Congress

The founders of the U.S. created three branches of government to ensure a balance of power: the legislative branch (also called Congress), the judicial branch and the executive branch. This arrangement creates a system of checks and balances to keep one branch from wielding too much power. Remember, the founders of this country had just fought to gain their independence from the exclusive power exhibited by England’s King George, and wanted to avoid such a situation in their newly formed country.

You can see an example of how the system works when the legislative branch votes to pass a law. Before it goes into law, the executive branch must approve and sign it and the judicial branch must ensure that it does not defy the Constitution. Each branch has the opportunity to use their power to stop another branch from controlling too much.

Congress, also called the legislative branch, consists of two groups with equal power; the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate has 100 members who represent all the states, and the House of Representatives has 435 members, also elected at the state level.

The Senate has fewer members because each state, regardless of size has two Senators. This allows smaller or less populated states equal representation as the larger, more populated states. Senators must be at least 30 years old, U.S Citizens for at least nine years and residents of the state they represent. Senators campaign for election ever}' six years within their home state. Residents of that state may elect a Senator for as many terms as they like.

The Senate has specific functions only they can perform, including voting on any treaties the President proposes, as well as any people the President recommends for jobs, and holding a trial for a government official.

The House of Representatives obtains its members based on state population. Each member represents a section of the state called a congressional district, and the number of these districts determines the number of representatives for that state. Each state must have at least one seat, but states with larger populations have more representation than states with smaller populations. Five non-voting delegates represent areas outside the U.S. including American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

State Representatives must be at least 25 years old, U.S. citizens for at least seven years and residents of the state they represent. Each representative serves a term of two years with no limit to the number of terms he/she can serve.

The two special functions that House Representatives perform include starting tax legislation and deciding if a government official should go to trial for a crime committed against the country.