The Legislative Branch
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The Basics

As defined by the United States Constitution in order to create a system of checks and balances, the U.S. Congress is composed of two houses, forming a bicameral legislative branch. The first house is the Senate, which is comprised of two representatives from every state in the union regardless of population. The second house is the House of Representatives, in which every state is allotted a different number of representatives proportionate to population. The creation of two branches was the product of a compromise for politicians who wanted all states to be equally represented and politicians who wanted larger states to have a more influential voice in law-making.

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The Senate

Article One of the United States Constitution sets the following guidelines for the structure of the Senate:

  • Senate shall be composed of two Senators from each state
  • Senators will serve a term of 6 years
  • Each Senator shall have one vote

Article One sets the following qualifications for a person who can serve as a Senator:

  • Must be at least 35 years old
  • Must be a citizen of the U.S. for at least 9 years
  • Must be an inhabitant of the state he or she represents

Article One sets the following guidelines for the process of election Senators:

  • Senators will be chosen by their state legislature1
  • Elections of the Senators shall be staggered into three classes so that every two years, one third of the Senate will be up for re-election
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The House of Representatives

Article One of the United States Constitution sets the following guidelines for the structure of the House of Representatives:

  • House shall be composed of Representatives from each state proportionate to population
  • Representatives will serve a term of 2 years
  • Each Representative shall have one vote

Article One sets the following qualifications for a person who can serve as a Representative:

  • Must be at least 25 years old
  • Must be a citizen of the U.S. for at least 7 years
  • Must be an inhabitant of the state he or she represents

Article One sets the following guidelines for the process of election Senators:

  • Representatives will be chosen directly by the people of the state
  • Elections of the Representatives will occur every two years for every member of the House

Congressional Powers

Article One of the U.S. Constitution enumerates Congress's legislative powers, which include:

  • To lay and collect taxes
  • To borrow money on credit of the U.S.
  • To regulate commerce with foreign nations, states, and Indian tribes
  • To coin money
  • To establish post offices and roads
  • To promote the progress of science and art
  • To define and punish piracies and felonies on the high seas
  • To declare war
  • To raise and support armies and navies
  • To make all laws "necessary and proper"

And many others that can be seen in Section 8 of Article One here.

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