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Breakdown: The U.S. Congress

The legislative branch of government

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WHAT IT IS

  • Congress is the legislative branch of the United States government. [USAGov]

  • Congress is broken down into two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. [Scholastic]

  • According to the U.S. Constitution, the legislative branch has the primary power to make the country’s laws. [HISTORY]

  • Each elected official is responsible for representing the interests of the people of their state. [U.S. Captiol

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  • As a whole, Congress has substantial powers.

  • A president must receive Congressional approval to go to war, known as the War Powers Resolution. [Library of Congress]

  • Congress can override a presidential veto of a bill by a ⅔ vote from each chamber. [HISTORY]

  • Congress has “the power of the purse,” as it controls the money to fund any executive or presidential actions. [HISTORY]
  • Additional powers of Congress include establishing and collecting taxes, borrowing money on the credit of the U.S., regulating commerce, coining or creating money, and raising and supporting armies. [HISTORY]

WHY IT MATTERS

 

As designed by the Founding Fathers, Congress is the branch of government that should best represent the needs of the American people.

 

If members of Congress are in touch with their electorate, then legislative action to benefit the people should take place. If members of Congress are out of touch with their electorate, then ineffective or detrimental legislation could occur. 

 

A safeguard the American public has against Congressional misconduct is to vote another representative in office, replacing the current representative. 

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

How many?

There are currently 435 elected officials, known as Representatives (Rep.). 

 

The number of representatives per state is dependent on the population of the state. [U.S. House of Representatives]

 

 

Term length

Representatives serve two years. They are considered for reelection every two years. [U.S. Senate

 

Representatives are elected through midterm elections, where they must win a popular vote.

 

 

Can I be a Representative?

To be elected, a Representative must be 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and be a resident from the state they are representing. [U.S. House of Representatives]

 

 

Only the House can...

Begin impeachment proceedings through the collection of the articles of impeachment.

THE SENATE

How many?

There are 100 elected officials, known as Senators. [U.S. Senate]

 

Each state is granted two Senators for representation in the Senate. 

 

 

Term length

Senators serve six years. They are up for reelection over even years. This ensures the only ⅓ of the Senate is up for reelection during an election. [U.S. Senate]

 

Senators are elected through midterm elections, where they must win a popular vote.

 

 

Can I be a Senator?

To be elected, a Senator must be at least 30 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least nine years, and be a resident from the state they are representing. [U.S. Senate]

 

 

Only the Senate can...

Confirm presidential nominations, like cabinet members (Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, etc.), Supreme Court nominations, and Circuit Court judges. 

 

Confirm impeachment or remove an elected officer.

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • The 115th Congress is in session. Check out a scorecard from Pew Research Center.

  • The last midterm elections occurred on November 6, 2018.

  • In the House, Democrats gained 39 seats and Republicans lost 39. [The New York Times]

  • In the Senate, Republicans gained two seats and Democrats lost two. [The New York Times]

  • 121 women will serve in the 116th Congress, up from the former 107. [NPR]

  • The next Congress will also feature a record number of women of color as well as a record number of non-incumbent women. [NPR]

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • 8 in 10 Americans said it’s important to elect more women to public office. Read more here.

  • What problems, if any, are caused by population-based voting for the House of Representatives?

  • Should there be a shorter-term length for Senators? Why or why not?

  • What, if anything at all, does it signify that voter turnout in the 2018 midterms reached the highest level of any midterm election in the century? [Vox

  • What issues can happen if one party dominates both chambers of Congress?

This article is aligned with Purple for Democracy, a movement to support democracy through non-partisan, non-political content. 

 

Learn more about the Purple movement here

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