Legislative power in the United States is represented by a bicameral parliament – Congress, consisting of the Senate and House of Representatives. Its main powers include taxation, regulation of trade with foreign countries and between states, the right to declare war, the formation of the armed forces and the allocation of funds for their maintenance.
The Senate was created as the upper house of Congress, representing the interests of the states and the propertied classes of society. Therefore, state legislators initially elected senators. According to the 17th amendment, ratified in 1913, state senators began to choose direct voting. Under the constitution, two senators are elected from each state for a six-year term. To preserve the continuity of power, the terms of office of senators are shifted in time so that in each year of elections only a third of the seats become vacant. Under the constitution, anyone over 30 years of age who is a U.S. citizen of at least 9 years old and who by the time of the election lives in the state from which he or she is elected can be a senator.
The Senate is chaired by the US Vice President. The Senate elects an interim chairman from among its members, who chairs meetings in the absence of a vice president.
But the actual leaders of the Senate are the leader of the Senate majority and the leader of the Senate minority, elected at meetings (focuses) of factions represented in the Senate of the largest political parties.
As the upper house, the Senate has special powers, for example, it can approve or reject presidential appointments to senior government posts, ratify or reject international treaties and consider cases of officials impeached by the House of Representatives.
The lower house of Congress – the House of Representatives – consists of 435 members (it also involves 6 more representatives, but without the right to vote, who are delegates from the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands, the island of Guam, East Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as the permanent representative of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico), representing the entire population of the country. Representative elections are held through universal suffrage in single-member constituencies with approximately equal population within their state. In addition, each state has at least one representative. Since representation from each state is proportional to its population, the constitution obliges every ten years to conduct a national census. Demographic changes lead to a redistribution of state representation in Congress.
As a representative body of the people, the chamber has the exclusive right to submit tax bills to Congress. But in practice, this right is limited since any bill must be approved by both houses. The House of Representatives may institute impeachment against federal officials and is also authorized to elect a president if no candidate receives a majority of the electoral vote.
Members of the House of Representatives are elected for a two-year term. The candidate must be over 25 years old, at least 7 years old to be a US citizen and by the time of the election to live in the state from which he or she is elected.
Members of the House elect a speaker to preside over its meetings. Other chamber leaders are party faction leaders.
The main work in Congress on the preparation of bills is carried out by various committees. Each of the 20 standing committees in the Senate and 20 standing committees in the House of Representatives is in charge of a specific area, for example, foreign affairs, defense, agriculture, banks and finance.
The chairman of the committee, as a rule, becomes a member of the majority faction, who has worked for the longest time in this committee.
In addition to standing committees, there are special committees in each house of Congress. The committees, which include members of both chambers, are called joint committees. Conciliation committees are appointed to work out compromise options for bills.
Any bill, with the exception of the financial one, may be initiated in any of the chambers. The bill submitted for consideration by the chamber is sent to the appropriate committee and, after its approval, is submitted for discussion of the entire chamber. If the house approves the bill, it is sent to another house, where consideration also begins with the committee. Each house has the right to amend the bill. Disagreements between the Senate and the House of Representatives are removed in the conciliation committee, and then the agreed option is again brought up for discussion by both houses. The bill they have passed is signed by the president, who can sign it, veto it, or leave it without consideration. In the first case, the bill gains the force of law; in the second, it becomes law if both houses overcome the presidential veto by a 2/3 majority vote; in the third case, the law becomes effective after ten days and without a presidential signature. If Congress declares a break before ten days, the bill does not become law; such an indirect veto is called pocket.
The most important legislative proposals are currently initiated by the executive branch and sent to Congress through the president. Congress also delegated a significant portion of its legislative powers. The president and government departments typically prescribe many details of laws passed by Congress.
Congress is primarily involved in lawmaking, but both the senator and the congressman spend a lot of time working with their constituents, including considering their complaints against officials.
Finally, an important aspect of the Congress is the conduct of special hearings and investigations, through which it draws public attention to pressing socio-political issues.