The Powers of Congress


Law Making

'All legislative powers... vested in Congress'. Branches are co-equal so bills must pass through both houses. Money bills (e.g. Taxation) start only in the House of representatives due to it being the first directly elected house.

E.g: Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was passed in 2010. In the House 219 voted yes and 212 voted no and in the Senate 60 voted yes and 39 voted no. 5 did not vote (4-House, 1-Senate)

1 of 10

Oversight of the executive branch

Article I states that a legislative body may investigate any subject that is properly within scope of its legislative powers. It also establishes and votes on budgets of all executive departments.

E.g: Select committee investigations and hearings (i.e. 9/11 enquiry and the watergate scandal)

2 of 10

Overriding the veto

Both houses must vote to override the veto (2/3 of each house must agree) to override the president's veto of a bill.

E.g: 2007 Congress overrode President Bush's veto of the Water Resources Development Bill in which the House voted 381-40 (100 votes over the required 2/3) and the Senate 81-12 (19 votes over the required 2/3)

3 of 10

Confirmation of appointments (Senate Only)

The Constitution grants the Senate to be able to confirm appointments made by the President by a simple majority. The appointments include to the federal judiciary and many to the executive branch.

E.g: 2010, Obama nominated Elena Kagan to become a justice in the SC and the Senate confirmed this appointment by 63-37.

E.g: 2013, Obama nominated John Kerry to replace Clinton as the Secretary of State in which the Senate confirmed this appointment by 94-3

4 of 10

Ratifying treaties (Senate Only)

The Senate has the sole power to ratify treaties (2/3 majority needed) - which are all negotiated by the President. The president has to keep the Senate fully informed.

E.g: 2010, the Senate voted by 71votes to 26 to ratify the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) negotiated by Obama and his Russian counterpart

5 of 10

Initiating constitutional ammendments

The two houses are co-equal when initiating ammendments as it must be approved by 2/3 of both hosues which is then sent to the states for the state ratification (3/4 of the states are needed for it to be ratified)

E.g: 113th Congress (January 2018) attempted to make changes on the Flag Desecration Act (Banned the burning of the US flag) - this was the 6th attempt to change it since 1995 and always failed in the Senate

6 of 10

Impeaching and removing public officials

Article II of the Constitution grants Congress the power to impeach or remove from office due to treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours, which is a two stage process through both houses of Congress.

E.g: This has been used 19 times since 1789 in which one of the most famous cases was federal judge Thomas Porteous in 2010 where he was found guilty for corruption and perjury

E.g: Bill Clinton was impeached but never removed from office for perjury and obstruction of justice

7 of 10

Confirming an appointed vice president

The 25th ammendment gave power to confirm a newly appointed vice president but doesn't apply if they have been elected. The vice president should become president if they are to resign, be removed or die whilst in office.

E.g: in 1973 Spiro Agnew resigned as vice president so Richard Nixon (President) appointedGerald Ford (H- 387-35, S- 92-3)

8 of 10

Declaring War

Both houses must concur in a declaration of war 

E.g: Occurred on only 5 occassions wiht the last one being in 1941 when America declared war on Japan 

However, Congress has found itself either sidelined by Presidential war making (Korea and Vietnam war) or being asked to sanction military action that the president has decided to take already (Iraq)

9 of 10

Electing the president and vice president if Elect

If in the presidential election no candidate wins and absolute majority of Electoral College votes then the House of Representatives is charged with electing the president and the Senate with electing the vice president.

E.g: This power has only been used twice - 1800 and 1824

10 of 10


No comments have yet been made

Similar Government & Politics resources:

See all Government & Politics resources »See all The legislative branch of the US government resources »