The Congress

The legislative branch makes federal laws, levy federal taxes, declare war or put foreign treaties into effect. The main body is called the Congress and it is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Its seat is in the Capitol, Washington D.C.

The House of Representatives consists of 435 lawmakers who serve two-year terms. House of Representatives is rather a dynamic institution. Each House member represents a district (consisting of approximately 520 000 people) in his or her home state. The number of districts depends on a count of the population taken every 10 years. The most heavily populated states have more districts and, therefore, more representatives than the smaller states, some of which have only one. The Representatives are elected in a general election, held in November every second year. A candidate must be at least 25 years old and a citizen of the USA for 7 years. The chairman of the House of Representatives is called the Speaker.

The Senate comprises 100 Senators who serve six-year terms. In contrast to the House of representatives, the Senate is a more conservative institution. A Senator has to be at least 30 years old, a citizen of the USA for 9 years, living in the state that elects him. Each state, regardless of population, has two Senators. That assures that the smaller states have an equal voice in one of the houses of Congress. One-third of the Senators are elected every two years making sure that there are some experienced senators in the Congress after each election. The Senators represent all of the people in a state and their interests.

The U.S. Congress is a law-making body and each house has the power to introduce legislation. Each can also vote against legislation passed by the other. A law begins as a proposal called a bill. It is read, studied in committees, commented on and amended in the Senate or House chamber in which it was introduced. Then it is voted upon. If it passes, it is sent to the other house where a similar procedure occurs. When both houses of the Congress pass a bill on which they agree, it is sent to the President for his signature. Only then it becomes a law. The Senate and the House of Representatives sit separately. They meet in joint session in the House of Representatives to hear the President's State of the Union Address and on other special occasions.