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The Legislative Branch

Legislate - to make law

Legislature - A body of lawmakers (Congress, Assembly, etc.)

Legislator - An individual lawmaker

When our system of government was created the fears that our founding fathers had about tyranny still existed. To prevent the abuse of power several systems were created. Federalism was created to ensure that state governments could exercise local control and Separation of Powers was created to further divide the power of the national government. Separation of Powers has within it a system of checks and balances. These checks and balances set one branch of government against the other to ensure a healthy competition. This competition safeguards against one branch gaining too much power.

Internally, the legislative branch has its own way of balancing power. The legislative branch, as you know is broken up into two parts or houses. This is known as a bicameral legislature. Each of the houses of Congress has its differences and there are something they must do together as well. See the charts below as a guide:

Differences Between The House and the Senate


House of Representatives

Number of Senators per state is equal for each state.

  • 2 per state
  • 100 total members
  • Each Senator is elected to a 6 year term.

The Senate:

  • Ratifies Treaties
  • Ratifies Appointments of cabinet positions, Supreme Court and Federal Court judges and other officials.
  • Conducts trials after impeachment - can convict and remove

Number of Representatives per state is based upon the population of each state.

  • 435 total members
  • Each Representative to the House serves a 2 year term.

The House:

  • Must pass all spending bills before they go to the Senate.
  • Can bring Articles of Impeachment (official statement of charges and request to remove from office) against members of the executive branch and judicial branch.

Things the Senate and House Must Do Together

Both Together

Must both pass a bill in order for it to become a law.

Must both vote to override a presidential veto with a 2/3 vote in order to override.

Must both vote to propose and amendment by a 2/3 vote.

How A Bill Becomes A Law (the simple version!)

STEP ONE - An idea is developed

Ideas can be generated by a variety of sources.

  • Individual citizens and citizens groups may pressure members of government to take an action.
  • Members of local government may request that members of a higher level of government take action.
  • Interest Groups (organized groups of citizens that share a common political goal) may pressure Congress.
  • PAC's (Political Action Committees) may apply pressure. A PAC is like an interest group.
  • All of these groups may hire "lobbyists" to plead their case. A lobbyist is a professional who goes and speaks to congressmen to get something done.

STEP TWO - The legislation gets "sponsored" and introduced.

  • A congressmen, or several, must be interested enough in the idea to write it up and officially send it to the House or Senate with their name on it. This is called "sponsoring" the bill.
  • When the send the bill to the floor of the house or Senate this is known as being "introduced."

STEP THREE - The bill is assigned to a committee

  • The Speaker of the House or Majority Leader of the Senate assign the bill to an appropriate committee.
  • The committee debate the bill and holds "hearings."
  • The committee votes on the bill and either give it a favorable recommendation or an unfavorable recommendation.

STEP FOUR - The bill must get voted on and pass the House or Senate (wherever it started) with a majority vote.

STEP FIVE - The bill goes to the other chamber and repeats the process. THE BILL MUST PASS BOTH HOUSES!

  • If the bill started in the House it then must pass the same system in the Senate.
  • If the bill started in the Senate it then must pass the same system in the House.
  • Sometimes a bill does go through both at the same time.

STEP SIX - Differences in the bills passed in both houses must be worked out at "Conference Committee."

  • Conference Committee are the leading members of the House and Senate from both Political Parties.

STEP SEVEN - The bill goes before the President.

  • The President may sign the bill. It then become a law.
  • The President may veto the bill. It then may be overridden with 2/3 vote of the House and Senate.
  • If the President lets the bill sit on his desk for ten days without taking any action and Congress is still in session the bill automatically passes (pocket pass).
  • If the President lets the bill sit on his desk for ten days without taking any action and Congress ends their session before ten days are up the bill automatically fails (pocket veto).

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