Congress is the legislative, or law-making body of the United States government. It is a bicameral entity, meaning that it consists of two houses, the Senate and House of Representatives. The Senate and House of Representatives each have specific powers, but the approval of both is necessary for the making of any law.
The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to to levy and collect taxes, provide for common defense and promote the pursuit of liberty; to coin money and regulate its value; provide for punishment for counterfeiting; establish post offices and roads, promote progress of science, create courts under the Supreme Court, define and punish piracies and felonies, declare war, raise and support armies, provide and maintain a navy, make rules for the regulation of land and naval forces, provide for, arm, and discipline the militia, exercise exclusive legislation in the District of Columbia, and make laws necessary and proper to execute the powers of Congress.
Congress is also charged with oversight to monitor and review government programs, agencies, policies, and activities, prevent waste and fraud, protect civil right and liberties, ensure executive compliance with law, gather information for making laws, educate the public, and evaluating executive performance.
Senate | House of Representatives
The U.S. Senate is the upper house of Congress. Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate consists of two senators for each state, regardless of that state’s population. This ensures equal representation for each state. Hence, there are 100 Senators.
Senators serve six year terms, however, senate elections are held every two years to ensure that no state ever holds an election in which both Senate seats are in contention. Elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years. Senators must be thirty years of age, a citizen of the United States for the prior nine years, and must live in the state they seek to represent. Much of the work done in the Senate is performed in committees. 16 standing committees, each with a specific jurisdiction (such as foreign relations, judicial review, or finance) edit, amend, and consider bills related to those jurisdictions.
Powers exclusive to the Senate include the approval of treaties as a condition to their ratification, and the approval of federal judges and cabinet members as a condition of their appointment. The Senate also tries impeachments.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
The U.S. House of Representatives is one of the two houses of Congress. Unlike the Senate, a state’s number of representatives is based on its population. States with large populations have more representatives than states with small populations. The state of California, America ’s most populous state, currently has 55 representatives. There are 435 total representatives and each serves a two-year term. Like the Senate, the House of Representatives performs much of its legislative work in committees. The House of Representatives has 20 standing committees. Much like the Senate committees, these committees meet to review, amend, edit, and consider bills specific to a certain jurisdictions such as agriculture, revenue, or foreign relations.
The top officer of the House of Representatives is referred to as the Speaker of the House. He or she is elected by other members of the House and has substantial powers including: Choosing the order in which other representatives speak, choosing members of conference committees, and choosing which committees reviews specific bills. Representatives must be 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for seven years, and a resident of the state they wish to represent.
Much like the Senate, the House of Representatives has exclusive powers including the right to impeach (an impeachment is a legal statement of charges against an official. The Senate only has the power to try impeachment), to initiate revenue bills (those involving money), and to elect the president in the case of an electoral tie.