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Legislature, Related Groups and Agencies

lobby Congress, National Association of Manufacturers, General Accounting Office, House Committee, Congressional Budget Office

As congressional work has grown and become more complex, Congress has come to rely on the advice and assistance of a large number of auxiliary agencies. One of the most important of these agencies is the Congressional Budget Office, a group of experts in economics and statistics. This office provides the information necessary for legislators to respond to the president’s budget proposals and to reconcile estimated tax revenues with projected expenses.

In order to participate actively in government and be well informed, Congress has a large congressional staff. Many of these men and women serve as personal assistants to representatives and senators. Others are on the staffs of the numerous committees—for example, 30 staff members work for the House Committee on the District of Columbia alone. Many members of the congressional staff work for support agencies such as the General Accounting Office, which tracks the funding and expenditures of the federal government. In 1997, 31,400 people worked for the legislative branch.

In addition to the auxiliary congressional agencies, both the House and Senate depend on what is sometimes called the third house of Congress—the lobbyists. Lobbyists are usually employees or representatives of companies or interest groups who try to influence votes on legislation and to gain publicity for their causes. With at least 1,800 associations located in Washington, the causes that are represented by lobbyists run the gamut from labor unions, the National Association of Manufacturers, and large corporations to citizens’ groups promoting environmental issues and health concerns.

In some instances, lobbyists specialize in a field such as agriculture or taxation and become experts who provide technical information to legislators on a variety of subjects. Lobbyists may even draft legislative bills. Full-time lobbyists are required to register and are regulated by laws that restrict their contributions and gifts to legislators. Their public image, however, remains that of people who affect the outcome of legislation and elections by contributing money to politicians. In 1998 special interests represented by 14,484 lobbyists (27 for each member of Congress) reported spending $1.17 billion to lobby Congress, the White House, and the federal agencies.

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