Primary Structures and Roles of Congress
The Congress is an arm of government tasked with the responsibility of carrying out the legislative functions of the federal government. The drafters the Constitution were deeply interested in stipulating the lawmaking role to a body that represented its citizenry effectively. The executive and the judiciary were not appropriate for such a role since they were not appointed to their positions with the exception of a few elected individuals like the president. Congress was therefore a comprehensive unit with prerequisite mandate from the people to represent them and meet set objectives. Congress is a collective name for two houses that is the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two units form the Congress and undertake major roles that are quite significant in proper functioning of systems within the nation.
The bicameral set up of Congress offers an efficient mechanism that ensures laws are structured correctly and are thoroughly reviewed to meet legislative objectives. Representatives are often elected and serve for only two years. They represent populations that are based on states often defined as regards to the population spread within a district. Senators are representatives of entire states and are elected to serve for six years. In order to qualify for membership in the Congress, one needs to meet certain qualifications in terms of age, citizenship, and residency (Cox 2). For an individual to be a participant of the House of Representatives they need to have a minimum age of 25 years old. A senator should be at least 30 years old. To be a member of the house, one should have been a U.S citizen for at least seven years while to be a senator the requirement for citizenship should be at a minimum of nine years. Both need to be residents of the states they are seeking to be elected in. It is often argued that the representatives are more in touch with the needs of the electorate since they interact with them closely and have to serve them since they have shorter terms and might need to gratify in order to get reelected. However, such perceptions are continually changing in the society due to the technological factors on the ground and the media coverage of duties of Congress. The electorate can now access the performance of both senators and representatives in Congress through media reports and coverage.
For proper functioning of the Congress, there are certain checks and balances that have been put in place to guide their roles and duties and ensure there are no excesses from any houses. The two houses do compete to a certain degree in the legislation process, even though, most times one political party controls them. Individual chambers often ensure that their powers and prerogatives are protected from infringement from the other chamber. The Constitution has contributed to this competition by delegating unique roles to the Senate and House of Representatives. For instance, it is only the Senate that can approve treaties, confirm presidential nominations, and attempt to impeach the presidency. The House of Representatives has the directive to originate on impeachment and legislate solely on bills that are concerned with raising revenues. Even though competition between the houses is rife, cooperation between them is essential since legislation has to be passed in identical forms from both chambers. The best system of checks and balances is in the form of the presidency, and can veto any bill sent to him prompting legislators to consider his opinions on the same (Cox 2). However, they can override the president by garnering two-thirds of the votes in both houses. Such a mechanism ensures that the majority have their way in a democratic set up that is fair to everyone.
There are significant roles of Congress that are quite sensitive and have an enormous impact on the economic, political, and social structures in America. These functions are established in the Constitution as stipulated in Article 1 of the Constitution specifically in Section 8. This specific part of the constitution delegates certain powers to the legislature and stipulates the specific roles that it plays as it endeavors to deliver on legislature that can guide the society. The article identifies many powers of Congress, but four are quite significant and have an enormous impact on the country. The four categories are creation and collection of taxes, establishment of the federal budget, the creation of domestic laws, and management of foreign affairs.
- The role of Congress in creation and collection of taxes.
The most important role of Congress is to establish the taxes that need to be paid and collect those taxes using appropriate government mechanisms. This is a role that is quite significant to the government as it ensures that the government can raise enough revenues to sustain its yearly budget and meet its obligations in terms of recurrent expenditure. The fund the government can increase can be effectively utilized in the development of public amenities that are essential to the society. The power to create and collect taxes was established in Article 1 section 8 of the Constitution. It states categorically that Congress has the power to lay and collect taxes in the form of exercises, imposts, and duties. After the collection of such taxes, the government can then be in a better position to provide finances to the military so that they can defend the nation against any external attacks that might threaten democracy and freedoms within the federal country (Cox 4). In addition, revenues raised from tax collections can be utilized in the payment of government debt and provision of the general welfare of the United States. Provision of public welfare involves providing the finances needed for social security and welfare of all citizens.
In order to collect taxes, Congress has set up the Internal Revenue Service, which is a significant segment of authority that is in charge of collecting taxes. This body is entirely dedicated to enforcing all laws that are passed by Congress in regards to taxes and ensure efficient collection of all taxes from the citizenry. The legislature has retained the power to create these taxes, and they have been quite active in creating them. However, the constitution has set forth limitations to the taxation power that revolve around the apportionment and uniformity of taxes. The origination and general welfare clause provide an effective limitation to the power. The origination clause states that any bills that are focused on raising revenue have to arise from the House of Representatives. This is because the representatives are in touch with the economic situation of individuals within their populaces and are in a better position to judge if they can be able to pay more.
- The role of Congress in the establishment of the federal budget.
This is perhaps the most significant role in Congress since it stipulates how tax revenue and money belonging to the federal government is spent for the best interest of the nation. The power of Congress to establish an effective federal budget is most times referred to as the power of the purse. Congress is projected to pass a budget on an annual basis so that various government agencies and departments can act on it accordingly. The Congress stipulates what amounts go to which sector of the economy and how those amounts get to be spent. When Congress feels that the executive arm is engaging in activities that they do not approve of, they often cut off funding for that particular agency.
There are certain stages that have to be adhered to in the congressional budget process that is carried out in Congress. The framework is often divided into five stages that have a unique role as set forth in the Budget Act, statute law, and the rules of the Senate. The first stage is the budget submission by the president. This is where the president submits a comprehensive budget requesting funding from Congress. When doing so, he can outline the funding priorities of the country and elaborate on administrative policy. The budget estimates revenues, spending, and loans and is broken down into categories that can be articulated to Congress (Saturno 1).
The second step is the adoption of budget resolution where Congress holds hearings on the presidential budget. The budget committee has to report on a resolution on the budget stating adequately on the spending and revenues for five years. The resolution sums up the revenues and expenses and analyzes the impact they have on the federal budget. After such deliberations, the resolution is adopted but it is not law since the president has not signed it. It just offers an establishment where it can be considered in the two houses of congress.
The third stage is the passage of appropriation bills that often takes place in May where a consideration is made on 12 appropriation bills. These are scheduled for implementation in the next year and are often based on discretionary spending allocation. The bills have to move through hearings, floor considerations, markups, and even conferences that are constrained by specified resolutions on guidelines.
The fourth stage in the congressional budget process involves the consideration and reconciliation of legislation that has taken place within the process. Congress has to stipulate whether the spending and revenues levels in the proposed budget would require any alterations of the existing law. The resolution should contain instructions to committees of Congress reporting on the legislation that might be needed to cater for statutory changes. Relevant changes might be required that regard to tax increases and deficit reduction. Other factors that might be considered are adjustments within the limits of public debt, or an increase in mandatory federal spending (Saturno 1).
The fifth stage of the budget process in legislation is the consideration that is made on the authorization of legislation. Congress has to take into consideration numerous measures that act as authorization for appropriation of funds for various programs in a fiscal year. It is impervious to note that all the stages and processes are constrained by the Budget Act and both laws of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The thorough process of budget approval ensures that Congress can check on the executive’s mandate and ensure that it does not override its authority but rather sets reasonable standards that are within reach of the federal government. It also ensures that they are stringent measures that are placed on government spending and revenues thereby guaranteeing that there is an effective executive that can cater for all sectors of the economy.
- The role of Congress in the creation of domestic laws.
Congress is charged with the responsibility of provision of the general welfare of the federal government and is tasked with the difficult undertaking of overseeing commerce activities between states. In order to achieve this objective Congress has to enact laws that control the behavior of citizens. Such laws often revolve around criminal statutes, environmental laws, regulations on business, and legislation on civil rights. With the provision of better domestic laws, proper controls can be provided within the federal government that boosts economic performance and improves social welfare.
An important factor as regards to the powers of Congress in enacting domestic laws lies in its regulation of foreign and domestic commerce. Congress has been actively engaged in the regulation of commerce with foreign countries and between states in the federal government. Both houses have continually engaged in the expansion of power over commerce so as to meet the needs of a society that is highly urbanized and industrialized. In the advent of rapid transportation and communication amenities, reasonable legislation on interstate commerce is allowed so as to promote local commodities over seemingly cheaper foreign goods. Such legislation ensures that local industries and trade can be protected against competition that might lead to their collapse. When trade operations are encouraged, more people get to earn jobs thus a source of livelihood and an opening to partake in the development of the nation by paying taxes.
- The role of Congress in the management of foreign affairs.
Congress plays an enormous role in foreign policy measures, a part that is stipulated by the Constitution. Congress has to collaborate with the executive in order to achieve significant strides in active foreign diplomacy that is beneficial to both the U.S and foreign countries. Both arms of the government that is the executive, and Congress have to consult each other before setting up foreign and defense policies with other nations.
Specific foreign policy powers that have been granted to Congress are the power to regulate and finance the armed forces. Congress has the muscle to declare war on another country, and this can be financed by utilizing their budgetary role. They also have a part to perform in the enactment of treaties between nations and the nominations of diplomats (Hamilton 1). The role of Congress as regards to foreign policy is regularly influenced by international developments and the presidency, but they have to play an active role in declining foreign policy that is detrimental to the nation.
Congress plays a significant role in society by ensuring that it achieves its constitutional mandate of the legislation. It effectively supports the country by creating taxes and collecting them so as to finance government operations. It ensures that all taxes collected are put into good use by establishing a budget and monitoring the allocation of funds to key sectors of the economy. Furthermore, parliament ensures there is coexistence domestically by enacting laws that guide individuals. Congress thoroughly considers the international environment through a foreign policy that is quite useful in sustaining healthy relationships. Ultimately, this is a significant arm of government that cannot be downplayed and should be given the utmost support possible, as it is a pinnacle of society.
Cox, Edward. Major Roles of the U.S. Congress within the American Political System. 2015. 21 April 2015. <http://www.ehow.com/info_7829632_major-within-american-political-system.html>.
Hamilton, Lee. “The Role of Congress in Foreign Policy.” Center on Congress (2000): 1-2.
Saturno, James V. The Congressional Budget Process: A Brief Overview. Washington DC: Government and Finance Division, 2004.