Critically Analyze The Main Functions And Power

Critically Analyze The Main Functions And PowerIntroduction:

Congress, which is made up of the House of Representatives and Senate is seen as the most independently powerful legislature in the world as it is fiercely protective of its constitutional position. Its main aim is to exert independence from executive influence, which in many occasions it has, especially its stance with the Health Care Bill. This independence derives from the constitution as the founding fathers suggested Congress was to be “the central element of the new political system” allowing Congress to perform checks and balances on a powerful executive. Congress is the branch of government closest to the people and the framers of the Constitution intended it to be the most powerful. Although, in the nineteenth and twentieth century, Congress has decreased in importance as the powers of the presidency expanded. Constitutionally it was given three main powers, all of which remain important today. First, all legislative power is vested in the house of reps and the senate, and within this broad function, Congress is given special powers to appropriate monies, raise armies and regulate interstate commerce. Second, the house of reps has the right to declare war. Lastly, the Senate is given the power to ratify treaties and approve appointments by the president to the judiciary and executive branch. However, it has been suggested that Congress is the broken branch of the three branches of government because of how well it performs its functions and powers.

1st paragraph

Main function – legislature

The Philadelphia Convention 1787 gave Congress the power of being the primary law making body in the US. Members of Congress formulate and pass laws, it is an important actor in the policy process as it was intended that Congress should initiate any undertaking of government in domestic matters. For example both the House and Senate passed their own versions of the heath care bill. In 2010 the House of Reps passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act and the senate version, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Without Congress’ support presidents will find it very hard to pass laws. This was evident in the Obama administration with the health care bill many Republicans blocked proposals made by Democrats. When it comes to foreign issues Congress are more willing to give the President their support than domestic issues. E.g. Congress showed their support for Obama with regards to ending the Iraq War.

This is the main aim of the Congress; it is a legislator and has exclusive powers when it comes to passing laws. Although it is the only institution that has power to actually pass laws, the president also plays a role in the legislative process. He has power in the form of a veto, all bills passed by Congress must be signed by the president before they can become law. The president if he doesn't agree is under no obligations to sign it, instead he can return it Congress.

However Congress can override the presidents’ veto if they have two-thirds majority both the senate and the house.

The majority of work regarding legislation in the Congress is done using committees and sub-committees. Also because there is so much works and so much legislation, most members of the congress specialize in a special policy area that normally relates to their constituents interests, but this is not always the case.

Counter argument:
Congress has an important role in ratifying treaties. The senate rejected the treaty of Versailles showing that Congress has an extensive amount of power to influence US foreign policy.
Guantanamo Bay – Despite Obama issuing an executive order for the closure of the torture camp, legally binding laws and Congress made it hard for Obama to act effectively in this situation. The camp is still open which shows the extent of Congress’ power in performing its roles and functions and can be characterized as a dangerous and unprecedented challenge to critical executive branch authority.

Has ultimate control of the budget. The House of Representatives approves the raising of taxes and between them both houses of Congress agree how it is to be spent. The president’s budget for the activities of the federal government has to be approved by the legislature, which can shape it, change it or disapprove of it entirely.

Oversight of the executive branch

Congress has a legitimate claim to the management and direction of the executive branch. They oversee executive to prevent breaching of civil liberties and constitutional rights, they also scrutinize the executive in making sure it is efficient and effective. Checks and balances on the executive esp when it comes to legislation.


Representative function in a sense underlies all its other functions. The gov of the USA is often coined as a “representative gov” but to what extent does this term apply to Congress. Congress consists of over 600 members therefore representation needs to be strong in order to maintain democracy and ensure representatives have a direct mandate to the people, however in Congress representatives are not very reflective of the electorate. Typically the majority of Congress representatives are white, middle-aged, college educated white males. In the 110th Congress (2007-9) only 71 females were elected in the House and only 16 senators were women, there was also only one black senator and 40 representatives.

Members of Congress are elected to help represent their constituents. The US political system is very different from the British system where MP’s are elected and then join parties and try to pass legislation, which then benefits the nation. Members of Congress are elected directly by the people in order to push for the interests of the constituent they are from.
“If they fail in the opinion of the electorate to defend and promote these interests, they are punished in subsequent elections.”

The influence that party has on members is a lot smaller than that of constituency pressure. Representatives are elected every two years in the HOR and Senators are elected using a system where one third of the Senate is elected for their six-year term every two years.

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