Skip to main content
Ask the Libraries
Home

U.S. Congress

Legislative body

What is Congress?

What is Congress?  It is the third co-equal branch of the U.S. government responsible for all legislative activities.  A bicameral body, meaning that both chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate, are equal partners in the creation and execution of legislative responsibility.  Their roles and responsibilities are directed by the U.S. Constitution.  There are 435 members of the House of Representatives based on the population of the states and apportioned from the decennial census.  The Senate has 100 members, 2 from each state.  The Territories are represented by Delegates to Congress.

What is Congress' job?

Some of the responsibilities of Congress include:

  • Passing laws
  • Regulating commerce (trade)
  • Collect taxes, revenue
  • Borrow money
  • Pass the budget
  • Declare war
  • Establishing Post Offices
  • Punishing Pirates and other felons on the high seas
  • Approve Treaties (2/3 vote of the Senate needed)
  • Advise and Consent to Presidential Nominees (Senate only)
  • Censure, Expulsion
  • Filibuster and Cloture (Senate)
  • Initiate Impeachment proceeding against a government official(Senate)
  • Impeach government official (House)

To learn more about Congress, take time to visit with the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.

The United States Congress is a bicameral body, comprised of two legislative bodies: the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

The Bicameral Body

The U.S. Congress is bicameral, which means it is made up of two parts, the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Each house fulfills their role in government as outlined in the various Sections of Article I.

House of Representatives

The Senate

Membership in the House is based on the population, and the number of seats is determined by the Census. By law, the number of voting representatives is set at 435. Each Congressman represents a home district that has a population of roughly the same as any other district. Every state has at least one member of Congress. 

The U.S. Senate currently consists of 100 members.  Each state has two Senators. In the early days of the Senate, Senators were appointed rather than elected.

Life Cycle of a Bill or Resolution

The bill is assigned to a committee, the committee makes changes and additions, then the bill is submitted to the legislative body for debate and discussion, where more changes and additions may occur, until it is clear whether there is, or is not, support for passing the bill in the legislative body or bodies (Congress, and most State Legislatures, are divided into two legislative bodies).

If a bill passes both legislative bodies the bill (at the State level) goes to the Governor or (at the Federal level) the President of the United States for signing.  If the Governor or President disagrees with the bill, he or she usually has the power to veto the bill.  The House of Representatives can override the President's veto by a two-thirds vote; most State Legislatures have a similar ability to overrule the governor.

This process is illustrated in School House Rock's "I'm just a bill."

Congressional Agencies

The powers for Congress are defined in Article I of the U.S. Constitution. 

Article 1 of the U.S. Constitutio

 

There are a number of agencies supporting the work of the Legislative Brach use to fulfill their role in the government, some of which are listed below: