The Legislative Branch
The main function of the legislative branch within the federal government is to make laws—the constitution gives Congress sole authority on this as well as declaring war, confirming or rejecting Presidential appointments, and some investigative powers. In the federal government, the House of Representatives and the Senate—Congress—are the main bodies that have these responsibilities.
Who’s Who in Congress?
The House of Representatives
The House of Representatives is made up 435 members from all 50 states. The number of representatives from each state depends on population, and 6 of the members are non-voting representatives from territories like Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.
To become a member of the House of Representatives, you have to be at least 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and a resident of the state (but not necessarily the district) you represent.
The house has some powers that the Senate doesn’t, “including the power to initiate revenue bills, impeach federal officials, and elect the President in the case of an electoral college tie”
The Speaker of the House is a representative from the majority party who is voted into this position. In this role, the responsibilities include “the institutional role of presiding officer and administrative head of the House, the role of leader of the majority party in the House, and the representative role of an elected member of the House. The Speaker of the House is second in line to succeed the President, after the Vice President.” Today, the Speaker of the House is Paul Ryan.
Unlike the House of Representatives, each state has the same number of voting members. Two senators from each state make up the total of 100 voting members of the Senate.
Senators must be at least 30 years old, and they serve six year terms. Not all states vote for their senators at the same time, terms are overlapping so that the senate is never completely made up of newly elected senators.
Just like the House has some powers that the Senate doesn’t, the Senate is solely responsible for certain things: “It ratifies treaties by a two-thirds supermajority vote and confirms the appointments of the President by a majority vote. The consent of the House of Representatives is also necessary for the ratification of trade agreements and the confirmation of the Vice President.”
The Vice President presides over the Senate, but “He presides over the Senate only on ceremonial occasions or when a tie-breaking vote may be needed. When the vice president is absent, the president pro tempore presides over the Senate. Junior senators fill in as presiding officer when neither the vice president nor president pro tempore is on the Senate Floor.”