Congress: Legislation

Congress: Legislation

US Constitution

  • The US Constitution is the supreme law of the US, establishing the national government, fundamental laws and guaranteeing certain basic rights to citizens.
  • Constitution was signed at the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787.
  • It outlays the separation of powers, dividing the government into three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.
  • The Constitution also outlines the concept of federalism, a system where power is shared between federal and state governments.

Amendments to the Constitution

  • The Constitution includes a provision for amendment to allow for changes over time.
  • There have been 27 amendments to date, the first 10 known as the Bill of Rights.
  • Significant amendments include the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, and the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age to 18.

Constitutional Rights

  • The Constitution outlines a number of individual liberties, including free speech, religious freedoms, and the right to bear arms.
  • The 14th Amendment crucially ensures equal protection under law, creating a constitutional foundation for civil rights.

Principles of the Constitution

  • The Constitution stands on key principles such as popular sovereignty, republicanism, limited government, and individual rights.
  • It endorses a checks and balances system to prevent any branch from gaining too much power.

The Federal-state Relationship

  • Under federalism, powers are divided between the states and the national government.
  • Some powers are shared, known as concurrent powers, like the power to tax, while others are reserved specifically for either the federal government or the states.
  • The 10th Amendment reserves all powers not delegated to the federal government to the states or the people.

Federalism and its Consequences

  • Federalism allows states to act as “laboratories of democracy”, trying out different policies and solutions.
  • However, it can also lead to inconsistencies and inequalities across states, such as disparities in public education or health care services.

Compare UK and US constitutions

  • The UK has an uncodified constitution, contrasting with the US’s written constitution.
  • US Constitution affords a separation of powers between branches; in contrast, the UK’s Parliament is both the legislative and executive.
  • The US has a federal system while the UK is a unitary system with devolved powers.

Congress: Structure

  • The US Congress consists of two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives.
  • Each state has two Senators, while Representatives are apportioned based on population.

Congress: Composition

  • Composition of Congress has been largely dominated by two parties: Democratic and Republican.
  • However, the balance of power between them can vary significantly from one election cycle to the next.

Congress: Powers

  • Congress has the power to make laws, regulate commerce, declare war, approve treaties, and oversee the executive branch through impeachment.
  • The House of Representatives holds the power of the purse, controlling government spending.

House vs Senate

  • The House tends to focus more on domestic issues due to the frequency of elections, while the Senate often handles foreign policy issues.
  • Senators are generally seen as more prestigious due to the larger constituency they represent and their longer term.

Congress: Committee system

  • Congressional Committees play a key role in the legislative process, from drafting legislation to oversight activities.
  • Standing Committees are permanent, while Select or Special Committees are temporary and formed for specific purposes.

Congress: Legislation

  • Legislation can be proposed by any member of Congress with the final bill requiring approval from both houses.
  • Once both houses approve the same version of a bill, it goes to the president to either sign into law or veto.