Not sure about the functions performed by the legislative branch of the government? Wondering how it impacts the overall functioning of the government? You’re not the only one with these questions. This article will help you learn all about what does the legislative branch do, what makes up a legislature and why it is an important branch of the government.
Many people run the other way as soon as they hear the word “politics” and while everyone has the right to stick by their personal preferences, it is the responsibility of every citizen to understand and gain basic knowledge about how a government works. This not only helps you become a woke member of the society, but also helps you perform your civic duties including casting a vote, obeying federal and local laws and paying taxes.
Having a healthy discussion on such topics is especially important for parents because it gives them the ability to impart knowledge to their children about the government. This is essential as it helps the young become good citizens of the society from a very young age. That being said, talking about the state of affairs from time to time is not as deplorable as perceived.
There are three basic branches of a government, each having a distinct quality and duty to be performed. These branches i.e. legislature, executive and judiciary work in coherence with each other to ensure that the government runs smoothly for the betterment of the citizens and the country as a whole.
To understand how policy is made, executed and appraised, it is essential that you learn how each branch works, what constitutes each branch and what are the functions associated with them. For this very reason, this article is aimed at making the reader understand the legislative branch of the government. It will answer all queries you may have related to the topic and help you become a woke citizen in a matter of minutes.
Read along to find out all about what does a legislative branch do, what makes it so important and how it affects the overall functioning of the government.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is the legislative branch?
- 2 What is the house of representatives?
- 3 What is the senate?
- 4 Duties of the legislative branch
- 5 The legislative process
- 6 Powers of the congress
- 7 Branch organizations of the legislature
- 8 Conclusion
What is the legislative branch?
The Legislative branch is the lawmaking branch of the government. It is responsible for enacting laws of the state along with appropriating the money required to operate a government smoothly.
In the case of the United States, the legislature, under Article 1 of the constitution, is made up of two sub-branches or two parts, the US Senate and the US House of Representatives which makes up the congress. The congress gets together at the capitol to discuss and decide legislation. They have also been granted the sole authority to declare war on another country.
Other than drafting proposed laws, the legislature confirms or rejects the Presidential nominations for the heads of federal agencies, the federal judges and the supreme court. American citizens have been granted the right to vote for the representatives and the senators through confidential ballots.
This legislative branch also includes some other organizations such as the National Archives, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Library of Congress.
What is the house of representatives?
Now that we have some idea about what a legislature is, we will move towards helping you learn about the sub-branches associated with this part of the government.
The House of Representatives is a legislative body of the US government. It is one of the two houses of the bicameral US Congress, established in 1789. This sub-branch is made up of 435 members, all of whom have been elected by the US citizens to serve for two years in office. Together with the Senate, the House of Representatives makes up the congress which represents the interests of the citizens.
The number of representatives designated to each state is in accordance with their population. Each state is guaranteed at least one appointee for the House of Representatives.
Other than the 50 states of the United states, the District of Columbia and other territories such as Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands also have their own representatives. However, these representatives are not elected by the population.
The constitution requires that the members of the House of Representatives must be 25 years of age and a US citizen for at least seven years. However, he is not required to reside in the constituency that he represents.
The House of Representatives has certain exclusive powers including the right to initiate impeachment proceedings and to originate revenue bills.
What is the senate?
The US Senate is one of the two legislative bodies of the government that make up the congress. Each state has two senators representing them; hence, there are a total of 100 senators in congress. Senators are elected by the citizens for a term of six years. Just like the House of Representatives, the Senate also represents the interests of the citizens.
The Senate has the authority to overturn a veto by the President with a two-thirds majority vote. The vice President of the government serves as the President of the Senate and can cast a tie breaking vote in the event of a split in the chamber. Senate minority and majority leaders act as spokespeople for their respective parties. This sub-branch also has the authority to try an impeachment case and carry out investigations related to other branches of the government.
Unlike the House of Representatives where all members are required to stand for election after every 2 years, only one-third of the senators’ seats are filled with each general election. Long Senate terms provide stability and continuity to the congress and reduce the immediate pressure of the public opinion on the members of the Senate.
Criteria for becoming a senator includes:
- Being at least 30 years of age
- Must be a citizen for 9 years
- Must reside in the state he or she is representing at the time of the election
Duties of the legislative branch
Now that you know about the sub-branches of congress here is a list of the duties performed by the legislative bodies:
Drafting proposed laws
The legislative process starts in the house and the Senate. Either of the the two can originate a bill to be researched, debated and voted upon in the chambers. If the bill is passed is one body of the congress, it must be sent to the other body for approval before it proceeds to the President. This bill is then signed by the President and turns into a law
Confirming and rejecting nominations
Nomination of officials can be accepted or rejected by the legislature. These nominations can be the heads of federal agencies, federal judges, the supreme court and the President.
The only body of the US government that is allowed to declare war on another country is the congress. This has been done on 11 occasions in American History.
Some other duties of this government branch includes:
- Raising and providing public money along with overseeing its proper expenditure
- Trying federal agents
- Approving treaties negotiated by the executive branch
- Oversight and investigations
The legislative process
The first phase
The first step of the legislative process starts with the introduction of a bill to the congress. Anyone can write this bill, but only members of the congress can introduce it. Important bills are usually introduced in congress at the request of the President. An example of such a bill is the annual federal budget. During the legislative process, the initial bill can undergo major and minor changes.
Once the bill is introduced, it is referred to the appropriate committee for review. There are a total of 23 house committees with 104 sub-committees and 17 Senate committees and 70 sub-committees. These committees are by no means set in stone. They change in form and number with each new congress as per their requirements to ensure efficiency. Each committee is required to oversee a specific policy area and the subcommittees take on even more specialized policy areas.
A bill is always first considered in a subcommittee before it is rejected, amended or accepted. Once all the members of the subcommittee agree to move forward with a bill, it is reported to the full committee where the process is repeated. Throughout this process, the committees and subcommittees call hearings in order to investigate the merits, demerits and flaws of the bill. Experts and advocates are invited to appear before the opponents and the committee to provide testimony and can also compel people to appear using subpoena power when necessary.
The second phase
Once the bill comes up for consideration, the house carries out a thorough structured debate. Each member of the house is allowed to speak up about it, but only has a few minutes to do so. Moreover, any amendments made are usually small in number and limited. However, in the case of the Senate, the debates on the bill are limitless.
Senators are allowed to speak about issues other than the bill itself as well. Any amendment can be introduced by them. At times , senators use their time to talk on other matters in order to delay the vote on the bill under consideration. This is known as filibuster and can be broken down by a supermajority of 60 senators that may invoke cloture or the cession of the debate on the bill and forcing a vote. Once the debate is over, the votes of the simple majority will help pass the bill.
The third phase
A bill must pass both of the houses before it reaches the President for consideration. Although the constitution requires that the two bills have the exact same wording, this rarely ever happens in practice. To make sure that the bills are aligned, a conference committee is convened, consisting of members from both the chambers. A conference report is produced by the members of the committee. This is done to develop a final version of the bill. Depending on where this bill originated from, the final text of the bill is then enrolled by either the secretary of the Senate or the clerk of the house and then presented to the speaker of the house and the President of the Senate for their signatures.
The fourth phase
The bill is then sent to the President. The President after receiving the bill has several options. If he or she agrees with the bill, it shall be signed into law and then printed in the statutes at large. On the other hand, if the President thinks that the bill reflects a bad policy he or she can veto it and send it back to the congress. Under such circumstances, the congress can override the veto by a two-thirds vote of each chamber. At this point, the bill becomes a law and is printed.
There are two other options available to the President. If the congress is in session and the President takes no action for up to ten days, the bill becomes a law. Another scenario is that the congress adjourns before 10 days and the President takes no action either,
then the bill dies and congress may not vote to override it. This is called pocket veto. If the congress still wants to pass this bill, it will be required to begin the entire process from the start.
Powers of the congress
Congress is a part of the three coequal branches of the U.S. government and is ascribed with significant powers under the constitution. All legislative power in the government is vested in the congress. This means that it is the only part of the government that can change existing laws and make new ones. While the President has the power to veto a bill passed by the congress, the congress has the authority to override this veto by a two-third vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Article 1 of the American constitution enumerates the powers of the congress and the specific areas in which it is allowed to legislate. Congress has also been empowered to enact laws it deems necessary and proper for the execution of the powers given to any part of the government under the constitution.
Congress’s legislative authority also allows it to establish an annual budget for the government.
To this end, congress levies tariffs and taxes to provide funding for essential government services. If enough money has not been raised to fund the government, then congress can authorize borrowing to make up for the difference. Moreover, it can also mandate spending on specific items. Legislative directed spending is often called “earmarks” and it specifies funds for a particular project rather than for a government agency.
In addition, both chambers of the congress have extensive investigative powers and may ask for evidence or testimony toward whatever end they deem necessary. Members of the congress spend a lot of time holding hearings and investigations in committees. Refusal to cooperate with congress can result in charges of contempt in congress which could result in a prison term for the people involved.
On the other hand, the Senate maintains several powers to itself. It consents to the ratification of treaties by a two-thirds supermajority vote and also confirms the appointment of the President by a majority vote. In case of trade agreements and confirmation of the Vice President, the consent of the House of Representatives is also necessary.
Branch organizations of the legislature
As mentioned before, other than the congress, the legislature is made up of various organizations that assist the body in getting work done. This part of the article will discuss the functions of these various organizations to further strengthen your understanding about the legislative branch of the government.
Center for legislative archives
This organization is a part of the National Archives and Records Administration. It preserves and makes available to many researchers the historical records of the US House of Representatives and Senate. In order to promote a better understanding of congress and the history of the American government, the branch carries out outreach programs all around the country.
The center for legislative archives maintains a research room to provide on-site reference assistance to those interested. The archives are staffed by 14 employees which includes a director, seven professional archivists, supervisory archives specialist for outreach, two archives technicians, a congressional relations specialist, one electronic records specialist and an exhibit specialist.
Congressional budget office (CBO)
The CBO analyzes the effects of work support on employment, work requirements and income of participants in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid. CBO also assesses how changing work supports and work requirements in those programs would affect the federal budget. In a lot of cases, the volume of those effects is highly uncertain.
The Congressional Budget office has also been advised to publish “The Budget and Economic Outlook. This report shall include an updated budget and economic projections. The organization has also been known for analyzing America’s military forces resources.
Government accountability office (GAO)
The Government Accountability Office provides the congress, the heads of executive agencies and the public with fact-based, timely non-partisan information that is then used to improve the government and save the taxpayers billions of dollars. GAO carries out work at the request of the congressional committee or subcommittee.
In 2021, GAO celebrated a century of service as a service of non-partisan and objective information on government operations. It plays a key role in helping congress improve the performance of the government by ensuring transparency and saving money.
Government publishing office (GPO)
The GPO as an organization has been publishing trusted information for the Federal Government and the American people. It produces and distributes information, products and services to all three branches of the government including the US passports for the Department of State as well as the official publications of congress, the White House and other federal agencies in print and digital formats.
Other than that, it operates different distribution centers that fulfill orders for Government publications. In addition, it provides permanent public access to information related to the Federal Government at no charge through gov info and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP).
Library of congress
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of newspapers, books, recordings, manuscripts and maps in its collections. This library is the focal research arm of the US congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. It preserves and provides access to a rich, enduring and diverse source of knowledge to engage, inform and inspire people to take part in intellectual and creative endeavors. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the country.
The collection in the library continues to grow at a rate of about two million items per year. It serves members, committees, staff of U.S congress and other government agencies throughout the country. The Library of Congress offers many lectures, concerts and exhibitions for the general public. Those living outside of Washington, where the library is located, have access to the electronic resources of the library through their website.
The legislature is one of the three most significant branches of the government. In order to understand how a government works, it is important that you understand the functions carried out by the two chambers of the legislature. Gaining knowledge on such topics makes you a woke citizen, it assists you in performing your civic duties which is essential for any country around the world.