Article I of the United States Constitution establishes the Legislature, one of three coequal branches of the federal government. The legislative branch consists of consists of the Senate and House of Representatives, and together they form the U.S. Congress. The Constitution gives Congress the sole power to create legislation, pass laws and alter existing laws. The executive branch, headed by the president, administers the laws passed by the legislature, and the judicial branch interprets those laws. While the president may veto laws passed by Congress, the House and Senate have the ability to overturn a presidential veto with the support of two-thirds majority vote.
House of Representatives
The U.S. House is composed of 435 elected members, who are divided among the 50 states in proportion to their populations. Six non-voting members represent the District of Columbia and the five territories of the United States. The Constitution gives the House a number of exclusive powers, including the power to impeach federal officials, initiate revenue bills and elect the president in the case of an Electoral College tie. The presiding member of the House, elected by members of that chamber, is known as the speaker of the House. The speaker is third in the line of succession to the presidency.
The Senate is made up of 100 senators -- two for each state. While they are currently elected to their posts by popular vote, these lawmakers were appointed by state legislatures until the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913. The Senate has the power to confirm presidential appointments as well as ratify treaties. The vice president acts as the president of the Senate and casts the critical vote in the case of a tie.
There is a lengthy road from the creation of a bill to its establishment as law. The first step is the introduction of a bill to Congress. While bills may be drafted by anybody, they must be introduced to the legislature by a member of Congress. After it is introduced, the bill is referred to an appropriate House or Senate subcommittee (depending on the chamber it is introduced in), where it may be accepted, amended or flat-out rejected. If the subcommittee decides to move the bill forward, it is transferred to the full committee for review. If the full committee votes to approve the bill, it is reported to floor of either the House or Senate, where the majority leadership of those chambers will place it on a calendar for potential consideration. While pressing bills may be voted on right away, most are delayed for months, and some are never scheduled for a vote.
Powers of Congress
Article I, Section 8 details the powers of Congress. In addition to the power to create and enact laws, Congress is responsible for establishing an annual budget for the federal government. It has considerable investigation powers, including oversight of the entire executive branch. Congress also has the sole power to coin money, regulate the armed services and determine naturalization procedures. Notably, the Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war on behalf of the United States.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images