the USA ►
- Life in
- Tourism & Places
A learner's guide to
discovering the United States
The two houses of the US Congress
While many countries have a "parliament" or a "national assembly", the
United States has "Congress", the legislative body in which elected
representatives come together to put into law the policies of the
current President and his Administration (the executive).
In the USA, Congress is the body with Legislative
while the Supreme Court
has Judicial Power, and the President
Power. The three different elements in the structure of power in the
USA exist in order to make sure that absolute
never concentrated in the hands of one man, or one single institution.
In theory, the United States can never become a dictatorship, since no
institution of power can exist without the caution of the other two.
The US Congress is made up, like the parliaments of many
countries, of two houses or chambers. The House
is the principal legislative assembly,
and it is here that most new legislation is created. The House of
Representatives is made up of 435 directly elected "Representatives",
men and women who have been directly chosen by voters in the area that
they represent. In all recent Congresses, the large majority
of Representatives have been elected to represent one or other of the
two main US political parties, the Democrats
and the Republicans
The number of Representatives for each state depends on the population
of the state, so the biggest state in the Union, which is California,
has 22 representatives, while the smallest states each have two.
The Capitol building, in Washington
The upper house in the US Congress is
; in the
Senate, each state, however big or small, is represented by the same
number of senators – two per state. While this means that
small rural states have more influence in the Senate, it also
means that the voters in the larger states, most of them urban, are
less well represented.
The term "Congressman" can be used to
refer to an elected representative in either house, as in "Congressman
Jack Demorio". The abbreviation "Rep." may be used before the name of a
member of the House of Representatives, as in "Rep. Jack Maloney";
A Senator may be addressed as "Senator Kennedy".
The United States Congress sits in the Capitol
, the seat of power in Washington
The Senate meets in the North Wing of the building,
and the House of Representatives meets in the South Wing.
Joint sessions generally take place in the House of Representatives.
The role of the United States
Congress's principal business is to draw
up and debate new legislation. An act of legislation is known
in the USA, as in the British parliamentary system, as a bill.
To become law, a new bill must
first be passed, in an identical form, by both houses of Congress, the
House of Representatives and the Senate.
This is not a difficult progress when
the same party, either Democrats or Republicans, controls both the
House of Representatives and the Senate; but when, as is sometimes the
case, the Republicans control one house, and the Democrats the other,
then the drafting of new bills becomes more complicated; compromises
and trade-offs are required before the two Houses can agree on a text.
Since the election of Donald Trump in
differences between the Republicans and the Democrats have been
polarized, and the traditional consensus has sometimes been hard to
find. In 2023, with Trump supporters controling business in the Senate,
things have on occasions become seriously complicated.
Once a bill has been approved by both
houses, it is sent to the President, who can either sign it into law,
or else veto it. If the president vetoes a law, it is then sent back to
Congress, and Congress must either modify the law or else, in
exceptional cases, it can try to override the presidential veto.
For this to happen, both Houses of Congress must pass the
bill by a majority of two thirds (67%). Congress does not often
override a Presidential veto, but it can happen. In 2021, Congress
overrode President Trump's veto of a defense spending bill.
If a bill, passed by
Congress, is neither signed nor vetoed by the president within
10 days, it becomes law automatically unless the Congressional
Session ends before this time is up.
The most important people in Congress:
- The Speaker
acts as leader of the House and combines several roles: he is the
administrative head of the House, the leader of the majority party in
the House, and the representative role of an elected Member of the
House. The Speaker of the House is second in line to succeed the
President, after the Vice President..
- The House
is elected by members of the majority party in the House. He is
responsible for scheduling legislation, planning the daily, weekly, and
annual legislative agendas; consulting with Members to gauge party
sentiment; and, in general, working to advance the goals of the
- The Senate
Majority Leader fulfills the same role in the Senate.
For more background to the USA.....
Book / ebook
Background to modern America
- people, places and
that have played a significant role in the shaping of modern
America. A C1-level Advanced English reader for speakers of other
languages, and anyone wanting to learn some of the background
today's USA. Twenty-two texts, with vocabulary guides and
For California, discover About-California.com
, a short