their legislative roles and functions. Only the House can originate revenue legislation, and only the Senate confirms presidential nominations and approves treaties, but the enactment of law always requires both chambers to separately agree to the same bill in the same form before presenting it to the President. Because each chamber has the constitutional authority to make its own rules, the House and Senate have developed some very different ways of processing legislation, perhaps partially flowing from their constitutional differences. In general, House rules and practices allow a numerical majority to process legislation relatively quickly. Senate rules and procedures, on the other hand, favor deliberation over quick action, as they provide significant procedural leverage to individual Senators. Congressional action is typically planned and coordinated by party leaders in each chamber, who have been chosen by members of their own caucus or conference - that is, the group of members in a chamber who share a party affiliation. Majority party leaders in the House have important powers and prerogatives to effectively set the policy agenda and decide which proposals will receive floor consideration. In the Senate, the leader of the majority party is generally expected to propose items for consideration, but formal tools that allow a numerical majority to take action are few. Instead, majority party leadership typically must negotiate with minority party leaders (and often all Senators) to effectively conduct Senate floor action. In both chambers, much of the policy expertise resides in the standing committees - panels of members from both parties that typically take the lead in developing and assessing legislation. Members typically serve on a small number of committees, often for many years, allowing them to become highly knowledgeable in certain policy areas. All committees are chaired by a member of the majority party, though chairs often work closely with the committee's ranking member, the most senior member of the minority party on the committee. In almost all cases, the ratio of majority party to minority party members on a committee roughly reflects the overall partisan ratio in the congressional chamber. Committee members and staff focus much of their time on drafting and considering legislative proposals, but committees engage in other activities, as well. Once law is enacted, Congress has the prerogative and responsibility to provide oversight of policy implementation, and its committees take the lead in this effort. Both chambers provide their committees with significant powers and latitude for oversight and investigations into questions of public policy and its effects. While the engine of legislative ideas and action is Congress itself, the President has influence in the legislative process, as well. The President recommends an annual budget for federal agencies and often suggests legislation. Perhaps more significantly, the power to veto legislation can affect the content of bills passed by Congress. Since it is quite unusual for law to be enacted over a presidential veto, Congress typically must accommodate the president's position on proposed policies. The process by which a bill becomes law is rarely predictable and can vary significantly from bill to bill. In fact, for many bills, the process will not follow the sequence of congressional stages that are often understood to make up the legislative process. The presentations on specific topics that follow present a more detailed look at each of the common stages through which a bill may move, but keep in mind that complications and variations abound in practice.

History and purpose

The origins of the office lie in a research experiment between Columbia Law professor Middleton Beaman and the House of Representatives in 1916.[3] The Committee on Ways and Means found Beaman's assistance in legislative drafting sufficiently helpful that they formalized the office two years later.[4] The Office was originally established as the Legislative Drafting Service by the Revenue Act of 1918, charged to "aid in drafting public bills and resolutions or amendments thereto on the request of any committee of either House of Congress". From its creation, the officeholders were specified to be selected "without reference to political affiliations and solely on the ground of fitness to perform the duties of the office."[5] The Office was renamed to the Office of the Legislative Counsel as part of the Revenue Act of 1924 (43 Stat. 353), to avoid confusion with the Legislative Reference Service.[6]

The Office of the Legislative Counsel was chartered 50 years later by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970. Its purpose and policy is to:

advise and assist the House of Representatives, and its committees and Members, in the achievement of a clear, faithful, and coherent expression of legislative policies. The Office shall maintain impartiality as to issues of legislative policy to be determined by the House of Representatives, and shall not advocate the adoption or rejection of any legislation except when duly requested by the Speaker or a committee to comment on a proposal directly affecting the functions of the Office. The Office shall maintain the attorney-client relationship with respect to all communications between it and any Member or committee of the House.[7]

In 2009, the House of Representatives agreed to a resolution expressing gratitude to the Office "for its more than 90 years of assistance in the drafting of legislation considered by the House."[8]

As of 2020, the Office operates out of the Ford House Office Building and consists of 76 full-time employees, including 55 attorneys.[4][9]

List of Legislative Counsels

Since its establishment in 1918, the Office has seen eight Legislative Counsels:[6]

  1. Middleton Beaman (1919–1949)
  2. Allan H. Perley (1949–1963)
  3. Edward O. Craft (1963–1973)
  4. Ward M. Hussey (1973–1989)
  5. David E. Meade (1989–1999)
  6. Pope Barrow (1999–2009)
  7. Sandra Strokoff (2009–2017)
  8. Ernest Wade Ballou Jr. (2017–present)


  1. ^ McPherson, Lindsey (24 June 2016). "Ryan Appoints Two Top House Attorneys". Roll Call. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  2. ^ "House Officers FY2021 Budget Hearing - Bio of E. Wade Ballou, Jr" (PDF). House Committee on Appropriations. 3 March 2020. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  3. ^ Lee, Frederic P. (1929). "The Office of the Legislative Counsel". Columbia Law Review. 29 (4): 381–403. doi:10.2307/1112986. JSTOR 1112986. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  4. ^ a b "History and Charter". Legislative Counsel. 25 March 2020. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  5. ^ "1919 Income Tax Act, c18 Title XIII §1303" (PDF). p. 1141. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  6. ^ a b "Office of House Legislative Counsel | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". History, Art, & Archives - United States House of Representatives. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  7. ^ "Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, Title V" (PDF). p. 1201. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  8. ^ Dingell, John D. (13 July 2009). "Text - H.Res.635 - 111th Congress (2009-2010): Expressing the gratitude of the House of Representatives for the service of M. Pope Barrow, Jr". Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  9. ^ Ballou, E. Wade Jr. "Statement of E. Wade Ballou, Jr., Legislative Counsel Office of the Legislative Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives Before the House Subcommittee on Legislative Branch Appropriations Regarding Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriations" (PDF). House Committee on Appropriations. Retrieved 27 February 2021.

External links

This page was last edited on 1 July 2023, at 05:37
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