The United States Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government and is responsible for making federal laws, appropriating funds, and conducting oversight of the executive branch. Congress is made up of two chambers:
- The Senate
- The House of Representatives
The Senate has 100 members, with two from each state, while the House of Representatives has 435 members, with representation based on population.
Members of the House of Representatives are elected for two-year terms, while Senators are elected for six-year terms.
Congress plays a crucial role in shaping the policies and laws that affect the lives of Americans, and its activities are closely watched by the media and the public.
1. The United States Congress is made up of two chambers
The Senate and the House of Representatives are the two chambers that make up the United States Congress. Together, they form the legislative branch of the federal government and are responsible for making federal laws.
The Senate has 100 members, with two from each state, while the House of Representatives has 435 members, with representation based on population. Each chamber has its own unique powers and responsibilities, but both must work together to pass legislation and carry out their duties as part of the federal government.
2. There are currently 100 members in the Senate and 435 members in the House of Representatives
The Senate has 100 members, with each state represented by two Senators, regardless of the state’s population. The House of Representatives has 435 members, with the number of representatives for each state determined by population.
Every state has at least one representative in the House. The number of representatives for each state is adjusted every ten years, based on the results of the U.S. Census, to ensure that each state’s representation in the House is proportional to its population.
Members of the House of Representatives are elected for two-year terms, while Senators are elected for six-year terms
Members of the House of Representatives are elected for two-year terms, which means that all 435 seats in the House are up for election every two years.
This short term length is intended to ensure that the House remains responsive to the needs and concerns of the people it represents. Senators, on the other hand, are elected for six-year terms, with one-third of the Senate up for election every two years.
This staggered election schedule means that the Senate is never completely up for election at the same time and allows for greater continuity and stability in the upper chamber. However, it also means that Senators may be less immediately responsive to the changing concerns of their constituents.
4. Congress is responsible for making federal laws, appropriating funds, and conducting oversight of the executive branch
As the legislative branch of the federal government, Congress is responsible for making federal laws. Bills can originate in either chamber of Congress, but both the House of Representatives and the Senate must pass the same version of the bill before it can be sent to the President for signature or veto.
Congress is also responsible for appropriating funds, or deciding how federal money will be spent. The appropriations process involves creating budgets for various government agencies and programs and allocating funds accordingly. This power of the purse gives Congress a significant degree of control over the executive branch.
Finally, Congress conducts oversight of the executive branch to ensure that federal agencies are carrying out their duties in accordance with the law and in the best interests of the American people.
Oversight can take many forms, including hearings, investigations, and audits. By conducting oversight, Congress helps to ensure that the federal government remains accountable to the people it serves.
5. The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives, while the Vice President of the United States is the President of the Senate
The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives and is elected by the members of the House. The Speaker’s role is to lead the House in its daily operations, including recognizing members who wish to speak and maintaining order and decorum during debates. The Speaker also plays a key role in setting the House’s legislative agenda.
The Vice President of the United States serves as the President of the Senate, but can only vote in the case of a tie. In the Vice President’s absence, the President pro tempore, who is elected by the Senate, presides over the chamber. The President pro tempore is usually the most senior member of the majority party in the Senate.
It’s important to note that the roles of the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate are quite different, reflecting the unique nature of the two chambers of Congress. While the House of Representatives is intended to be more closely tied to the will of the people, the Senate is designed to be a more deliberative body, where members have more time to consider legislation and engage in debate.
6. The majority party in each chamber elects their party leader as the Majority Leader
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have Majority Leaders and Minority Leaders who are elected by their respective parties. The Majority Leader is the leader of the party that holds the majority of seats in the chamber, while the Minority Leader is the leader of the party that holds the minority of seats.
The Majority Leader and Minority Leader have important roles in shaping the legislative agenda of their respective chambers. They work closely with the Speaker of the House (in the case of the House of Representatives) or the President pro tempore (in the case of the Senate) to schedule legislative business and ensure that bills move forward in a timely and efficient manner.
In addition, the Majority Leader and Minority Leader play key roles in their parties’ leadership teams, helping to coordinate their party’s position on important issues and working to build consensus among their fellow party members. They also often serve as spokespersons for their parties in the media and in public debates.
7. Congress has the power to impeach and remove the President
Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the power to impeach and remove the President, Vice President, and other federal officials from office for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Impeachment is a two-step process that begins in the House of Representatives, where articles of impeachment are drafted and voted upon. If a majority of the House votes to impeach, the case then moves to the Senate for a trial.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the impeachment trial in the Senate, and Senators serve as jurors. If two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict the official, he or she is removed from office.
This process has only been used a handful of times in U.S. history, most notably in the cases of Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. In 2019, President Donald Trump was also impeached by the House of Representatives, but was ultimately acquitted by the Senate.
8. The United States Capitol, where Congress meets, is located in Washington, D.C.
The United States Capitol, where Congress meets, is located in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. The Capitol is the home of the legislative branch of the federal government and houses both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The Capitol building itself is an iconic symbol of American democracy and is often featured in news broadcasts and political commentary. It was completed in 1800 and has been expanded and renovated several times over the years.
Today, it is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Washington, D.C., and serves as an important center of political power and decision-making in the United States.
9. Congress can override a Presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote
Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress can override a Presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
A veto occurs when the President refuses to sign a bill into law, sending it back to Congress with his or her objections. If two-thirds of the members in both the House and the Senate vote to override the veto, the bill becomes law without the President’s signature.
Overriding a Presidential veto is a significant check on executive power and demonstrates the importance of the separation of powers in the U.S. government. However, it is a relatively rare occurrence, as it requires a significant level of bipartisan support and agreement on the part of Congress.
10. The Senate is responsible for approving Presidential nominations
The Senate is responsible for providing “advice and consent” on Presidential nominations to the executive and judicial branches of the federal government.
This means that the President must seek the approval of the Senate before appointing individuals to certain positions, including federal judges, ambassadors, and top officials in executive branch agencies.
One of the most important nominations that the Senate considers is that of Supreme Court justices. When a vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court, the President nominates a candidate, who then must be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and confirmed by the full Senate.
This process is often highly contentious, as Supreme Court justices serve for life and can have a significant impact on the direction of American law and policy.
The Senate’s power of advice and consent is an important check on Presidential power and helps to ensure that executive and judicial branch officials are qualified and well-suited to serve in their positions.
11. Members of Congress enjoy certain immunities and privileges while in office
Members of Congress enjoy certain immunities and privileges while in office that are designed to protect them from interference in the performance of their official duties.
For example, members of Congress are generally immune from arrest while traveling to or from a session of Congress, or while attending a session of Congress. This immunity is intended to ensure that members can carry out their duties without fear of harassment or interference.
In addition, members of Congress enjoy other privileges, such as the ability to send mail without paying postage and the ability to access certain areas of government buildings that are off-limits to the general public. These privileges are intended to help members of Congress carry out their work more efficiently and effectively.
It’s important to note, however, that these privileges and immunities are not absolute and can be limited in certain circumstances. For example, a member of Congress may be subject to arrest if he or she commits a serious crime while in office, and the immunity from arrest while in session does not apply in cases of treason, felony, or breach of the peace.
12. The 27th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits Congress from giving itself a pay raise during the current term
The 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from giving itself a pay raise during the current term. This amendment was originally proposed in 1789, but was not ratified until 1992, when it became the most recent amendment to the Constitution.
The amendment reads as follows: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” This means that Congress can still vote to give itself a pay raise, but the raise cannot take effect until after the next election for the House of Representatives.
The purpose of the 27th Amendment is to ensure that members of Congress do not use their power to give themselves a salary increase for political gain or personal benefit. It is one of several measures that are intended to limit the power and influence of elected officials and ensure that they remain accountable to the people they serve.
13. The Congressional Research Service provides nonpartisan research and analysis
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a nonpartisan legislative branch agency that provides research and analysis to Congress on a wide range of issues. The CRS is part of the Library of Congress and works to provide objective, impartial, and timely information and analysis to Congress to help inform policy decisions.
The CRS provides a variety of services to Congress, including reports, briefings, and other information products. The agency’s reports are highly respected and are often cited in debates and discussions in Congress and the media. The CRS also provides confidential and customized research and analysis to individual members of Congress and their staff.
The mission of the CRS is to support the legislative process and help Congress make informed decisions on behalf of the American people. By providing unbiased and objective research and analysis, the CRS helps to ensure that Congress has access to the information it needs to make informed policy decisions.
14. The Congressional Budget Office provides budgetary and economic analysis
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is a nonpartisan agency that provides budgetary and economic analysis to Congress. The CBO was created in 1974 to help Congress make informed decisions on the federal budget and other economic issues.
The CBO’s main responsibility is to provide Congress with cost estimates and analysis of proposed legislation. This analysis includes estimates of the budgetary impact of proposed legislation, as well as estimates of the economic effects of the legislation. The CBO’s work is highly respected and is often used as the basis for debate and discussion in Congress.
In addition to its work on legislation, the CBO also produces a variety of other reports and analyses on economic issues of interest to Congress. These reports cover a wide range of topics, including macroeconomic trends, tax policy, and health care.
The CBO is an important resource for Congress and plays a crucial role in shaping the federal budget and economic policy. By providing independent and impartial analysis, the CBO helps to ensure that Congress has the information it needs to make informed decisions on behalf of the American people.
15. The longest serving member of Congress was Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia
Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia holds the record for the longest serving member of Congress. He served in the U.S. Senate for more than 51 years, from 1959 until his death in 2010. Byrd was a powerful and influential figure in the Senate and was known for his deep knowledge of parliamentary procedure and his ability to work across party lines.
During his long career in Congress, Byrd served in a variety of leadership positions, including Senate Majority Leader and Senate President pro tempore. He was also known for his efforts to secure federal funding for his home state of West Virginia, and was often criticized for his use of earmarks, which are provisions that direct specific funding to a particular project or organization.
Despite his controversial record on some issues, Byrd was widely respected for his commitment to the U.S. Constitution and his deep knowledge of American history and government. His tenure in Congress is a testament to the important role that individual members can play in shaping U.S. policy and politics over the course of many decades.