The Legislative Branch
Established by Article I of the Constitution, the Legislative Branch consists of
the House of Representatives and the Senate, which together form the United States
Congress. The Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to enact legislation
and declare war, the right to confirm or reject many Presidential appointments,
and substantial investigative powers.
Only after much debate did the Founding Fathers agree on the creation of the House
of Representatives and the Senate. A major issue was how representation in
the legislative body would be determined. Delegates to the Constitutional
Convention from larger and more populated states argued for the Virginia Plan that
called for congressional representation should be based on a state's population.
Fearing domination, delegates from smaller states were just as adamant for equal
representation and supported the New Jersey Plan. Roger Sherman, a delegate
from Connecticut, proposed the bicameral legislature. The Great Compromise,
among other provisions, resulted in the creation of two houses, with representation
based on population in one and with equal representation in the other.
Every two years, voters get to choose all 435 representatives and a third of the
senators. The entire House membership faces re-election every two years, but
the Senate is a continuing body because there is never an entirely new Senate.
A new Congress begins in January following Congressional elections. Since
the First Congress, which met from 1789 to 1791, all Congresses have been numbered
in order. Congress meets once every year and usually lasts from January 3rd
to July 31st, but in special cases, a session can last longer.
In order to pass legislation and send it to the President for his signature, both
the House and the Senate must pass the same bill by majority vote. If the
President vetoes a bill, they may override his veto by passing the bill again in
each chamber with at least two-thirds of each body voting in favor.
For the most part, the House and Senate each meet in their respective chamber in
the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.; however, on rare occasions, they will convene
for a joint session of Congress in the House chamber. For example, a joint
session will be called to count electoral votes for presidential elections.