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.