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The Role of Congress

Updated on February 13, 2013
The Seal of Congress.
The Seal of Congress. | Source

By Joan Whetzel

The Legislative Branch of Government is made up of both Houses of Government – The House of Representatives and the Senate. The members of both Houses are elected by popular vote. The Congress makes up an important part of the System of Checks and Balances that was put into place by the US Constitution. The First Article of the Constitution describes the role of the Congress and its duties.

What Is the Congress?

The Congress charged with the duties of raising revenue, declaring war, and creating and passing laws. The Congress also has power over financial and budget policies, the power to levy and collect taxes, duties, excises, and the authority to pay the nation’s debts. If the President vetoes any of these laws, a reason must be provided. The Congress then must make the requested changes and send the laws back to the President or vote to override the Presidential Veto.

Article I of the US Constitution establishes the parameters for both Houses of Congress. The Senate is made up of 100 Senators – 2 from each State – 1/3 of which is elected every 2 years for a total term of 6 years. The House of Representatives consists of 435 members, the number from each State, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 4 other US Territories depends on the population of each. So a State’s representation could vary from one year to the next if there is a significant enough change in population. Representatives are elected every 2 years, to fill a 2 year term.

The Senate

The Senate is made up of 2 Senators from each State for a total of 100 Senators. In cases where voting would end up in a tie, the Vice President casts the deciding vote. Voting in most cases requires only a simple majority vote (51 votes) to pass a law. In the case of ratifying an amendment or accepting a new State into the Union, a 2/3 majority is required. The Senate is charged with the sole authority to approve or deny appointments to the Cabinet, to approve or deny a replacement for the Vice Presidency, and approve or deny any treaties that involve foreign trade.

According to the Constitution, to be elected Senator, the person must be at least 30 years old and be a US Citizen for at least 9 years before being elected. The Senator must also be a resident of the State from which he or she is elected.

The House of Representatives

There are 435 members of Congress divided amount the 50 States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and 4 US Territories. The Speaker of the House (the leader of the party that holds the majority of the seats in the House) presides over the House of Representatives and is next in line for succession to the Presidency, after the Vice President. Representatives, who are elected every 2 years, must be at least 25 years old, be citizens of the US for a minimum of 7 years, and be residents of the State they represent. The House of Representatives is charged with initiating bills for revenue, impeaching federal officials, and electing the President in cases where there is a tie in the electoral college.


Wikipedia. The United States Congress.

The Center on Congress at Indiana University. The Role of Congress in American Society.

The United States Senate. Constitution of the United States.

The White House. The Legislative Branch.

Facts of Congress - THe House of Representatives

Facts of Congress - The Senate


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    • joanwz profile image

      Joan Whetzel 4 years ago from Katy, Texas

      Yeah, that is debatable. They haven't been very effectiv in recent years. And the Checks and balances thing seems to be ignored of late.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 4 years ago from Southern California

      The real question is how effective is the congress and is it still a check and balance of the three branches of the US government.