An Overview of Congress

Article I of the U.S. Constitution grants all legislative powers to a bicameral Congress: a House of Representatives and a Senate. Our system currently provides for a two-year term of office for House Members from the 435 population-based districts. In the Senate, voters of each state elect two Senators, who serve 6-year terms that overlap (such that only one-third of the chamber is up for election in any given election cycle).

The two chambers are fundamentally equal in their legislative roles and functions, but their powers and responsibilities differ. Only the House originates revenue legislation, while only the Senate confirms presidential nominations and approves treaties, but the enactment of a law always requires both chambers to separately agree to the same bill, in the same form before presenting it to the President.

The Speaker of the House presides over the House. The Speaker appoints a chairman to preside over the Committee of the Whole, appoints all special or select committees, conference committees, and makes important rulings and decisions for the House. He or she determines the legislative agenda for the House after discussions with the President and his party’s leader in the Senate.  

The Vice President of the United States serves as President of the Senate, the presiding officer of the Senate. The Senate's majority party elects a Majority Leader who serves as spokesperson for his or her party in the Senate and determines the legislative schedule on the floor of the Senate.   

Each Congress lasts two years, with each year consisting of one separate session of Congress.