General Information

  • one of the three branches of state, Congress is the legislative branch, performs the law-making function
  • House of Reps- 435 reps, elected by single member constituencies, each state has it's number of seats reviewed every 10 years, based on population shifts. states have 1-53 seats, two-year term limit, no limit to number of terms
  • speaker of the house-majority leader
  • Senate-100 senators, 2 senators per state, 6 year terms, 1/3 replaced every 2 years, elected since 1913
  • lots of Reps aim for the Senate because it's less frequent elections, more impact in Senate
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  • the two houses are 'co-equal'
  • passing legislation- article 1 section 1 states that all legislative powers shall be vested in Congress. Article 1 gives Congress the power to overturn a presidential veto with a 2/3 vote in each chamber
  • representation (the people)- Article 1 outlines the needs for congressional elections. 
  • override presidential veto- limit the president
  • declare war- article 1 section 8, congress was given the right to initiate military action. there is constiutional ambiguity here with the president also claiming power to initiate military action
  • amend the constitution- Article 5 allows Congress to share this roll with the states. an amendement requires a 2/3 vote in each chamber
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powers exclusive to the house

  • initiate money bills- most legislation can begin in either chamber however revenue based bills have to begin in the House
  • given the sensitivity of taxing people, the founding fathers wanted to give the elected chamber at the time (the house) the power to do so. not so significant today as Senate now needs to accept everything
  • Impeach president- does not mean remove a president from office. means the house wanting to bring formal charges against public officials because in their view there is sufficient evidence 'treason, bribery and any other high crime'. 2 presidents have been impeached
  • elect a president if no candidates have an absolute majority in EC (50%)- with only two parties seriously contesting, it is possible for each candidate to get 269 ECV's. this power has only been used twice
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Powers exclusive to the Senate

  • confirm executive, judicial appointments- anyone that the President Chooses, the Senate has to confirm. all nominations are scrutinised usually through the Senate comittee hearings, with the Senate having the right to confirm a presidential nomination by a 50%+ vote. extent of scrutiny depends partly on nature of party control of the Presidency and the Senate
  • ratify treaties- all treaties negotiated by the President are subject to confirmation by the Senate, requiring a 2/3 vote. the role of treaty ratification has been eroded by the presidential use of executive agreements
  • try cases where house has passed articles of impeachment- if the house impeaches a public official, there is a trial in the Senate. a 2/3 Senate vote is then required to remove someone from office
  • elect VP when no candidate has absolute majority of electoral seats
  • are these powers more public?
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Is Congress Representative

  • the frequency of elections means voters voices are heard every two years, offering high levels of representation 
  • gender- largely male preserve- first women in Congress in 1916, 2010- women hold 17% of seats in Congress, state legislatures are 34% women, US ranking 90th in the number of women in its national legislature 
  • race- up to 2008- 96 black representatives, 5 black senators, since 1929, all but 4 of the 74 elected have been Democrats
  • Significant increase since majority-minority seats introduced, and black/Latino representatives tend to come from districts with significant minority population, because many of these majority/minority seats are safe, there is little opportunity for new black/Latino congressmen
  • Pork barrel politics- Support for public spending which is designed to benefit specific areas, but which are paid for nationally
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