The Legislature of the United States is the pinnacle of their democracy. Speak of Congress and all Americans will tip their hats to their Congress men and women. Like duh? The US Congress is the greatest and powerful political monument of American democracy. However, if you think it is the President and the White House, spoiler, it isn’t. With that thought debunked, well…, how on Earth in American politics does Congress have so much power than their head of state and government? Well…, it’s all in their Constitution.
Related media: The Bicameral Congress: Crash Course Government And Politics #2
Whence Cometh Congress?
The US Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government of the United States. It is bicameral, comprising of an upper and a lower body, the Senate and the House of Representatives, respectively. The Congress was established under the 1789 Constitution of the United States, separate from the two other branches. The Senate is represented by two senators each from each state, whereas members of the House are elected on the basis of the population of the state they are representing in Congress.
The House is made up of 435 members (although there could be more), which is divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. However, the Senate has only 100 senators at any given time, two from each of the 50 states. The election of Senators and members of the House, and the process by which laws are made, and the powers that Congress has, are regulated by the separation of powers between the branches of government, also known as checks and balances. Thus, the other branches cannot control Congress.
According to Article I of the US Constitution, it describes that the powers of the legislative branch of the United States shall be vested in a Congress. These powers include the power of the purse (the power to lay and collect federal taxes), borrow money on the credit of the United States, regulate commerce, and coin money. It also declares war, raise and support armies, and make all laws necessary for the United States. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol — the official building of Congress in the capital Washington, D.C.
The Structure Of Congress
The framers of the Constitution wanted to avoid an over reaching government. Good thing! This is to balance the interest of all states. Each state has equal representation in the Senate, but in the House, its based on population. Members of the House must be at least 25 years, and a citizen for seven years. Senators must be at least 35 years, and a citizen for nine years. Another difference is who they represent. Senators represent their entire states, whereas members of the House represent constituents with proportional population.
The Senate has only 100 seats, a structure that hasn’t changed till date. However, the number of members of the House change from time to time, in a process known as Gerrymandering — the process of determining constituents for each state relative to their population. What this means is that, for a densely populated state like California, for instance, there are more members of the House from that state. But unfortunately, a state like Montana could have only one member for the House. Sounds awkward? This is America, y’all.
Currently as of the writing of this article, there are 535 seats (voting members) in Congress, 100 Senators and 435 Representatives, with six non-voting members, as well. The Senate is made up of 48 Democrats (they make up minority of the Senate), 50 Republicans (they make up majority of the Senate), and only two Independents. The House is made up of 221 Democrats (they make up majority of the House), 213 Republicans (they make up minority of the House), with one vacant seat. Both the Senate and the House has a Speaker.
Pop quiz: who is the Speaker of the House? Comment your answer.
How Powerful Art Thou Powers?
Here’s the catch: they say Congress is the most powerful political monument in American democracy. And truth is, that’s true. So why is Congress powerful than the President? There are two main reasons. One: it is independent from the executive branch of government and cannot be controlled by it. Congress can and does ignore or overrule presidential policies. And two: it controls the “power of the purse” — a particular function of the members of the House of Representatives. (Read more from the first deck above).
Furthermore, all legislative powers of the government is vested in Congress, this means that it is the only branch of government that can make new and amend existing laws. Although agencies of the executive branch can issue regulations with the full force of law; however, these are only under the authority of laws enacted by Congress. And, least we forget, Congress can impeach the President of the United States. We’re looking at you Nixon, Clinton, and of course, Trump. These are the only Presidents to have ever been impeached by Congress.
(Fun fact: Did you know that Donald Trump is the only President to have been impeached twice while in office? No need to Google it).
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Wed, Dec 08, 2021.