The Legislature - The White House (2023)

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Under Article I of the Constitution, the legislature consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which together make up the United States Congress. The Constitution grants Congress the exclusive power to legislate and declare war, the right to confirm or reject many presidential appointments, and broad investigative powers.

The House of Representatives consists of 435 elected members spread across all 50 states in proportion to their total population. In addition, there are 6 non-voting members representing the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and four other United States territories: American Samoa, Guam, the United States Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The Speaker of the House is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, elected by the House of Representatives. He or she is third in line to the President.

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Members of the House of Representatives are elected every two years and must be 25 years old, have been a US citizen for at least 7 years, and be residents of the state (but not necessarily the district) they represent.

Several powers are vested exclusively in the House of Representatives, including the power to introduce tax legislation, impeach federal officials, and elect the president in the event of a tie in the electoral college.

The Senate consists of 100 senators, 2 from each state. Until the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, senators were chosen by the state legislature, not by popular vote. Since then, they have been elected by the people of each state for six-year terms. The senators' terms are staggered, so that about one-third of the Senate is elected every two years. Senators must be 30 years of age, have been US citizens and residents of the state they represent for at least nine years.

The Vice President of the United States serves as the President of the Senate and has a casting vote in the Senate in the event of a tie.

The Senate has the exclusive authority to confirm presidential appointments that require approval, as well as to provide advice and approval for the ratification of treaties. However, there are two exceptions to this rule: the Chamber must also approve vice-presidential appointments and any treaties that affect foreign trade. The Senate also considers impeachment proceedings for federal officials brought by the House of Representatives.

In order to pass a bill and submit it for the President's signature, both the House of Representatives and the Senate must pass the same bill by a majority vote. If the president vetoes a bill, he can override his veto by re-enacting the bill in each house with at least a two-thirds vote in favor.

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The legislative process

The first step in the legislative process is the presentation of a bill to Congress. Anyone can write it, but only members of Congress can introduce legislation. Some major bills are traditionally introduced at the request of the federal president, such as the annual federal budget. However, during the legislative process, the original bill can undergo drastic changes.

Once submitted, the bill is sent to the appropriate committee for consideration. There are 17 Senate committees with 70 subcommittees and 23 House committees with 104 subcommittees. The committees are not set in stone, but change in number and form with each new Congress as necessary for the efficient scrutiny of legislation. Each committee oversees a specific policy area, and subcommittees handle more specialized policy areas. For example, the House Ways and Means Committee includes subcommittees on Social Security and Commerce.

A bill is first considered in a subcommittee, where it can be approved, amended, or rejected outright. If subcommittee members agree to advance a bill, this is reported to the full committee, where the process is repeated. During this phase of the process, committees and subcommittees hold hearings to examine the bill's merits and shortcomings. They invite experts, proponents and opponents, to appear before the committee to testify and, if necessary, can compel individuals to appear with subpoena powers.

If the full committee votes to pass the bill, the full session of the House or Senate will be notified, and the leaders of the majority party will decide when the bill will be placed on the calendar for consideration. If an invoice is particularly urgent, it can be taken into account immediately. Others may wait months or never be scheduled.

When the bill comes up for consideration, the House has a very structured debate process. Each Member wishing to take the floor only has a few minutes and the number and type of amendments are usually limited. In the Senate, debate on most bills is unlimited: Senators can speak on issues other than the bill under consideration during their speeches, and any amendments can be introduced. Senators can use this to thwart proposed legislation, a process in which a senator delays voting on a bill, and therefore passing it, by refusing to resign. A large majority of 60 senators can break a filibuster by invoking the closure or cession of debate on the bill and forcing a vote. After the debate, the bill is approved by a simple majority.

A bill must pass both houses of Congress before it is submitted to the President for consideration. Although the Constitution requires that the two bills have exactly the same wording, in practice this rarely happens. To harmonize the bills, a conference committee is convened, made up of members of both chambers. Committee members produce a conference report that is intended to be the final version of the bill. Each chamber then votes again to approve the conference report. Depending on where the bill originated, the Clerk of the House or the Clerk of the Senate enters the final text and sends it to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate for their signature. The bill is then sent to the president.

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When the president receives a bill from Congress, he has several options. If the president approves the bill in substance, he or she can sign it into law, and the bill will then generally be printed in the statutes. If the president thinks the bill is bad policy, he can veto it and send it back to Congress. Congress can override the veto with a two-thirds majority in each chamber, after which the bill becomes law and is published.

There are two other options that the President can exercise. If Congress is in session and the President does nothing within 10 days, the bill becomes law. If Congress adjourns within 10 days and the President does nothing, then the bill expires and Congress cannot vote to repeal it. This is called a pocket veto, and if Congress is going to pass the bill, it will have to start the whole process all over again.

powers of congress

Congress, as one of three equal branches of government, has important powers granted by the Constitution. All legislative power in the government rests with Congress, which means that it is the only part of the government that can make new laws or change existing laws. Executive branch agencies make regulations with the full force of law, but subject only to the authority of laws passed by Congress. The president can veto bills passed by Congress, but Congress can also override a veto by a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Article I of the Constitution lists the powers of Congress and the specific areas in which it can legislate. Congress also has the power to enact such laws as it deems "necessary and proper" for the exercise of the powers vested in each branch of government by the Constitution.

Part of Congress's exercise of its legislative power is to prepare an annual budget for the government. To this end, Congress collects taxes and fees to finance basic government services. If enough money cannot be raised to finance the government, Congress can also authorize loans to make up the difference. Congress can also mandate spending on specific items: Statutory spending, commonly known as an "appropriation," allocates funds for a specific project rather than a government agency.

Both houses of Congress have broad investigative powers and can compel the production of evidence or testimony for any purpose they deem necessary. Members of Congress spend much of their time conducting hearings and committee investigations. Refusing to cooperate with a congressional subpoena can result in a charge of contempt of Congress, which can result in imprisonment.

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The Senate reserves various powers: it approves the ratification of treaties by a two-thirds majority and confirms the appointment of the President by a majority vote. The approval of the House of Representatives is also required for the ratification of trade agreements and the confirmation of the Vice President.

Congress also has the exclusive power to declare war.

government oversight

Oversight of the executive branch is an important exercise in the control of Congress over the powers of the president and the balance of his discretion in enacting laws and making regulations.

A primary way Congress conducts oversight is through hearings. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs are dedicated to oversight and reform of government affairs, with each committee conducting oversight in its policy area.

Congress also maintains a research organization, the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Founded in 1921 as the General Accounting Office, its original function was to examine the budgets and financial statements sent to Congress by the Secretary of the Treasury and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Today, the GAO reviews and reports on all aspects of government, ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent with the effectiveness and efficiency that the American people deserve.

The Executive Branch is also self-monitoring: 64 Inspectors General, each responsible for a different agency, regularly inspect and report on the agencies to which they are attached.

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