The Congress of the United States is a bicameral legislature comprising the House of Representatives and the Senate. As one of the three branches of the federal government, along with the executive and judicial branches, Congress holds several responsibilities. Article 1 of the Constitution establishes a Congress and enumerates its powers.
The primary role of Congress is policymaking and legislating. Congress introduces bills to become laws. Any member of Congress can introduce a bill. The bill is sent to committee in the chamber where it originated. The committee makes revisions and sends it back to the chamber for floor action. Members debate the bill and vote on it. It then goes to the other chamber for a vote. Both chambers must pass the bill for it to become law. When the bill is passed, it is sent to the president for approval or veto. The bulk of Congressional duty is legislation.
Checks and Balances
Three branches exist to enforce checks and balances on the others. Congress monitors the actions of the executive and judicial branches. Congress has the power to impeach a president or judicial officer. Impeachment is initiated in the House and decided in the Senate. The Senate also approves top presidential appointments, such as Cabinet officials and judges. The Senate also plays a role in foreign policy through its power to ratify treaties.
Congress fulfills its role of representation through its other duties. Members of Congress are directly elected to represent their constituencies. Senators represent their states, and members of the House represent districts within the states. In theory, members who serve as delegates vote in a way that truly represents the majority opinion, while members serving as trustees act of their own volition to best serve their constituencies. Members of Congress are not obligated to vote a certain way, but they are rewarded or punished by their constituents at election time for their efficacy of representation.
Enumeration and Implied Powers
Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution enumerates the powers of Congress. Among the most important are the powers to levy and regulate taxes, declare war, establish bankruptcy law, coin money, establish post offices, grant copyrights and patents, hold tribunals, raise an Army, maintain a Navy and admit new states. These powers are specifically granted by the Constitution, but Congress is privy to implied powers as well, as justified by the Necessary and Proper Clause found in Article 1, Section 8. In the past, Congress has used this provision to establish a federal bank, regulate agriculture and define and punish crimes.