What is the Purpose of the United States Congress?
The Functions of Congress **Draft** This chapter addresses the most important functions of Congress: 1) Lawmaking (setting policy for the country); 2) Oversight of the executive branch; and 3) Constituent service. The primary function of Congress is to pass rules that all Americans must obey, a function called lawmaking. Congress deals in a huge range of matters, from regulating television to passing a federal budget to voting on gun control. Many of the bills considered by Congress originate with the executive branch, but only Congress can create laws.
If information wants to be free, why are textbooks so expensive? Stars and Stripes, Justice Dept. Tye, D. The Functions of Congress. This chapter addresses the most important functions of Contress 1 Lawmaking setting policy for the country ; 2 Oversight of the executive branch; and 3 Constituent service.
Learning Objectives: In this chapter you should learn the following:. All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States Article 1, section 1, U.
This forward- looking perspective may be true of the executive branch agencies, where many officials have civil service protection that ensures their jobs until they retire. But Representatives must run for re- election every two cogress, and Senators every 6 years, so many political scientists argue that rather than looking far ahead, politicians can usually only look to the next election.
Additionally, lawmaking is not a matter of wise and thoughtful legislators gathering together to objectively consider the issues facing the nation. Instead, it is an arena of political contestation. Individual members who care deeply congrses a particular issue have to try to coordinate others to also care about that issue, while those others normally have other issues that are—to them—more important.
It is an arena where Democrats conflict with Republicans, and each party tries to maximize its control of the agenda and the policy output that is produced through the legislative process, while minimizing the influence and effectiveness of the functin party.
When the parties do unite on an issue, it is generally in response to what lawmakers perceive as a how many new republican senators crisis. Support in both parties was strong enough that Congress was ffunction to override a presidential veto. The final text of coongress bill was substituted in the middle of the night, and legislators had no chance to review the changes before they were asked to vote on it. As it turned out, some important elements of the law were in violation of the Constitution.
Every bill which shall have passed the house of representatives and the senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the iz of the United States; if he approves he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objection to that house in which it shall have originated…. In all of this the President is attempting to act as an agenda- setter for Congress.
This was not always the norm for American presidents, but in the past century maih come to be so, and Americans expect their presidents to be active agenda setters.
In some ways Congress has explicitly given agenda- setting power to the President, by statutorily requiring him through the Budget and Accounting Act of to propose a budget to Congress—this allows the President to usually, not always set the agenda on budget negotiations. The President also has legislative agenda- setting power through the constitutional requirement that he. This has evolved into the annual State of the Congrress Address, in which the President speaks directly to Congress, the country, and even the world, detailing his policy agenda for the coming year.
But the veto power, despite coming at the tail- end maih the legislative process, also can be used for agenda- setting dhat. Of course presidents must use this power strategically—they can only effectively deter legislation by threatening a veto when congressional support for a bill is how to make a rag tie blanket enough that Congress will not have enough votes to override a veto.
To summarize this section, understanding the legislative role of Congress requires also understanding the role the President plays in legislation. All organizations need a body that has authority to make the rules that every member must follow, whether it is a country, a sports league, how to train your dragons 2 dvd church, or any other type of group. In how the body systems work together U.
In practice, Congress how to cope with resentment delegates substantial amount of its authority to the executive branch, by writing very broad laws and asking executive branch agencies to write regulations that fill in the details. The reasons for this type of delegation of authority are two- fold:. Congress often lacks the technical expertise that tbe specialized bureaucratic agencies have, and while they want to determine the tue policy for the direction, they may prefer to defer to those with more specialized knowledge to choose the best means of getting there.
It is easier to get agreement on a general policy goal than to get agreement on the specific details. In order to get legislation passed, Congressmembers may prefer to settle for broad but somewhat vague policies that obscure the areas of disagreement rather than get themselves bogged down in endless debate over particular details that wwhat their areas of disagreement.
To refer to the Clean Water Act again, everyone wants clean water, but as a Congressmember, if I vote for rules that are so stringent they shut down businesses in my district or state, I may take a hit come next election. The judiciary plays no direct role in legislation.
The legislative process is solely a debate, negotiation, or battle between and within the two chambers of Congress and the President. However the judiciary plays an indirect role in two ways, both su which can be presumed to happen, although neither can be directly tge. First, because Congressmembers can predict that controversial laws will be challenged by one or more angry citizens, they know that the federal judiciary is likely to eventually have a say in the laws they conrgess.
Presumably they take this into account when drafting laws and try to write them in such a way that—they hope—the judiciary will decide that they are constitutionally legitimate. This is different than Congressmembers trying to write laws that are constitutionally legitimate—while we hope they do that as well, this is mqin about trying to predict what the federal judges will think is constitutionally ok.
The second indirect role of the judiciary is to provide cover for Congressmembers voting for unconstitutional legislation in order to please their constituents. For example, in the Communications Decency Act was passed, in an effort to ban internet pornography.
The law was so quite obviously a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech that organized interest groups had written whaf legal challenges even before the bill was passed and filed them in the courts as soon as President Clinton signed it into law, and the Supreme Court struck down the unconstitutional parts of the law in a unanimous decision.
Cpngress we man assume that at least some voted for the law knowing and even hoping it would be struck down, but they could reassure anti- pornography constituents that they tried, and put the blame on the Supreme Court. No money convress be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law U. The most important legislative task of Congress is to pass a budget that allocates federal money for different purposes.
But also in every cojgress people have different priorities, so it is normal to fight over where money gets spent. Because each Representative gets elected from a particular district, and each Senator gets elected from a particular state, each one wants to ensure a good flow of federal money to their district or state, to create jobs and to create public amenities—bridges, swimming pools, dams, schools, etc.
The conflicts between the parties make it difficult to get budgets passed in a timely manner. But Congress frequently misses the deadline as it battles within itself and with the president over where to spend money.
Since the budgeting process has become even more difficult. Several times Congress has been unable to agree even on a continuing gunction, and non- critical portions of the government have shut down, angering much of the tthe. At the time this chapter was written, the federal government has gone for several years without agreeing on an actual budget. Instead they have been operating off continuing resolutions fnction some ad hoc spending agreements. The what are coordinates on a graph of budgeting will be discussed in a later chapter.
Congress exercises oversight as one part congresx the system of checks and balances to make sure that the executive branch stays within its proper constitutional boundaries and faithfully administers the laws. The duplication of labor we saw in legislation also occurs in oversight. That is, both chambers of Congress exercise oversight authority. However as we will see, the Senate has some specialized oversight powers that the House does not have.
The basic concept in principal- agent theory is that someone who how to troll for northern pike to get something done the principal will often hire or appoint someone else the agent to complete the task for them. The fundamental problem is that agents have goals of their own. Your goal, as the principal, is to have the lawn mowed well.
Whether your agent is buying a car for you, choosing stocks to invest in, or babysitting your kids, how do you ensure that they are not putting their goals ahead of yours? For these reasons, Congress must exercise oversight over the executive branch agencies. Congress has authority to set federal policy, but kf the executive branch agencies attempt to substitute their own policy preferences, not usually by direct refusal to comply, but through creative—and sometimes successful—interpretations of the rules.
Ov other times Congress makes conggess that are vaguely written, so the executive agencies have to make their own interpretation, at least until Congress clarifies the policy. The primary arena of congressional oversight over the executive branch occurs in congressional committees.
Remember that committees each have a subject matter jurisdiction, such as agriculture, or the armed services. For each of these jurisdictions there are one or more executive branch agencies tasked with carrying out the policies set by Congress, such as the Department of Agriculture dunction the Department of Defense. A part of the authority and responsibility of both the House Agricultural Committee and the Senate Agricultural Committees congres to oversee the Department of Agriculture.
As with mian, there is a duplication of labor in this process: both chambers exercise oversight. Overwhelmingly oversight is exercised by committees. It is a rare thing for an entire chamber to be actively engaged in a particular oversight issue.
An example would be the Senate conducting an impeachment trial of a president. The same specialization that leads to the creation of separate committees, each with a particular jurisdiction, leads to the specialization of oversight. So while most committees do engage in oversight, they are generally all exercising oversight over different parts of the executive branch.
Police- patrol Oversight and Fire- alarm Oversight. Related, but cutting across the formal- informal distinction, are police- patrol and fire- alarm oversight. Police- patrol oversight is oversight activities how to get big muscles in 1 week by members of Congress and conducted by committees acting on their own initiative, like police choosing which areas of a city to patrol. There are several funchion which this can take.
Police- patrol oversight can be either formal or informal. Reading documents could occur in either a formal review of an agency, or informally as clngress of a process of legislation or budgeting.
Commissioning studies and holding hearings are more explicitly formal oversight activities. The key for understanding the nature of police- patrol oversight is that it is congressionally- centered, and requires members of Congress to take notice and take action.
Fire- alarm oversight is a process Congress sets up to allow people outside Congress to call attention to problems in executive branch agencies.
For example, Congress can create whistleblower laws that protect employees within those agencies who want to bring attention to violations of what is 5 degree celsius is in fahrenheit or other forms of bad performance.
Or it can explicitly authorize citizen lawsuits to challenge agency actions. Because there are only several hundred members of Congress, they can only look at a small set of all the executive agency actions, even with specialized committees. And without some pre- existing awareness of potential problems, they ls effectively searching randomly, so that many of the agency actions they examine will not be ones that are problematic.
But with the millions of eyes of average citizens, agency employees, and organized interest groups observing executive agency actions, more problems are likely to fhnction caught, and Congress can use that awareness to better focus its own efforts on likely problems.
Both chambers play a role in impeachment, but their roles are separate and distinct. The House has the power of impeachment, which is equivalent to an indictment; they file charges against a president alleging he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors.
The Senate how to wake the dead the power of holding the trial, and of declaring the impeached president og guilty or not ghe.
While legal and presidential scholars have an extensive debate on the issue, the Constitution does not provide us any real guidance, so as a practical matter, as an issue of real- politik, the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors is whatever the House in impeaching and the Senate in convicting agree it congresss.
It is not whst all wwhat that impeachment is an effective deterrent against presidential misbehavior. Only two presidents have been impeached, because it is seen as such a drastic step that Congress is reluctant to use it often. But ironically, both of those impeachments—of Fhnction Johnson in and Bill Clinton in —were more a product of spiteful political opponents than of great abuses of power, and so neither was convicted.
No president has ever been convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors and removed from office. However the threat of impeachment, and the great likelihood of conviction, did congrese one president from office: Richard Nixon, who resigned at the recommendation of Congressmembers from his own party rather than face impeachment.
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Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government that represents the American people and makes the nation's laws. It shares power with the executive branch, led by the president, and the judicial branch, whose highest body is the Supreme Court of the United States. Of the three branches of government, Congress is the only one elected directly by the people. Jan 23, · Congress has the power to establish post offices and maintain postal infrastructure. It also appropriates funds for the judicial branch. Congress can establish other agencies to keep the country running smoothly as well. Mar 31, · The Powers of Congress The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the unique power to create laws. Each house can write, debate, and pass bills, but these bills don't become laws until both houses agree on the final wording and they're signed by the president. A bill can become law in two ways if the president doesn't sign it, however.
Congress is one of three co-equal branches of the federal government, along with the judicial branch, represented by the courts, and the executive branch, represented by the presidency. The constitutionally granted powers of Congress are further defined and interpreted by the rulings of the Supreme Court , and by its own rules, customs, and history.
Not only does the Constitution define Congress' powers in relation to the judicial and executive branches, it also places limits on it concerning power delegated to the individual states. Of all the powers of Congress, none is more important than its enumerated power to make laws. Article I of the Constitution sets forth the powers of Congress in specific language.
Section 8 states,. Laws aren't simply conjured out of thin air, of course. The legislative process is quite involved and designed to ensure proposed laws are given careful consideration. Any senator or representative may introduce a bill, after which it is referred to the appropriate legislative committee for hearings. The committee, in turn, debates the measure, possibly offering amendments, and then votes on it. If approved, the bill heads back to the chamber from which it came, where the full body will vote on it.
Assuming lawmakers approve the measure, it will be sent to the other chamber for a vote. If the measure clears Congress, it is ready for the president's signature. But if each of the bodies approved differing legislation, it must be resolved in a joint congressional committee before being voted on again by both chambers. The legislation then goes to the White House, where the president may either sign it into law or veto it. Congress, in turn, has the power to override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority in both chambers.
Congress has the power to amend the Constitution , though this is a long and arduous process. Both chambers must approve the proposed constitutional amendment by a two-thirds majority, after which the measure is sent to the states.
The amendment must then be approved by three-quarters of the state legislatures. Congress also has extensive powers over financial and budgetary issues. These include powers to:. Its power of the purse is one of Congress' primary checks and balances on the actions of the executive branch.
The power to raise and maintain armed forces is the responsibility of Congress, and it has the power to declare war. The Senate, but not the House of Representatives , has the power to approve treaties with foreign governments as well.
Congress has the power to establish post offices and maintain postal infrastructure. It also appropriates funds for the judicial branch. Congress can establish other agencies to keep the country running smoothly as well. Bodies such as the Government Accountability Office and the National Mediation Board ensure the monetary appropriations and laws that Congress passes are applied properly.
Congress can investigate pressing national issues. For example, it held hearings in the s to investigate the Watergate burglary that ultimately ended the presidency of Richard Nixon. It is also charged with supervising and providing a balance for the executive and judicial branches. Each house has exclusive duties as well. The House can initiate laws that require people to pay taxes and can decide whether public officials should be tried if accused of a crime. Congressional representatives are elected to two-year terms, and the Speaker of the House is second in line to succeed the president after the vice president.
The Senate is responsible for confirming presidential appointments of Cabinet members , federal judges, and foreign ambassadors. The Senate also tries any federal official accused of a crime, once the House determines that a trial is in order.
Senators are elected to six-year terms; the vice president presides over the Senate and has the right to cast the deciding vote in the event of a tie. In addition to the explicit powers enumerated in Section 8 of the Constitution, Congress also has additional implied powers derived from the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution, which permits it,.
Updated by Robert Longley. Share Flipboard Email. Issues The U. Government U. Foreign Policy U. Liberal Politics U. Phaedra Trethan is a news reporter at the Courier-Post, where she covers politics, immigration, poverty, and more. She has been recognized by the New Jersey Press Association for her work. Updated January 23, Cite this Article Format. Trethan, Phaedra. The Powers of Congress. Watch Now: Checks and Balances in the U. Constitution: Article I, Section 8.