Legislative Branch

Right now, I’d like to talk about the legislative branch of the US Federal Government. As we know, the legislative branch is one of three branches.

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The executive and the judicial branch are the other two. The legislative is one of the most visible. Who knows where the legislative branch meets? In what building?

The next lesson: Monarchic Government, both lessons are included in Practice Tests.

The following transcript is provided for your convenience.

Yes, the Capitol building. And you’ll see this a lot in different literature, it’s a very recognizable structure. Now, how many different divisions are there within the legislative branch? There’s two. You have the Senate, which has 100 members, and then you have the House of Representatives, which has 435 members. Now, there’s 535 total. These are distributed. You have two, one for each state. And then, these 435 are distributed across the different states on the basis of population. And so, a state like Wyoming is going to have fewer than California, which is a much more popular state.

Now, the primary goal, if you had to sum it up, of what the legislative branch does is they make laws. But that isn’t the only thing they do. They’re given a number of powers from the US Constitution which was established in 1787. What are some of the powers that they do? Taxing. The US Congress is the branch that is responsible for taxes. So, if you want to complain about taxes, you can take it up with Congress. So, they deal with taxes, and part of that, when you take in money that’s revenue, but then they’re also responsible for the spending side of that, and so, spending, because they come up with the federal budget. And so, all the money that gets spent, Congress is the one that decides where it gets spent.

What are some other things that they are responsible for? Congress is the only body that is authorized to declare war. I know in recent history, it seems that Presidents have just been taking executive powers under their own authority, and effectively declaring war, but Congress is authorized by the US Constitution to declare war. And so, for example, in World War II, it was Congress that voted to declare war on first, Japan, and then Germany as we got into World War II.

What else? Impeach. If a President does something that everyone considers to be treasonous, or horrendous enough that they should be removed from public office, the Constitution has given the legislative branch to power to impeach the President and other members that are considered to need to be removed. Now, the House of Representatives can hold a vote to impeach, and then the Senate will have a separate trial on the impeachment, and it’s got to go through both houses of Congress to be able to remove an officer from their position.

What else? Treaties. The Constitution establishes the President as the person that is authorized as an American to go to other countries and deal with their leaders, and try to make foreign treaties. But once the President comes back, Congress is the one that has to vote to approve those treaties. And again, there’s a check and balance here. The President can initially negotiate it because it’s better to have one person sitting across the table and making those negotiations, but Congress has oversight to make sure tha treaty is in a way that the American people are going to agree with.

What else? The Congress has the authority to set jurisdiction. And so, there’s been some talk, in fact, of passing legislation and saying that the courts can’t touch this. Congress can say that a certain area is off limits to the judiciary, and so, while the judiciary has judicial oversight and judicial review over the laws that Congress passes, it is permitted by the Constitution for Congress to just say that, hands off, and the judiciary has no authority to deal with something. And so, they set the jurisdiction of the courts.

Any others? As you can see, the primary focus is to make laws, but there are a lot of other very important things that the legislative branch is responsible for, and sometimes when you think that, you know, a lot of stuff, there’s conflict and gridlock, it’s because you have these two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate. And something has to go through both houses to be able to become legislation, for a treaty to come into effect.

And another thing is to confirm appointments. When the President appoints his Cabinet officers, if Congress doesn’t like those Cabinet officers, they can vote not to confirm the appointment. Or judicial appointments. The President makes a lot of appointment of judges. For example, Supreme Court Judges. But Congress has to approve those selections, and if they don’t, then the President has to go back to the drawing board and find another appointee to make.

So, a lot to remember, but this is a very important branch of our government, and through making laws, it impacts our lives every day.

The next lesson: Monarchic Government, both lessons are included in Practice Tests.