Our Constitution Made Easy: The Congress’s Role

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — After the Preamble, the Constitution launches into Article I. 

This is the section the spells out what Congress is supposed to be and how it functions. It might be tempting to think of the three government branches as equal, but our founders didn’t think of them this way.

Congress is the branch mentioned in Article I, and for good reason: It is set up to be the most powerful of the three branches.

Think about it, Congress controls the money, creates law, and has the power to remove all officials in the other two branches.

Of course, while the presidency has grown in power since FDR’s administration, and the Supreme Court has become more influential since the 1950s, neither can touch Congress in terms of its constitutional power.

Article One says that Congress will consist of a House comprised of representatives directly elected by the people based on population and a Senate where two members from each state are sent to Washington. 

Initially, US Senators were elected by the state legislatures. The 17th Amendment, adopted in 1913, changed that to the direct election of Senators as is the practice today. There are 435 members of the House and 100 members of the Senate.

Article One also spells out what Congress can do. Among these jobs are the regulation of commerce, the power to tax, oversight of the federal government, establishing a post office, coining money, promoting the “progress of science and useful arts” and declaring war. Congress is also responsible for the administration of our nation’s capital, Washington DC.

One thing congress can’t do is grant titles of nobility. You might also say it can’t get anything done, and that’s actually part of Article One’s doing: Any bill must pass both the House and Senate in the exact same form before going to the president’s desk. That’s a tall order with 535 Senators and Representatives.  

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