What Does Congress Do?

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Try to imagine a nation with no laws. That's what the United States might be like without Congress. Congress is the legislative, or lawmaking, branch of our national government. It shares power with the president and the Supreme Court. The writers of the U.S. Constitution thought Congress was so important, they listed it first!

Congress has two parts, the Senate and the House of Representatives. There are 100 Senators, two from each state. The House of Representatives has 435 members. The number of Representatives each state gets is based on the state's population. States with large populations have more representatives. For example, California has 52 Representatives, while North Dakota has just one.

According to Representative Frank McCloskey of Indiana, working in Congress can be tough. "Most people in Congress are hardworking and cooperative. But with 535 members from different political parties and places, it can be very hard to get an agreement!" he told Scholastic News.

The House and Senate meet separately in the same building, The Capitol in Washington, D.C. Each year, they consider more than 10,000 bills. Bills are proposals for new laws. Only about 650 of those bills ever become law.

To make sure each bill is studied carefully, both the Senate and House have committees. Each committee studies bills that deal with a special topic, such as taxes, farming, or the environment. If a committee likes a bill, they present it to the rest of the House or Senate. Then, if the Senate and House both approve the bill, it is sent to the president to sign.

It is important for members of Congress to know the views of voters back home. "Each year, I get thousands of letters and phone calls from voters in my district. I go to town meetings to hear their concerns. Sometimes they even grab me in the supermarket or barbershop!" Representative McCloskey told Scholastic News.

Adapted from Scholastic News.

  • Subjects:
    Congress
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