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Congress and the Legislative Process

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Bicameral--two bodies

  • Provides a check on:
    • emotions
    • power

Different purposes

  • House--popular sentiment
  • Senate--restraint, advisor to executive, continuity

Congress has all legislative power (Sec 1)


  • Qualifications
    • 25 years old for House and 30 years old for Senate
    • 7 years a citizen for house and 9 years for Senate
    • Live in the state represented
  • Terms-- 2 years in House and 6 years in Senate
  • Number
    • Two Senators per state
    • At least one representative and number determined by population
  • House has an elected speaker and Vice President presides over Senate
  • Each house judges its elections (Sec 5)
  • Members protected from Arrest (Sec 6)

Unique Powers of Each Body

  • Power to impeach is vested in House and power to try in Senate (Sec 3)
  • Revenue bills initiated in the House
  • Senate approves treaties and presidential appointments

Joint Powers (Article 2, Section 8)

  • Impose taxes
  • Borrow money when expenditures exceed revenues
  • Regulate commerce with nations & among states
    • This section of the Constitution is referred to as the "Interstate Commerce Clause"
  • Coin money
  • Establish weights & measures
  • Promote science and the arts
    • Fund National Endowment for the Humanities
    • Funding for research
    • NASA
    • Patent system--allow people to have exclusive right to their inventions for a period of time
  • Establish inferior courts
    • In addition to the Supreme Court. e.g., Federal District Courts
  • Declare war
  • Govern District of Columbia
    • D.C. was carved out of Virginia and Maryland
  • Make all laws necessary & proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.
    • This section is referred to as the elastic clause
    • It has allowed Congress to exercise powers in addition to those specified in the Constitution

Limits on Congress (Article One, Section (9)

  • Can’t suspend habeas corpus
    • Defendants must be charged with a specific crime
  • No bills of attainder
    • Trials and punishment through the legislative process
  • No ex post facto laws
    • Laws which make an activity illegal even though it was committed before the law was passed.
  • Can’t tax goods exported from U.S.
  • No preference in commerce
    • Each state to be treated the same
  • No titles of nobility

Limits on States (Article One, Section 10)

  • No treaties, wars, armies
  • No coining of money
  • No bills of attainder or ex post facto laws
  • No titles of nobility
  • No laws impairing obligation of contracts
    • Legally established contracts must be honored
  • No duties (taxes) on goods from other states

Differences in House and Senate

  • House--larger size requires
    • More formal rules
    • Stronger leaders
    • More reliance on committees, specialists
  • Senate
    • More like a club
    • Less influential leaders

How Does Congress do its Business? Consider a bill starting in the House

  • Bill introduced by a Representative
  • Rules Committee decides which "expertise committee" it will go to
  • Expertise committee chair may send it to a sub-committee
  • Sub-committee may hold hearings and will ultimately vote on the bill
  • If sub-committee approves, bill will return to the expertise committee for debate and vote
  • If committee approves, bill will go to full House for debate and vote
  • If House approves, bill is sent to the Senate where it undergoes a similar process
  • If Senate approves bill without change, bill is sent to the President for signature
  • If Senate and House do not agree, a Joint Conference Committee is formed to try to resolve differences
  • If any changes are made, each body of Congress must re-pass the bill
  • After agreement, the bill is sent for the President's signature
Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . factpetersen. (2007, October 16). Congress and the Legislative Process. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License