United States Congress

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
United States Congress
Distribution of seats in the
117th Congress of the United States
(since January 3, 2021)
see also: List of Senate Members ,
List of Members of the House of Representatives
fraction Seats
republican Republican Party 51
Democrats Democratic Party 46
Independent 2
Vacant 1
House of Representatives
Democrats Democratic Party 222
republican Republican Party 211
Vacant 2
Congress, September 9, 2009

President Barack Obama Addresses Congress in the House of Representatives (September 9, 2009)

The Capitol in Washington

The United States Congress ( English United States Congress ) is the legislature of the United States of America . Its seat is the Capitol in Washington, DC. It consists of 435  MPs and 100  Senators . The 117th Congress was constituted on January 3, 2021 .

Since the US Constitution came into force on March 4, 1789, Congress has had two chambers : the US Senate and the US House of Representatives . Under Article I, Section 1 of the US Constitution, Congress has the legislative power to the extent that the federal level is competent .

Every state , regardless of its population, sends two senators. Since 1913, these have been directly elected by the electorate in their state for six years. Until 1913 they were sent to Washington by the parliaments of the individual states. A third of the senators are elected every two years.

The House of Representatives consists of 435 directly elected and voting MPs. There are also six delegates from the District of Columbia , Puerto Rico , American Samoa , Guam , the Northern Mariana Islands and the American Virgin Islands ; however, they are only entitled to vote in committees. The number of Representatives a state sends is determined by its population. A census takes place every ten years , according to which the number of seats in each state is redefined. Today there is one representative for every 700,000 inhabitants; each state has at least one representative. The legislative period is two years.

Elections to the Congress always take place on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November of every even year. So every four years they take place on the same day as the presidential election. Elections without the election of the president are called midterm elections . In many states, governors and their respective state parliaments are also elected. The constitution of the new congress always takes place on January 3rd after the election.

The President of the United States does not have the right to attend sessions of Congress; therefore no seat is provided for him. Once a year he holds a speech on the state of the nation before the deputies ( State of the Union ) . For this purpose, the entire Congress, where the President is led, gathers in the House of Representatives. Immediately after the end of his speech, he leaves the Capitol again without the MPs having the opportunity to ask questions.

The main tasks of the Congress include:

  • legislation
  • Budget law (power of the purse)
  • Control of the executive branch , including the president and the secret services (government oversight)


Bills brought into Congress are discussed and voted on separately by the committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives. If the resolutions differ from one another, an adjustment takes place in the Conference Committee , a kind of mediation committee. This committee is not a permanent body, but is reappointed each time for controversial bills. The president has to sign laws for them to come into effect. The president can only be controlled and restricted in his power through legislation. The War Powers Resolution is an illuminating example of this, since the constitution stipulates that the president is in command of the armed forces, but only Congress can declare war.


The powers of the Congress are set out in Article 1 (particularly Article 1, Section 8) of the Constitution. These responsibilities have been expanded to include the Civil War Constitutional Amendment ( 13th , 14th, and 15th Amendment , which directly mandates Congress to implement the respective provisions of the amendments ) and the 16th Amendment , which governs federal income tax , came into force.

Other sections of the constitution - notably Article 1, Section 9, and the first ten amendments (commonly known as the Bill of Rights ) - curtail the power of Congress.

The general responsibilities of the Congress include:

Some of these responsibilities are now obsolete but remain in force.


The 10th Amendment limits the powers of Congress by making it clear that areas of law that have not been delegated to the federal government remain with the people and the states.

The constitution also prohibits certain laws. This includes:

Congress also has exclusive jurisdiction over the impeachment of federal officials.

Budget law

The constitution explicitly reserves the right to allocate budget funds to the Congress , which ultimately sets the political priorities. The Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 ended the hitherto common practice of circumventing budget law by not spending released funds. Under this law, the president is required to answer questions from Congress if he does not want to spend approved funds. Congress can get its way through a two-thirds majority.

Control of the executive branch

Controlling the executive is arguably the most time consuming task of Congress. On the one hand, Congress can through laws such as B. the War Powers Resolution or the Budget and Impoundment Control Act do justice to this task, on the other hand also through committees that are allowed to interrogate politicians of the executive branch. It is possible that each committee can be transformed into a committee of inquiry. It is also possible to set up special committees of inquiry. Committees of inquiry have facilities similar to those in the courts. They are allowed to summon and interrogate witnesses, demand the surrender of documents by authorities and impose penalties for disregarding Congress if they refuse to testify. The Congress has no access to the President and his staff in the Executive Office due to executive privilege . In order to ensure the best possible control, the Congress has built up its own administrative apparatus parallel to the executive, which includes scientific services and investigative authorities. This includes the Government Accountability Office , which oversees the budget and compliance with it.


Re-election rate, term of office and polarization

Both chambers of the Congress have long been characterized by stability through long-term mandates. The re-election rate of mandate holders is considered high, especially in the House of Representatives with mostly over 90 percent, which is why there is talk of congressional stagnation and many elections in congressional constituencies take place without actual competition. However, 29 senators resigned between 2008 and 2010 with a combined 557 years of Senate experience. In 2019, a maximum of 45 members of the Senate will have already belonged to it before 2011, in the House of Representatives there will be a maximum of 160 (around a third). At the same time, after a phase of relatively large moderation in the middle of the 20th century, the polarization between the two major parties grew significantly since the 1980s and reached a historically high level in the 2010s - although some compared it to the situation at the turn of the 20th century. Stand, which made the non-partisan cooperation in both chambers increasingly difficult. Some experts explain the exceptional situation in the middle of the 20th century with the wide ideological spectrum within the two big parties, which in the southern states represented different values ​​than their party colleagues in the rest of the country (see Solid South ).


Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colorado, Senator 1993-2005, Cheyenne ) and Tom Cole (Oklahoma, currently the only Indigenous Congressman, Chickasaw ) are the only Indigenous American citizens elected to Congress to date (2008). In 2008, journalist Mary Kim Titla ran for the 1st Congressional District in the state of Arizona as the first Indigenous American woman.

Shirley Chisholm from New York was the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress in 1969; it wasn't until 1989 that the first Latin American Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Cuba in Florida succeeded in doing so .

See also


  • Roger H. Davidson, Walter J. Oleszek, Frances E. Lee, Eric Schickler: Congress and Its Members . 15th edition. Sage / CQ Press, London uaO 2016, ISBN 978-1-4833-8888-5 (English).
  • Steven S. Smith, Jason Matthew Roberts, Ryan J. Vander Wielen (Eds.): The American Congress. 9th edition. Cambridge University, Cambridge 2015, ISBN 978-1-107-57178-5 .
  • Eric Schickler, Frances E. Lee (Eds.): The Oxford Handbook of the American Congress (=  Oxford Handbooks ). Oxford University Press, Oxford 2013, ISBN 978-0-19-965052-1 (English).
  • Christoph M. Haas, Winfried Steffani, Wolfgang Welz: The congress . In: Wolfgang Jäger, Christoph M. Haas, Wolfgang Welz (Hrsg.): Government system of the USA. Instructional and manual . 3. Edition. Oldenbourg, Munich / Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-486-58438-7 , pp. 99-128 .
  • Birgit Oldopp: The US political system. An introduction . VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-531-13874-X .
  • Ross English: The United States Congress . Manchester University Press, Manchester 2003, ISBN 0-7190-6308-6 , urn : nbn: de: 0168-ssoar-270939 (English, oapen.org ).

Web links

Commons : United States Congress  - Album of Pictures, Videos, and Audio Files


  1. clerk.house.gov (English).
  2. Art. 1 Section 7
  3. Art. 2 Section 2 Paragraph 1
  4. Art. 1 Section 8
  5. Article 2, Section 8, Clause 5
  6. James E. Campbell: The Stagnation of Congressional Elections. In: Michael J. Malbin (Ed.): Life After Reform. When the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act Meets Politics. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD 2003, pp. 141-158 (PDF) . See also Historical Prevalence of Reelected Representatives in the US House. In: ThirtyThousand.org ; Reelection Rates Over the Years. In: OpenSecrets.org .
  7. Doug Sosnik: Why Congress Rolls Over for Trump. In: Politico , August 2, 2018.
  8. Cynthia R. Farina: Congressional Polarization: Terminal Constitutional Dysfunction? In: Columbia Law Review Volume 115, 2015, pp. 1689-1738 (PDF) .

Coordinates: 38 ° 53 '23 "  N , 77 ° 0' 32"  W.