Most Important Institution in U.S. politics- The Congress
After the weak parliamentary rule failed under the AOC (Articles of Confederation), Framers of the United States Constitution was set out for creating a federal system of strong but limited central government. While many architects of the Constitution had agreed upon the need for having a more rigid national government, much to the debate of the Constitutional Convention that revolved around the how strong the government needs to be in comparison to the previously established state governments (princeton.edu). It is certain, that the founders planned Congress to be more powerful in comparison to the Supreme Court and the President. However, they ended up placing many balances and checks on the legislature that prevented consolidation of absolute power in hands of one branch. Farmers used to control powers not only by making checks from other branches, but with creating a bicameral or two house, Congress — the House of Representatives and the Senate. Powers of the Congress are constitutional and evolutionary (ushistory.org).
Constitution itself grants the Congress their most important power ‘the authority to make laws’. A bill, or a proposed law only becomes law after both the Senate and the House of Representatives approves it in the same form. These two houses also share other powers; most of them are listed in its Article I, Section 8. These powers include the power of declaring war, power of coin money, raising an army and navy, regulating commerce, establishing rules of naturalization and immigration, and establishing the federal courts and limits of their jurisdictions.
In addition, Constitution also gives every house of Congress some exclusive and special powers. The powers that are given to the House of Representatives are:
Revenue Bills need to originate from the House of Representatives. Although, this power is honoured till date, it has managed to blur over the years. Often these budget bills are treated at the same time in both houses. Example, discussions about possible tax cuts are taken place both houses and the executive branch.
Impeachment power is the authority of charging the President and several other "civil officers" with any wrongdoing, is available to the House. Simple majority vote impeaches any elected official.
Special, exclusive powers given to the Senate include the following:
Major presidential appointments need to be confirmed from the Senate. Senate offers both advice and consent to U.S. President with the majority vote on appointing of federal judges, cabinet positions and ambassadors.
Treaties signed with foreign nations by the President have to be approved with Two-Thirds vote by the Senate. This provision illustrates checks and balances and it serves as important restriction to the foreign policy powers of the U.S. President.
An Impeachment Trial takes place in the Senate. When the House votes for impeachment of an elected official accused the party gets their hearing in front of the Senate. Two-thirds majority convicts the individual and removes them from office.
The implied powers clause gives the Congress authority of passing laws they deem proper and necessary for carrying out their enumerated functions. Several Congressional powers that have evolved in last few years are on the basis of these clauses:
Oversight of Budget: Congress restricts and reviews the Annual Budget prepared by its executive branch. In the event of law passing or setting up a government program, Congress needs to pass an authorization bill, which states the maximum money available. When the nation's budget is prepared, only Congress can set any appropriations for each authorized program.
Investigation: Congress can investigate both issues that require study and wrong doings by the public officials. Through Committee Hearings, Congress examines issues like crime, health care, consumer safety and foreign trade. Although, Congress should abide by the protected individual rights, committees have examined several allegations against the elected officials. Some popular recent investigations include Clinton-Lewinsky hearings.
Limitations of Congress
Despite all of their powers in contemporary political background of United States, the Congress has few limitations. Some of them are that Congress cannot interfere with slave trade until the year 1808 – almost a decade after constitution was signed – and they cannot suspend the habeas corpus except in the cases of invasion or rebellion, or when there is need of public safety. Limitation on the suspension of the habeas corpus writ – right of the accused persons to request/demand that government presents the evidence of their wrong doings – was core to the Supreme Court’s case ex parte Milligan of 1866.
Responsibilities of Congress
Primary function of the Congress is passing rules that Americans need to obey, this function is called lawmaking. Congress deals with a huge range of matters, from regulation of television to passing a federal budget to voting on control over guns. Most of the bills that are considered by the Congress originate from the executive branch, but only Congress has the power to create laws. Interest groups, Parties and constituents all influence the members of Congress in their choice of voting and the members also negotiates and compromise with each other to come to agreements.
Representing the People
Congress represents the citizens of the United States. Its members serve their constituents and citizens who reside in the district from where they get elected. The Adage “all politics is local” applies directly to the Congress: Members need to please their constituents to stay in their office, and every issue has to be considered from constituents perspectives. Three theories of representation of how citizens choose their representatives are; trustee representation, agency representation and sociological representation.
Congress is responsible for overseeing bureaucracy and ensuring that laws that go into effect after proper process called the oversight. Committees regularly launch investigations and hold hearings for checking for waste and abuse. Sometimes Congress members will use oversight for their political gain. In 1990s, example, Congress held hearings regarding IRS abuse of U.S. taxpayers. Although most of the stories in this case turned out to be true, they amounted to miniscule the percentage of total cases.
Members do several things for pleasing and aiding their constituents. Sometimes they support certain legislation that helps the district. Members also make their staff engage with casework that helps constituents with individual problems with recommendations for the military academies to sign up for Medicare. Part of casework also involves acting as the ombudsperson, a person who is responsible investigating complaints against the government employees or agencies. To remain in touch with constituents, congress members spend their maximum time in districts performing any form of community service, attending the openings of newest businesses and meeting local leaders for discussing key issues. Congress members behave in a certain manner at home; this is called collectively as their home style.
Educating the Public
Congress members are also engaged in public education, informing their public about current issues and what Congress plans to do or has already done to solve them. Members of Congress maintain touch with their constituents and attempt to educate them on several issues through websites and mailings. Congress presents various opinions on many issues like arms control and abortion that allows the constituent public to be better informed. Congress also picks the issues that need to be debated on and act through process called agenda setting.
Congress Vs President
Careful reading of U.S. Constitution reveals that Congress has more power than the President. Only Congress can pass the laws, and they can do it with or without the consent of the President. The Congress can get rid of a president, but a member of Congress can only be expelled by the Congress. According to U.S. Constitution, Congress is where legislation is passed and crafted. Congress passes all budgets, in Congress they are agreed to and the money gets spent. President is expected to have limited powers, but they are allowed to expand their powers. Only Congress has the power of declaring war, even more importantly, only Congress can pay for the wartime expenses. This means that in case the President tries launching a military escapade, the Congress can effectively pull the plug that would force the President to bring troops home.
American Congress is the most powerful than any other legislature in the modern democracies all over the world. The American democracy permits its legislature with a critical role of preparing the lawmaking agenda. Congress needs to make the laws, and that brings Congress to the core of American representative democracy. Among express powers of the Congress defined by the Constitution is its power of laying and collecting taxes, borrow money on credit, regulating commerce, coin money, declaring war, raising and supporting armies and making all laws necessary for executing their powers.
"The Powers of Congress." US History. ushistory.org, 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.
"Powers of Congress." Princeton Model Congress. pmc.princeton.edu, 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.
Tarr, D R., and O'Connor, A. "Structure and Powers of Congress." CQ Press: an imprint of SAGE. cqpress.com, 2005. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.
“Article I, Section 9: Limitations on Congress”. Bill of Rights Institute. billofrightsinstitute.org. 2010. Web. 31 Mar 2014