The Legislative Branch

Trimis la data: 2009-02-21
Materia: Engleza
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"Government implies the power of making laws." Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers, 1787-1788 .Article I of the Constitution grants all legislative powers of the federal government to a Congress divided into two chambers, a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Senate is composed of two members from each state as provided by the Constitution. Its current membership is 100. Membership in the House is based on each state's population, and its size is therefore not specified in the Constitution. Its current membership is 435. For more than 100 years after the adoption of the Constitution, senators were not elected by direct vote of the people but chosen by state legislatures and looked on as representatives of their home states. Their duty was to ensure that their states were treated equally in all legislation. The Seventeenth Amendment, adopted in 1913, provided for direct election of the Senate.

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The delegates to the Constitutional Convention reasoned that if two separate groups -- one representing state governments and one representing the people -- must both approve every proposed law, there would be little danger of Congress passing laws hurriedly or carelessly. One house could always check the other in the manner of the British Parliament.

Passage of the Seventeenth Amendment did not substantially alter this balance of power between the two houses. While there was intense debate in the convention over the makeup and powers of Congress, many delegates believed that the legislative branch would be relatively unimportant. A few believed that the Congress would concern itself largely with external affairs, leaving domestic matters to state and local governments. These views were clearly mistaken.

The Congress has proved to be exceedingly active, with broad powers and authority in all matters of national concern. While its strength vis-a-vis the executive branch has waxed and waned at different periods of American history, the Congress has never been a rubber stamp for presidential decisions.

QUALIFICATIONS OF MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
The Constitution requires that U.S. senators must be at least 30 years of age, citizens of the United States for at least nine years, and residents of the states from which they are elected. Members of the House of Representatives must be at least 25, citizens for seven years, and residents of the states from which they are elected.

The states may set additional requirements for election to Congress, but the Constitution gives each house the power to determine the qualifications of its members. Each state is entitled to two senators. Thus, Rhode Island, the smallest state, with an area of about 3,156 square kilometers, has the same senatorial representation as Alaska, the biggest state, with an area of some 1,524,640 square kilometers.

Wyoming, with an estimated 480,000 persons, has representation equal to that of California, with its population of 32,270,000. The total number of members of the House of Representatives has been determined by Congress. That number is divided among the states according to their populations. Regardless of its population, every state is constitutionally guaranteed at least one member of the House.

At present, seven states -- Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming -- have only one representative. On the other hand, six states have more than 20 representatives -- California alone has 52.

The Constitution provides for a national census each 10 years and a redistribution of House seats according to population shifts. Under the original constitutional provision, the number of representatives was to be no more than one for each 30,000 citizens.

There were 65 members in the first House, and the number was increased to 106 after the first census. Had the 1-to-30,000 formula been adhered to permanently, population growth in the United States would have brought the total number of representatives to about 7,000. Instead, the formula has been adjusted over the years, and today the ratio of representatives to people is about 1-to-600,000.

State legislatures divide the states into congressional districts, which must be substantially equal in population. Every two years, the voters of each district choose a representative for Congress.
Senators are chosen in statewide elections held in even-numbered years. The senatorial term is six years, and every two years one-third of the Senate stands for election. Hence, two-thirds of the senators are always persons with some legislative experience at the national level.

It is theoretically possible for the House to be composed entirely of legislative novices. In practice, however, most members are reelected several times, and the House, like the Senate, can always count on a core group of experienced legislators.

Since members of the House serve two-year terms, the life of a Congress is considered to be two years. The Twentieth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that the Congress will convene in regular session each January 3, unless Congress fixes a different date. The Congress remains in session until its members vote to adjourn -- usually late in the year. The president may call a special session when he thinks it necessary. Sessions are held in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

POWERS OF THE HOUSE AND SENATE
Each house of Congress has the power to introduce legislation on any subject except raising revenue, which must originate in the House of Representatives. The large states may thus appear to have more influence over the public purse than the small states.

In practice, however, each house can vote against legislation passed by the other house. The Senate may disapprove a House revenue bill -- or any bill, for that matter -- or add amendments that change its nature. In that event, a conference committee made up of members from both houses must work out a compromise acceptable to both sides before the bill becomes law.

The Senate also has certain powers especially reserved to that body, including the authority to confirm presidential appointments of high officials and ambassadors of the federal government, as well as authority to ratify all treaties by a two-thirds vote.

In either instance, a negative vote in the Senate nullifies executive action. In the case of impeachment of federal officials, the House has the sole right to bring charges of misconduct that can lead to an impeachment trial. The Senate has the sole power to try impeachment cases and to find officials guilty or not guilty.
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