Power in the American Political System

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Power in the American Political System

As the complexity of government increase, the legislative branches of many western democracies have lost power to their executives giving rise to terms such as "elected dictatorships" and the elected members of parliament as merely "lobby-fodder". While occasionally eclipsed, and led, by strong Presidents the American Congress has mostly managed to maintain its control over the legislative process and imperial presidencies. President Bush's Nov. 13 executive order asserting his right to establish military tribunals for terrorists and the antiterrorism bill containing a section entitled "Suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus" (Newsweek, 12/10/2001) is an example of the executive attempts at grabbing for power being controlled by congress.

Congress has four main functions these are representation, legislation, investigation and scrutiny (oversight), and financial control. This essay is concerned with the legislative element only though it will be seen that due to the nature of American politics representation must always be considered

The construction of the constitution is such that it implies that Congress was to be the dominant institution of the American political system (Article 1 S1-S8 of the constitution). The powers of congress are granted, guarded and constrained by the constitution and it is not, like the British House of Commons, the sovereign power able to do what it pleases. Within the Federal structure Congress is checked by the President as set out in the Constitution and now also by the supreme courts power of Judicial review which was established in the case of Marbury v. Madison (1803).

Further more the division of powers between Federal and State governments also constrains Congress but over its lifetime Congress has increased its influence first by widening the scope of its power to govern inter-state to include activities within a state the landmark Court rulings being Heart of Atlanta Motel Inc v. United States (1964), Katzen v. McClung (1964 and Labour Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin (1937).
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Congress is a bicameral legislature with the House of Representatives representing the people and the Senate representing the states. Both have legislative responsibility and then distinct clearly defined, by the Constitution, separate powers. The Senate is responsible for approving bureaucratic and judicial appointments made by the president, ratifying treaties and acting as a court in impeachment proceedings. With its six-year term, against two-years in the House, the Senate is regarded as the more prestigious of the two chambers. Occasionally refereed to as the upper chamber as in the original congress building in New York it was on the ...

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