The United States Congress is the legislative arm of the federal government of the United States of America. It is bicameral. That is; it consists of an upper house and a lower house. The lower house is the House of Representatives. The upper house is the Senate.
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The United States Congress is responsible for making the federal laws of the United States. It passes the federal budget. It can impeach and sack the president of the United States.
Congress also passes non-binding resolutions. Congress passes such resolutions to nudge the federal government into action. The United States Congress is the only body authorized to amend the US constitution. It is the only body that can declare war.
That’s not all. Congress holds legislative hearings on issues of national import. It investigates various government departments and agencies.
By tradition, every year, the president of the United States addresses a joint session of Congress. This special speech is called the State Of The Union address. Various foreign leaders have also been given the honor of addressing joint sessions of the US Congress during visits.
Approving Treaties And Overriding Vetoes
Congress also has the power to ratify or reject treaties signed by the federal government.
For instance, President Woodrow Wilson did so much to get the countries of the world to form the League of Nations at the end of the First World War. But despite that, the US didn’t join the league because Congress refused to ratify the league treaty.
One other important function of Congress is overriding vetoes by the president. Sometimes, Congress approves a bill, but the president refuses to sign it into law.
When the President exercises such powers, he is said to have vetoed a law. However, Congress can override such a veto if it can muster a two-thirds majority in favor of the bill. Normally, bills are passed by just a simple majority.
Generally, the role of Congress is to serve as a check on the powers of the president; and to partner with them in the quest to uphold the interests of the United States.
The United States Congress has a total number of 535 members. That is 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 senators.
In the senate, all 50 states of the US have equal representation. That is 2 senators per state.
But in the House of Representatives, representation is based on the size of each state’s population. A state with a small population won’t have the same number of representatives as more populous states like New York or California.
The Senate is led by the vice president of the United States. The vice president doubles as the senate president. Even though not an elected senator, he has the power to vote if there is tie.
The House of Representatives is led by a speaker. The speaker of the House of Representatives is the second in line to the presidency of the United States. First in line is the vice president. The United States Constitution does not require the speaker to be a member of the House.
Other notable leaders of the Senate are the Senate Majority Leader and the senate president pro-tempore.
Both houses of Congress have several committees. These committees have oversight functions over departments in the federal government. Examples include the powerful Ways and Means committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate Defense Committee.
Division Of Roles
Normally, a bill (proposed law) should be approved by votes of both houses to become law. But sometimes, there are differences. For instance, it is the responsibility of the Senate to confirm cabinet and supreme court nominations made by the president.
Also, in cases of impeachment, the House of Representatives is the only entity that can impeach the president. But after such impeachment, the Senate initiates a trial of the president in which it serves as both judge and jury.
Members of Congress form different caucuses to promote causes they might be interested in within Congress. A notable caucus is the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Black Caucus is made up of Congressmen (and women) from both houses. Their aim is to promote the civil rights of Blacks in the United States.
In summary, the United States Congress is an entity that essentially entrenches democracy in the United States.
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