The United States Congress

The legislative assembly of the United States

You are here :  ›  The United States Congress

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 Power, while the Supreme Court has Judicial Power, and the President has Executive Power. The three different elements in the structure of power in the USA exist in order to make sure that absolute power is 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 of Representatives 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 in Washington
The Capitol building, in Washington
            The upper house in the US Congress is the Senate; 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 DC.  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

Hôtels throughout the USA
A great selection at best rates from  Booking.com

 Los Angeles
 San Francisco
 New York
    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 2016, 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:

For more background to the USA.....

Book / ebook     A Background to modern America -  people, places and events  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 to today's USA.  Twenty-two texts, with vocabulary guides and exercises.

For California, discover About-California.com, a short guide for visitors.

About-the-usa.com   Home page 

Photo top of page.  A joint sitting of Congress, in the House of Representatives

Other places, other countries...

Partner websites

Institutions, life and tourism
  • About France - a thematic guide to France. Over 200 pages of information for visitors and students.
  • About Britain - a thematic introduction to Britain covering institutions, life and tourism
  • Angleterre.org.uk - Le guide de l'Angleterre, en français

Travel and tourism
Photo top of page : Public domain photo - the White House

Text and all other photos © About-the-usa.com

About :  About-the-usa.com is a Travel-Webs site

To contact this website please use the form provided.

About-the-usa.com respects your privacy and does not collect data from users. Cookies are used solely to log anonymous audience statistics and to enable essential page functions. To remove this message, click   or otherwise learn more about setting cookie preferences