The United States Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government and is composed of two separate bodies: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Constitution of the United States, adopted in 1787, established this bicameral legislature to balance the interests of both large and small states, following what was known as the Great Compromise.
## The House of Representatives
The House of Representatives consists of 435 members, each serving a two-year term. The number of representatives each state gets is proportional to its population, as determined by the U.S. Census, which is conducted every 10 years.
The House has several exclusive powers, including the power to initiate revenue bills, impeach federal officials, and elect the President in the case of an electoral college tie.
The leader of the House is the Speaker of the House, who is traditionally the leader of the majority party.
## The Senate
The Senate, on the other hand, is comprised of two senators from each state, regardless of the state's population, resulting in a total of 100 senators. Senators serve six-year terms, with one-third of the Senate seats up for election every two years.
The Senate also has exclusive powers not granted to the House, including consenting to treaties, confirming federal appointments (like Supreme Court Justices and Cabinet Secretaries), and conducting impeachment trials.
The Vice President of the United States is also the President of the Senate, though they only vote in the event of a tie. The day-to-day operations of the Senate are overseen by the Senate Majority Leader, who is elected by their party.
## Shared Powers
Both the House and the Senate must pass a bill in the same form for it to become law, after which it is either signed by the President or vetoed. If vetoed, the Congress can override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers.
## Historical Context
The size, structure, and power dynamics of Congress have evolved over the history of the United States. Initially, the Senate was viewed as the more prestigious body, with members appointed by state legislatures rather than directly elected by the people. This changed with the 17th Amendment in 1913, which allowed for the direct election of senators.
Through American history, Congress has played a pivotal role in shaping the nation's laws, public policies, and in keeping a check on the powers of the Presidency and Judicial branch. It has seen times of great cooperation and bipartisanship, but also periods of gridlock, [[negative partisanship]], and [polarization](https://doctorparadox.net/hyper-partisanship-definition-government/).