Congress – Part 1
January 6, 2014
Separation of Powers
• Constitutional Convention
o Separation of powers
• Montesquieu – not an original idea of the founding fathers, but Montesquieu. In
order to avoid tyranny, the executive, legislative, and judicial must be separated.
o “All legislative powers”
This is the primary function of Congress (House and Senate) – make laws.
Laws (bills) can only originate in Congress – the President (executive)
cannot introduce a bill, nor can the courts.
Checks and Balances
• The twist
o Checks and balances
o “One branch’s ambitions for power would always check the other
• For example, presidential veto checks Congress; twothirds vote balances
president. Congress passes legislation, but must be approved by the president.
However, congress can override the veto with two thirds approval to check the
president. President negotiates treaties, but the Senate has to approve it. House
can impeach any highranking federal official with 2/3 vote, but must be
examined and approved by the Senate. FOR EVERY POWER THAT EXISTS, SO
DOES A CHECK/BALANCE.
• “First branch”
• Actually possess powers of governance.
• Contrast with parliamentary regimes.
o E.g. British House of Commons, Japanese Diet.
o A bill or budget from the executive will pass it right through. When the
President introduces a budget through the US, Congress will make
changes (a filter) – a very active legislation in the US.
• “All legislative powers”
o Heart of government – puts the people first (because it is representative).
• Bicameral legislature (two houses/chambers)
o House of Representatives
• House of Representatives
o Larger o 435 members – divided amongst states dependent on state population.
o 6 nonvoting delegates – come from American territories; all Democrats.
o 441 total
o Twoyear terms
o 700, 000 constituents
o 100 members (two from each state)
o Sixyear terms – allows more time to focus on issues at hand.
o 1/3 up for election every 2 years
• Why two chambers?
o Connecticut Compromise
o Founding Fathers’ distrust of the masses (Senate designed to temper the
passions of the public).
o Seventeenth Amendment
1913 – when Americans were allowed to directly vote for their
Senators. Before this, the Senate was meant to represent the
founding fathers (old, white, powerful, rich, “superior”).
Where is Congress?
• Capitol Hill (also a metonym for Congress)
o Washington, DC.
• Gyms, restaurants, subway, bank, high school (for pages), own postal system and
police force (250 members), temporary and permanent residents – like a tiny city
within a building.
• 27, 000+ support staff.
• Capitol Police
• Nothing is allowed to be built higher than the peak of the Congress building –
nothing is “above the people”.
• January to August
• 113 Congress
o Currently secondhalf/year.
• Twothar period/session.
• 114 Congress
o Begins January 3, 2015.
• Composition is key
• A representative assembly “should be in miniature an exact portrait of the
people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.” John Adams. Three Ways – Just like America, Congress doesn’t exactly practice what it preaches (e.g.
racism). There are 3 ways members can represent their constituents:
o Where you live; by law you have to live in the state you represent;
therefore not contentious.
o What you think; share same policy views.
o What you look like; race, gender, etc.; also covers career, education,
o Congress is