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What Is the Legislative Branch?

Photo of Congress
The Legislative Branch is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

American citizens are responsible for the election of many important government officials on both a national and state level. Those who uphold their democratic responsibility to vote will determine the winner of national presidential elections and who sits in the different houses of the Legislative Branch. What is the Legislative Branch, how does it work, and what power does it hold over the Executive Branch?

What is the legislative branch?

The Legislative Branch is the official term for the two houses of Congress where laws are proposed, debated, and voted upon. We elect officials into the United States House of Representatives and Senate to carry out the will of the people but also to ensure that there is someone to stop the president from having too much control. 

The Structure of the Legislative Branch

When we talk about the Legislative Branch of the government, we mean the two houses of the United States Congress. There is an upper and lower house with their own elected officials. The lower house is the House of Representatives. Here, 435 voting members work to represent the constituents in their district. Some districts may only have one representative, while others have more due to their larger population.

Above that, there is the Senate, where 100 senators (two per state) meet to discuss the measures passed by the House of Representatives. 

The Roles of the Legislative Branch

As the name suggests, the Legislative Branch of government is all about legislation and the creation of laws. Congress has the power to create new laws through a series of votes through the houses. A representative from the House may sponsor a bill, which is then put forward to a committee for debate. It will go to a vote at a determined point on the calendar where it needs a simple majority in favor. If successful, it can then pass on to the upper house, the Senate, for a further vote and eventual approval.

Law books
Congress is responsible for creating federal law.

Few proposals will make it this far. But, some will be deemed important enough that enough representatives and senators vote in favor. This process is also in place for the creation of amendments to the Constitution. Again, the chance of a proposal making it to the final ratification process is slim, as there can be as many as 200 proposals a year, but only 33 have passed Congress, and only 27 of those were ratified.

The Legislative Branch and Financial Implications for the Nation

Another important role of the Legislative Branch is determining government spending via the Budget Office. This takes the responsibility away from the Executive Branch but means that each department should get a fair proportion of the money.

Income tax book
The Legislative Branch determines taxation in the United States.

Furthermore, the United States Congress is responsible for laws on federal taxation and the regulation of commerce. The former was a big part of the creation of the new Constitution and the new form of government back in 1787. 

The old Articles of Confederation didn’t give Congress the power to tax the people, leading to funding issues. Following the ratification of the Constitution, this stronger centralized form of the federal government made it much easier to collect taxes from residents across the states and to use that money effectively.

The Other Branches of the Three-Branch System

Congress has a lot of power when it comes to the laws of the land and any potential changes to the Constitution. However, it can only go so far as to ensure that bills become law. The United States government is a three-branch system where each entity works to keep the others in line for the good of the people.

The Power of the Executive Branch Over the Legislative Branch

In the legislative system, an approved bill isn’t finalized and adopted until it is signed into law by the President of the United States. This process means that the Executive Branch knows what the Legislative Branch is doing and can keep it in check if a bill doesn’t seem appropriate. This is where the President can use his veto power to veto a bill. Even with this power to veto, there is still a chance that the bill will pass if it is overridden when it is sent back to Congress with the requisite two-thirds majority in favor in both houses.

US Supreme Court Building
The United States Supreme Court can strike down laws that it deems to be repugnant to the Constitution.

Additionally, the United States Supreme Court has the power to overturn laws that the President approves if they are unconstitutional. This is a risk when one political party holds power in both the Senate and the White House. Those elected officials could potentially pass bills based on party politics or questionable ideas that don’t serve the whole of the United States.

The relationship between the Legislative and Executive Branches is important for ensuring the best system of checks and balances. We can’t have one without the other. In addition to this balance between proposing, signing, and vetoing laws, there are other powers that the Legislative Branch holds over the President and his departments.

The Power of the Legislative Branch Over the Executive Branch

One of the most important has to be the power to remove a president from power. The 25th Amendment states that a vice president will take over the presidency if the president is deemed unfit to serve due to illness or any other circumstance that prohibits them from fulfilling their duties. This was invoked at the time of Richard Nixon’s resignation, and some speculated it could be used during Donald Trump’s impeachment. This power means that presidents who cannot uphold the oath taken when entering office may be out of power.

The alternative is for Congress to move to impeach that sitting president if there is the possibility they have broken the law. At this point, the Judicial Branch will intervene via the Supreme Court to handle the case and determine a verdict.

Essential Nature the Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch of the United States Government is an essential part of the system. Without it, the laws of the land and the amendments to the Constitution wouldn’t happen. We need those representatives and senators to speak up on behalf of their constituents to push for changes and keep the Executive Branch accountable.

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