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Lesson 22: How Does Congress Perform Its Functions in the American Constitutional System?

Lesson Purpose

The United States Congress is one of the few national assemblies in the world with the power to initiate legislation rather than simply vote on bills proposed by the executive. Congress also conducts important investigations that can lead to changes in public policy and even the removal of federal judges and the president. From its earliest days Congress has relied on rules and leadership structures to facilitate its work. Today, with 535 members, Congress faces a variety of organizational challenges in its effort to represent growing and diverse constituencies.

When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to describe the role of rules, committees, and political parties in the organization and operation of Congress. You should be able to describe the process through which proposed legislation becomes law. You should be able to identify the primary sources on which members of Congress rely for information in the lawmaking process and to explain the importance of Congress's inherent power to investigate. You also should be able to explain why compromise is required in the deliberative process. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on how Congress functions and whether it should streamline its procedures.