Q. 17: What Are the Two Parts of the US Congress?

United States Congress building
The United States Congress consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The following question is taken from Civics (History and Government) Questions for the Naturalization Test.

What are the two parts of the US Congress?

Answer:

The Senate and House of Representatives.

Below is an explanation of the answer to the question.

US Congress – The Senate and House of Representatives 

The US Constitution delegates most of the responsibility for federal governance to a bicameral legislature. This legislature is comprised of a Senate and House of Representatives.

While both bodies share the same general responsibility for drafting and passing laws, they are given separate functions within the legislative process. They also differ in overall size, term lengths served by members, and qualifications for service in the bodies. 

Senate – Member Requirements and Term Specifications

The United States Senate is comprised of 100 members, two from every state, who are elected for a six-year term. Senators are separated into three different classes, with each class coming up for election every two years. They have no term limits imposed on them and can serve as many terms as they wish if they can keep getting reelected by voters.

Senators must be at least 30 years of age, a citizen of the United States for at least nine years, and a resident of the state they seek to represent. They are authorized to receive compensation for their services paid out of the treasury of the United States. They are prohibited from being appointed to any civil office whose position was created or whose compensation was increased during their term of service.

The US Constitution originally stipulated that the state legislature elected senators. As a result, they were essentially an indirect choice of the citizens of their state, which would directly vote for the state legislature. However, the Seventeenth Amendment, proposed in 1911 and passed in 1913, changed the election of senators to a direct vote of the people. 

Senate – Powers and Responsibilities 

The Senate is responsible for approving all governmental appointments by the president, including Supreme Court justices, ambassadors, ministers, and other civil officials. No specific baseline level of support is mentioned for approving these appointments, implying that a simple majority vote is required, or in the case of a 50-50 tie, the vice president casting the deciding vote.

However, for entering into treaties with foreign nations, the US Constitution requires that two-thirds of Senators must approve, precluding the president from entering into highly partisan treaties that could jeopardize the nation’s future.

The Senate can overturn a president’s veto in conjunction with the House of Representatives if two-thirds of members from both houses vote to do so. While it is prohibited from drafting any legislation relating to taxes or revenue collection, the Senate may attach amendments to any taxation or revenue bills drafted by the House of Representatives.

It is also responsible for trying any members of the federal government impeached by the House of Representatives, with a two-thirds vote necessary to remove the individual from office. 

The Senate shares many responsibilities with the House under the broad legislative purview established by the US Constitution. Along with the House, the Senate is given the power to borrow and coin money, establish a postal system and road network, create a federal court system under the authority of the Supreme Court, and promote science and the arts by developing copyright legislation.

Both bodies are also given the joint authority to raise and support armed forces, establish standards for maritime law and punishment for piracy, and develop naturalization laws. 

House of Representatives – Member Requirements and Term Specifications 

The United States House of Representatives is comprised of 435 members, apportioned by a state’s population, who are elected for a two-year term to represent a congressional district. Members of the House are all part of the same class and come up for re-election every two years. They have no term limits imposed on them and can serve as many terms as they desire if they can continually be elected by voters.

House members must be at least 25 years of age, a citizen of the United States for seven years, and a resident of the state they seek to represent. They are authorized to receive compensation for their services paid out of the treasury of the United States. As with members of the Senate, they are prohibited from being appointed to any civil office whose position was created or whose compensation was increased during their term of service.

While senators were originally chosen by the state legislature, apart from a direct vote, House members have always been elected by a direct vote. Although the House is generally considered to possess less authority, power, and prestige than the Senate, the speaker of the House of Representatives is by far the most powerful position in the United States Congress, third in line to the presidency if needed. It is also the only governmental body to draft legislation regarding taxation or revenue. 

House of Representatives – Powers and Responsibilities 

The House of Representatives is not involved in the advisement or approval process for any Supreme Court justices, ambassadors, ministers, or other civil officials. It does not have a presiding officer apart from the body itself to cast a deciding vote in the case of a tie since tie votes would rarely occur. The House can overturn a president’s veto in conjunction with the Senate if two-thirds of members from both houses vote to do so.

The House has the power to impeach the president, vice president, members of the judicial branch, and other members of the United States government for any crimes committed by them. A simple majority vote is required to impeach an individual, resulting in a trial conducted by the Senate.

Although a simple majority vote may seem like a low threshold for impeachment, the two-thirds majority vote in the Senate is an effective safeguard against the House abusing its power in a partisan scheme to remove a person from office.

The House shares many responsibilities with the Senate under the broad legislative purview established by the United States Constitution. Along with the Senate, the House is given the power to establish a standard nationwide monetary system, develop uniform bankruptcy laws, and regulate all interstate and foreign commerce. Both are also given the power to collect revenue, taxes, and tariffs and determine appropriate punishments for currency counterfeiting. 

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