The Legislative Branch: How Congress FunctionsIn the United States of America, the government is comprised of three separate branches, one of which is the legislative branch. This paper analyzes how the legislative branch was established, the process for electing representatives for each house, the roles of house leaders, and the powers that each house of the branch is allotted. HOW CONGRESS AROSE In the summer of 1787, each of the Framers of the Constitution were sent by their state governments to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. These fifty-five men were tasked with the responsibility of revising the Articles of the Confederation, which served as the first governing document of the United States of America. But instead of revising the Articles, they opted to draft a new constitution (Synnott).
This was due to the Articles of the Confederation being too flawed. In this new constitution, which serves as the current governing document, is Article I which was created by the Framers to fulfill the need for a lawmaking body.How Article I Shaped the Legislative Branch. Clause I of Section I of Article I of the Constitution created the legislative branch by stating that “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives” (senate.gov). This small section of the article requires that there be a bicameral or two-house legislature, one house being the Senate and the other house being the House of Representatives. The idea of a bicameral legislature for the United States originated from the Great Compromise of 1787, which is also known as the Connecticut Compromise (senate.
gov). This agreement stemmed from two different plans that were proposed for Congress. Those plans were the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan. The Virginia Plan was more likely to only benefit the larger states. This was because it called for only proportional representation. Therefore, having more residents in a state meant more representative seats were to be set aside for that particular state. As for the New Jersey Plan, it only involved equal representation for each state, meaning the size of the state wouldn’t affect how much influence it had in Congress (senate.gov).
REQUISITES FOR CONGRESSSection II of Article I concerns how members are elected for positions in the House of Representatives, the requirements for being elected, and how the members are apportioned among the states. Clause I of this article declares that “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature” (senate.gov). This means that elections for the House of Representatives are to be held every two years and that each candidate must meet the specified requirements. These are the prerequisites as stated in Clause II: “No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen sic” (senate.
gov). The bottom line of this clause is that a candidate for the House of Representatives must be at least twenty-five years old, a citizen of the United States for seven years, and a resident of the state they wish to speak for. According to Clause III, representatives are reapportioned amongst the fifty states after the occurrence of a census, which occurs decennially or every ten years (senate.
gov). This is to ensure that the ratio of representatives in the House of Representatives aligns with the magnitude of the population within each state.Section III of Article I covers how members of the Senate or Senators are elected, as well as the requirements for election. Clause I reads “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote” (senate.gov). This means that there are two Senators per state and that these senators are to be chosen by the state government. However, the 17th Amendment overturned the latter half of that clause.
Senators are now chosen by direct popular election. This was due to problems that arose when states deadlocked over whom to elect (senate.gov).
This lead to vacancies in Senate for months and years at a time as well as a decline in the trust of state and federal governments (archive.gov). Clause II states “Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year…” (senate.
gov). In simplified terms, approximately one third of the Senate is elected every two years. This election schedule serves to keep senators in office at all times and avoid too many vacancies. The requirements for Senators are given in Clause III. “No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.” Therefore, potential Senators must be at least thirty-five years old, a citizen of the U.
S. for at least nine years, and a resident of the state they wish to represent. Clause IV reads “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.” So, unless the Senate cannot come to a majority vote on a topic, the Vice President may not vote (senate.
gov). HOW MEMBERS ARE ELECTEDMembers of the House and Senate are elected through Congressional Elections, of which there are three kinds. They are the primary elections, the general elections, and special elections. In a primary election, candidates within a party compete to be nominated as a senator or representative. Once the nominee is chosen, they go into the next round, which is the general election. At this stage, all party nominees and independent candidates are running against each other for a seat.
Once a candidate is chosen, they become a member of Congress. As for special elections, they are only held when a member of Congress leaves before the normal election time (sparknotes.com). The vacancy can be caused by death, sickness, or any other factor. Those who are elected through special elections will only serve the remainder of the former incumbent’s term (sparknotes.com). Who Runs for Congress. Anyone who meets the requirements and is willing to be elected runs for Congress.
Some people may choose to run by their own initiative, or a party organization may request that they participate (sparknotes.com). The decision on whether to run or not may be affected by a number of factors. These can include financial status, health, influence over certain groups, and education.
Those who run must be willing to pay thousands and up to millions of dollars to campaign. This due to the fact that candidates need exposure in the media to be recognized by the people. It allows people to form an opinion on them.
It is also beneficial for candidates to possess good communication skills and support from organizations.SENATE LEADERS AND THEIR ROLES Each house of Congress has leaders with different roles and responsibilities. The main leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives include the majority leader, the minority leader, and the assistant leaders or the whips (senate.gov). These officials work as the legs of Congress in the way that they keep the agenda in progression.
Majority Leader and Minority Leader. The role of majority leader is given to the leader of the political party that is currently in power. This leader exists to perform many jobs that are crucial to the management of the Senate. The majority leader speaks for their party as well as on behalf of the Senate as a whole. They organize schedules for daily legislative tasks such as debating.
They create agreements for how long debates can be run. This time is equally split amongst the parties in office to allow each one a fair and equal chance to voice their opinions on matters concerning legislation. The role of Minority leader is given to the lower house in the Senate. This leader exists to protect the interests of the minority party. This leader also speaks for the minority party and keeps them updated on events.
The minority leader works closely with the majority leader to make certain that they and their parties are aware of what is happening. According the United States Senate’s website, “The posts of majority and minority leader are not included in the Constitution, as are the president of the Senate (the vice president of the United States) and the president pro tempore. Instead, party floor leadership evolved out of necessity” (senate.gov). Therefore, the positions of majority leader and minority leader did not originate from the Constitution. They developed over time from the need for control and guidance over meetings and debates. Party Whips. Each party in the Senate selects their own whips, also known as assistant leaders.
The need for party whips evolved alongside party leaders. These assistant leaders keep track of the amount votes that are for and that are against a legislative decision. They are also responsible for gathering support for particular positions (senate.gov).POWERS OF CONGRESS Each house of Congress has shared powers as well as their own special powers. According to Article I of the Constitution, Congress as a whole has the authority to “lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States…sic” This statement indicates that Congress has the job of imposing and collecting all national dues; These dues must be consistent throughout the entirety of the United States and must not be imposed on only certain areas. It is important that these prices are uniform throughout the country because it avoids backlash from citizens.
It is also much easier to keep track of just one set price than it is to keep track of several different prices. Congress also has the power to borrow money on behalf of the United States, regulate commerce, coin money, and provide punishment for those who counterfeit currency. It is important that only Congress can handle currency-related affairs.
Otherwise it could lead to severe corruption in the government. If the executive branch were to possess these powers, the president may use it to push his own personal agendas and run the country into debt. It could also lead to the development of a dictatorship in extreme cases. If the judicial branch were to have access to these powers, then it would just be nonsensical because this branch’s job has next to nothing to do with how money is budgeted in this country. Congress has the ability to “..
.promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries…”, meaning they publicize copyrights. Copyrights give exclusive ownership to those who generate their own original content. Congress has the ability to create courts lower than the Supreme Court, delineate piracies and felonies committed on boats, declare war, create and fund armies, and lay out rules for the government (senate.gov). If this power was given to the executive branch or the judicial branch, then the system would become dangerously biased.
The president and his cabinet could possibly steal content made by others and monopolize the market. As for the judicial branch, judges could give copyrighted content to whomever they favored more instead of who it actually belonged to. In short, Congress regulates how the country functions and keep the government in balance by having their own particular set of powers.Special Powers of the Senate. As for special powers, the Senate has the responsibility of trying all impeachments. They act as a jury and judge for the trial. When impeaching an incumbent, the Senate must come to at least a two-thirds vote.
So at least sixty-seven members must vote towards removing the incumbent. The Senate also has the authority to reject or approve presidential recommendations for positions in the executive and judicial branch. This includes Cabinet members and Supreme Court Justices.
It is imperative that only the Senate be allotted this power. If the president were allowed to directly appoint judges, then the say of only one individual would have an effect on the entirety of the country’s judicial system for many years due to Supreme justices serving for life. The Senate also has the power to approve or deny treaties made the executive branch. To approve one also requires a two-thirds vote. Allowing Senate this power avoids an omnipotent executive branch that recklessly makes unwise decisions.
The Senate also has ways to punish disorderly members. One is expulsion. Another is known as censure, which is a formal document that expresses the disapproval of a member’s behavior. Although less severe than expulsion, it may deface the image of a Senator. Such humiliation is most likely to make them lose credibility among their peers and the public. The Senate is also allowed to filibuster and cloture. A filibuster is when a legislative assembly is delayed by unnecessarily extensive speeches or irrelevant topics. Filibustering can only be ended by a cloture, which is a vote to end an assembly.
Filibusters are usually used by the minority party as a last effort to kill off a bill before it can reach a vote. And as with all votes in the Senate, a two-thirds majority vote is required to cloture (senate.gov). Special Powers of the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives has its own set of special powers as well. They can bring up the articles of impeachment against an official and act as a prosecutor in the trial (halrogers.house.
gov). It is important that this house has this power because the number and ratio of members is based on the actual population of each state in the country. So it is as if the country as a whole is bringing up the Articles of Impeachment against the official in question. The House is also where all money-related bills originate. This is known as the Origination Clause or the Revenue Clause. This clause is organized in this way because the Framers wanted the legislative body that was closest to the people to control the country’s money (Meese). This makes sense because the House of Representatives is directly proportional to the number of citizens in each state.
So, technically speaking, the entire population is indirectly voting, but on a much smaller scale. In the event of an electoral college tie, the House of Representatives has the power to choose the president themselves. This another power that has been placed in the correct house because once again, the House of Representatives is based on the population of the states.
In cases that involve foreign trade treaties or appointments for the Vice President, the House must approve these decisions (halrogers.house.gov). This situation is also in the right house for the same reason that was previously stated. CONCLUSION The legislative branch which is also known as the United States Congress is a very complex and extremely important structure. It is vital to how the United States functions as a society. It controls how citizens behave and it regulates commerce within the country as well as internationally.
This branch shapes the lives of citizens in the way that it specifies guidelines for what is considered legal and illegal. The powers that have been placed in the legislative branch are there because it keeps the government balanced. These powers do not allow for one omnipotent branch. They do not allow for the development of a theocracy, monarchy, oligarchy, or dictatorship. They allow an open system with guidelines that explain how to maintain the system, live within it as well as enjoy it. The legislative branch of the United States of America is the foundation that upholds the country.