Congress: Committee system

Congress: Committee system

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US Constitution

  • The US Constitution is the world’s oldest written national constitution still in operation.
  • It was created in 1787, ratified in 1788, and fully implemented in 1789.
  • It establishes the USA as a federal system of government where power is divided between the national government and state governments.
  • There is a division of power among three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial.
  • The Bill of Rights, comprising the first ten amendments, is an integral part of the Constitution and outlines key rights for citizens.

Amendments to the Constitution

  • There are currently 27 amendments to the US Constitution.
  • Each amendment represents a fundamental change or clarification to the original text.
  • Notable amendments include the 1st amendment (freedom of speech, press, religion), 2nd amendment (right to bear arms), 19th amendment (women’s voting rights), and the 26th amendment (voting age set to 18 years).

Constitutional Rights

  • The US Constitution guarantees citizens several rights and freedoms.
  • Notably, the right to free expression, the right to bear arms, and the right to a fair trial.
  • The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, guarantees equal protection under the law and forms the basis for many civil rights rulings.

Principles of the Constitution

  • The Constitution operates on principles such as federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances.
  • Federalism refers to the division of power between national and state governments.
  • Separation of powers distributes national government powers among the three branches.
  • Checks and balances ensure no one branch obtains too much power, by allowing each branch some control or oversight over the others.

The Federal-state Relationship

  • Each state has its own constitution, but federal law, where constitutionally valid, supersedes state law.
  • The 10th Amendment reserves powers not delegated to the national government, nor prohibited to the States, to the States or the people.
  • This means states have significant authority over issues like education, crime, and transport.

Federalism and its Consequences

  • Federalism leads to policy variation among states.
  • This can lead to inequality, where citizens’ rights and entitlements can vary based on which state they reside in.
  • Federalism does allow more policy experimentation, permitting states to act as ‘laboratories of democracy’.

Compare UK and US Constitutions

  • The US Constitution is written and codified, the UK Constitution is not.
  • US Constitution vests significant power in states; the UK’s unitary system does not.
  • Right to bear arms is uniquely enshrined in the US Constitution but not in the UK.

Congress: Structure and Composition

  • The US Congress consists of two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate.
  • The House has 435 members allocated proportional to state population, serving 2-year terms.
  • The Senate has 100 members, with two senators from each state, serving 6-year terms.

Congress: Powers

  • Congress has the power to legislate, declare war, impeach (charge) and remove top officials, and approve treaties negotiated by the executive branch.
  • The power of the purse, including tax legislation, originates in the House.

House vs Senate

  • In terms of legislation, both the House and Senate must agree for a bill to become law.
  • Senate tends to have greater influence in foreign policy, while House is more important for financial legislation.
  • House is seen as closer to the people, Senate as more deliberative and statesmanlike.

Congress: Committee System

  • Much work in Congress takes place in committees, small groups specializing in specific areas.
  • There are Standing Committees, Select or Special Committees, and Joint Committees.
  • Committees allow for in-depth policy discussion and investigation, and they hold significant power in shaping legislation.