Congress is the only legislative branch of government in which both houses of Congress are elected for a term by the people and each house is responsible for its own implementation. Congress began as a body of relatively few politicians who were chosen from political parties at the election of their own party for a fixed period of four years. Congress was established to “rectify the existing laws” and “improve the executive administration”. It is not accountable to the citizens for any acts done in Congress.
Each member of Congress has the constitutional power to legislate, but only one-third of each legislative body is actually present in the house or the Senate at any given time. The Congress may choose to recess or pass a bill on each topic without holding regular session. When the Congress reconvenes it again it begins to vote on all bills that have been passed. The powers of Congress are derived from the Constitution and are not exclusive. Congress possesses plenary powers, except those that are specified in Article VI of the Constitution.
Congress may, by simple majority, override a Presidential decision if the two Houses concur, namely by a majority of votes, after publishing the decision in the Journals of Congress. If the House and the Senate cannot agree on a resolution then the President may send it back to the disapprove the same day and again vote on it the following day. If both Houses approve then it becomes law. The Congress, unlike the presidential executive, may not quorum, i.e. require a super-majority for a quorum call.
The legislative process begins with the introduction of bills. At first glance, many of these seem like simple common sense measures that most people take for granted such as taxing corporations or eliminating the IRS. However, there are some aspects of these types of legislation that are quite technical. For example, the Federal Taxation Act of 1913 authorizes the President to conduct international taxation. An interesting piece of trivia is that although President Woodrow Wilson wanted to tax the gold market, Congress passed a law that his administration could not do so.
There are numerous situations where the Congress has overstepped its boundaries and attempted to deprive the president of his constitutional powers. For example, during the Civil War Congress passed what is known as the Compromise Clause which gave the president the power to negotiate with the Confederates on behalf of the Union. Although most modern legal scholars would view this as a wise act to relieve tension between the warring parties, some southern congressmen felt that the clause empowered the Congress to interfere with state laws that protected the rights of Southern men. In addition, in subsequent decades Congress has attempted to exercise its plenary authority over all aspects of American society including immigration, religious beliefs, corporate property rights, and labor policies. This is known as the supremacy clause.
The Congress also possesses inherent powers which have been defined in the Constitution. These powers include the power of the House and Senate to control the proceedings of legislation, the power of the executive branch to control all agencies and officers of the executive branch, the power of Congress to regulate commerce among states, the power to protect life and natural resources, and the power to appoint cabinet members. In addition, the Supreme Court possesses the inherent constitutional power of interpreting the Constitution and laws of the United States. The separation of powers, which the Constitution vests in the legislative and executive branches of government, gives the American people the ability to check the abuse of power by our elected officials.