Congress interaction imperative for effective government
In the U.S., there is a constant struggle for power between the president and Congress. It is laid out in the Constitution that Congress is the only federal governmental body that can write laws. The president is then responsible for enacting those laws. The judicial branch then interprets the constitutionality of the law. The three branches are meant to work cohesively together to have this perfect system of checks and balances. Unfortunately, the process for Congress to draft legislation is rather lengthy and takes a long time.
Hopefully, everyone watched “Schoolhouse Rock” as a child and remembers the song, “I’m Just a Bill,” because it is a very accurate representation of how a bill becomes law. A bill starts with an idea from Congress, constituents or interest groups. It takes about two years for a bill to move completely through the process. Why does it take so long? Some political scientists believe the founders created the legislative branch this way to make sure it didn’t supersede the other branches of government.
It is the same process to pass a bill in the House of Representatives and the Senate chamber. There is one distinct difference and it’s that any legislation pertaining to money must start in the House of Representatives. Congress follows basic parliamentary procedure when drafting legislation, so the speaker of the House begins by reading the bill for the first time in the House. Next, the speaker reads the bill for a second time and refers it to a committee for hearings, testimony and amendments.
One of the most critical points for the bill is the committee meeting and the subcommittee meeting (which are members of the larger committee who are heavily interested in the legislation). This is where the bill will either move favorably, move favorably as amended, be killed in committee or rescheduled and never heard. Politics play a heavy hand in the committee meetings. If you are a member of Congress and don’t have a good relationship with the speaker, there is a good chance the speaker will refer your bill to a committee that will kill your bill.
Congress members also need to make sure they have good relationships with the chairs of each committee because there will be plenty of testimony to sway the committee from passing the legislation. After it is heard in committee, the bill moves to the rules committee (only in the House of Representatives). This is where the committee puts a time limit on debates and the number of amendments that can be offered because the House of Representatives is a large body with 435 members. If the bill passes the committee hearings, it is read for a third time and is ready for final passage in the chamber.
Seems like a lot? Well, once it passes one chamber, it must go through the same exact process in the other chamber. How does the president get anything done?
As the country expanded, Congress gave the president more powers such as cabinet approval, budget and, post-WWII, the president became commander-in-chief. Congress declares war (the last war that was declared was WWII), but the president has the authority to send troops into battle. President Richard Nixon sent 300,000 troops to Vietnam (Congress has tried to pull back the War Powers Resolution of 1972; as commander-in-chief, the president has 60 days to put troops wherever he wants, but if he doesn’t ask Congress to declare war, the troops will retreat in 30 days — so there is 90 days to direct troops without declaring war).
After Sept. 11, President Bush knew that he would have to have approval from Congress to ask for a declaration of war. Congress approved by declaring war on terrorism. Other ways the president utilizes power is through executive order, which has the same weight of law as a bill passed through Congress. Next is a presidential proclamation, which is essentially to make something a holiday, which evolved into just naming a holiday and both have the weight of law without going through Congress. The only way to stop it is by the Supreme Court ruling it unconstitutional or Congress passing a law that contradicted those orders.
Lastly, there is the presidential memorandum, which is another way the president can make law without technically making a new law, which is a new policy of enforcement that the president decides upon.
So, who has authority to make and create laws? Well, it’s debatable and it depends on a lot of things. Constitutionally, it should be only Congress that drafts legislation, but the shift in the executive branch’s scope of power has a lot individuals wondering what is happening in the “Grand Ole’ Capitol.”