It is one of the three coequal branches of the U.S. government, along with the executive branch (headed by the President) and the judicial branch (headed by the Supreme Court).
Congress plays a central role in making and passing federal laws, overseeing the government, and representing the interests of the American people.
Key features of the United States Congress include:
- Bicameral Structure: Congress is composed of two chambers, which are the House of Representatives and the Senate. Each chamber has its own unique roles, responsibilities, and methods of representation:
- The House of Representatives: Comprised of 435 members, the number from each state is determined by its population. Members, known as “Representatives,” serve two-year terms and are elected directly by the people of their respective congressional districts.
- The Senate: Consists of 100 members, with each state represented by two Senators. Senators serve six-year terms, with one-third of the Senate up for re-election every two years. Senators are elected directly by the people of their respective states.
- Lawmaking: Congress is primarily responsible for creating, amending, and passing federal laws. Members of Congress introduce bills, debate them, and vote on their passage. Both the House and the Senate must approve a bill for it to become law.
- Oversight: Congress has the power of oversight, which means it monitors the actions and operations of the executive branch (including the President and federal agencies) to ensure they are following the law and serving the interests of the people. This includes holding hearings, conducting investigations, and requesting documents.
- Power of the Purse: Congress controls federal spending and the budget. It authorizes and appropriates funds for government operations, including programs, agencies, and the military.
- Checks and Balances: Congress is a check on the executive and judicial branches of government. It can impeach and remove federal officials, confirm presidential appointments (including federal judges and members of the President’s cabinet), and declare war.
- Amendment and Repeal: Congress has the authority to amend, repeal, or replace laws, including those previously passed by earlier sessions of Congress. This ensures that laws can be adapted to changing circumstances and public sentiment.
- Constituent Representation: Members of Congress represent the interests and concerns of their constituents. They communicate with the people they serve and advocate on their behalf in the federal government.
The U.S. Congress is a cornerstone of the American system of government and is vital to the country’s democratic processes.
It plays a central role in shaping the nation’s laws, policies, and priorities, and its actions have a direct impact on the lives of American citizens.