How the Constitution Keeps Congress in Check
The U.S. Constitution contains a complex system of checks and balances to keep each branch of government from gaining too much control. It specifically limits the powers of the legislative branch -- which includes both the Senate and the House of Representatives as a combined Congress -- so elected leaders can't make laws without sufficient approval. The Constitution details guidelines that enable the executive and judicial branches of government to hold Congress accountable for its actions.
1 President's Veto Power
The Constitution allows the president of the U.S. to keep Congress in check. Because the president holds the decision-making power of the executive branch, he is responsible for executing laws established by Congress. As a result, he has veto power over any law passed by Congress. Members of Congress realize that it's difficult to pass laws without the support of the president, so they strive to create policies that the president supports, or is at least willing to consider. However, the Senate and House can override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote.
2 Supreme Court Rulings
The Constitution gives the Supreme Court power to rule against laws passed by Congress. Even though the Court can't decide on its own to intervene in legislative issues, justices can rule that Congressional laws violate civil liberties or infringe or previously passed rulings when cases are brought before the court. As a result, members of Congress can't pass laws that serve their best interests or the interests of their constituents without first evaluating their constitutionality or they risk future Court reversals.
3 Terms of Service
The Constitution allows each state to elect two senators to serve in Congress for a six-year term. The number of representatives in the House is determined by state population and each representative serves a two-year term. Even though there are no term limits for senators or representatives, reelection requirements keep them accountable because they must satisfy the demands of their constituents to get reelected. Elections resulting in turnover help keep the Senate and the House in check.
4 The Big Picture
Even though checks and balances outlined by the Constitution can lead to embittered battles between the president and Congress or Congress and the Supreme Court, they often have a soothing effect. Limitations force senators and representatives to compromise, negotiate and work together to find solutions that serve the best interests of the country. Of course, there are gridlocks, presidential vetoes and Supreme Court reversals on Congressional laws and government shutdowns, but there are also occasions where political leaders unite to avoid doomsday scenarios and all-or-nothing outcomes.