(FiveNation.com) – Whether it’s admiration, disdain, or something in between, almost everyone has an opinion on our government. However, not as many people have an in-depth understanding of how it works.
To prevent any individual or entity from becoming too powerful, there are three separate branches of government; the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. Congress is the legislative branch and is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
There are some key differences between the two houses of Congress, and some key principles to learn about how the two cooperate and interact. It’s important to remember the Senate and the House are equally powerful, though they exercise their influence in different ways.
The Senate is the smaller of the two houses of Congress. With two Senators apiece, every state has equal representation in the Senate; unlike the House, the Senate makes no allowances for population size. An elected Senator represents their entire state in Congress.
Senators serve six-year terms. Senate elections take place every two years, but only one-third of Senate seats go up for election in a given term. Until the 17th Amendment became law in 1913, state legislatures elected Senators rather than the people themselves.
The House of Representatives
With 435 voting members, the House is much larger than the Senate. House members represent their congressional district rather than their entire state. The number of congressional districts varies from one state to the next based on population. As the state with the most inhabitants, California currently has the greatest number of House members at 55.
House terms last two years, with elections taking place every even-numbered year. Originally, the House was the only congressional body directly elected by the American people and was intended to have closer links to the public than the Senate.
Relationship With the Executive and the Judiciary
As well as moderating each other, the Senate and the House monitor the actions of the executive and judicial branches to ensure effective separation of powers. There are a few ways in which this happens.
If House members feel a president has violated laws, committed acts against the best interests of the country, or violated the Constitution, they can initiate impeachment proceedings. It then falls to the Senate to adjudicate the charge; they require a two-thirds majority to remove a president from office.
Either house of Congress may sponsor a bill to start the process of making it a law. Having successfully passed its original house, the bill must then go to the other house for approval. Once Congress agrees on the content of a bill, the president has an opportunity to review it and either approve or veto it. The Supreme Court may also strike down laws it deems unconstitutional.
Staying Informed About American Government
It’s difficult to think of a time in our history when leaders have had as much to deal with as right now. With so many important issues facing our society, electing the right public representatives has never been so important. Learning how our government works at every level is the first step toward making sensible choices in the ballot box.
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