Congress serves as the legislative branch of the United States government and is responsible for making the laws of the country. It is comprised of two chambers, or parts: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Members of Congress are elected by a direct vote of the people from each state.

The Senate

Each state is represented by two senators, and there are 100 senators in total. Because each state shares the same number of senators, regardless of the differing populations of the states, all are represented equally. Senators hold office for six years. Every two years, one-third of the Senate is up for reelection. In order to become a senator, candidates must be at least 30 years old, have been a U.S. citizen for at least nine years, and be a resident of the state they represent.

The House of Representatives

There are 435 total members in the House of Representatives. Every state has at least one representative in the House. A state’s population determines how many representatives each state is given, so states with more residents have more representatives. Members of the House of Representatives serve a two-year term. In order to run for a seat in the House, candidates must be at least 25 years old, have been a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and live in the state they seek to represent.

Because the number of representatives for each state is based on population, the distribution of House seats is reapportioned, or redistributed, every 10 years based on the U.S. Census. The total number of seats is fixed at 435. Therefore, during reapportionment, some states may lose seats while others gain them.

There are also nonvoting delegates who serve in the House from American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the nation's capital, the District of Columbia. Additionally, there is a resident commissioner from Puerto Rico.

Powers of Congress

The U.S. Constitution defines the powers specifically given to Congress. These include making laws, declaring war, levying taxes, borrowing money, and impeaching and convicting the president.

In order for a bill to become law, it must pass both chambers by a majority vote. It is then sent to the president, who can either sign it into law or veto the bill to stop it from becoming law. However, the bill can still become law by an override, if it is approved by a two-thirds vote of both chambers.

Each legislative chamber has the power to introduce legislation, but some powers are specifically designated for one chamber or the other. Revenue and spending bills must originate in the House. Only the House can impeach federal officials, a legal proceeding in which an official is accused of misconduct that can result in their removal from office. The House is also responsible for deciding who will become president in cases where no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes.

The Senate has sole responsibility for ratifying treaties and approving the appointment of nominees by the president for certain government positions, such as Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, and U.S. Ambassadors. Impeachment trials are conducted in the Senate after referral by the House.

Congress

The United States Capitol building houses both chambers of Congress. The primary responsibility of the Senate and the House of Representatives is to create and pass legislation.

Noun

program of a nation, state, or other region that counts the population and usually gives its characteristics, such as age and gender.

election
Noun

selection of people to public office by vote.

House of Representatives
Noun

federal branch of Congress in the United States, with state representatives elected every two years.

impeach
Verb

to charge with a crime or misdemeanor (most commonly used for politicians).

legislative
Adjective

having the power to make rules or laws.

majority
Noun

number of votes by which someone wins an election

reapportionment
Noun

redistribution of representation in a legislative body

representative
Noun

someone or something who acts in place of a group of people.

Senate
Noun

elected lawmaking assembly.

senator
Noun

a member of the Senate.

Noun

official agreement between groups of people.

veto
Noun

right of one branch of government to cancel or delay the action of another.