Section 8 of our constitution lays out in great detail the powers of the Congress. These powers are limited to the ones listed, and those that are “necessary and proper” to carry them out. The states are in charge of everything else. (The Tenth amendment lays this point out in more detail)
Over time the Congress has slowly crept into the realm of what used to be considered “state matters” they most often do this by sighting clause three often called the “commerce clause.” They do this because so much of today’s business crosses state lines. In recent years however the supreme court has been in favor of states rights, limiting what Congress can do by sighting the commerce clause.
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;
To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;
Bush has given himself the power to read our mail. In a December bill he added a signing statement that he claims gives him the power to read anyone’s mail so long as its “an emergency” which conveniently he gets to define the terms of. Seems the American people should be shopping around for a new president.
Article I Section 7 Clauses 1-3
 All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.
 Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a law. But in all such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each House respectively. If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law, in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a law.
 Every order, resolution, or vote to which the concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the same shall take effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the rules and limitations prescribed in the case of a bill.
If there is one thing our government does well (or poorly depending on how you look at it) is spend money. And when it comes to raising or spending money it all starts in the House. The Senate can offer changes, and must ultimately approve of the bills before they go to the president, but its the House that gets the ball rolling.
If the president signs the bill then it becomes law. If he waits for ten days not including Sunday the bill also becomes law, except during the last few days of a congressional session. During this period the president can use the “pocket veto.” Basically the President just has to sit on his/her ass and the bill gets vetoed. This is a sneaky tactic. When the president vetoes a bill with objections it goes back to congress a 2/3 majority vote in the House and Senate can override the veto. However during the end of the session the ten day period may overlap into the time when the congress is not in session. The president is able to “put the bill in there pocket” until Congress adjourns is thus called a pocket veto. Since Congress cannot vote while in adjournment, a pocket veto cannot be overridden.
The pocket veto is almost as popular as the normal veto.
regular vetoes 1485
pocket vetoes 1066
total vetoes 2551
Congress can also take the vetoed bill and change it to make it more acceptable to the president. For political reasons this sort of thing goes on all the time (or usually does Bush has been very bad at this). The threat of presidential veto and congressional override is supposed to prevent the rampant passing of laws that any one branch of government wants passed. Current lack of this check and balance system has lead to the president dictating what laws will be passed, and the congress rubber stamping everything. With the recent shift in party majority to the Democratic party this should change.
George Washingtons first veto to the congress read.
United States [Philadelphia] April 5 1792.
Gentlemen of the House of Representatives
I have maturely considered the Act passed by the two Houses, intitled, “An Act for an apportionment of Representatives among the several States according to the first enumeration,” and I return it to your House, wherein it originated, with the following objections.
Firstâ€”The Constitution has prescribed that representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers: and there is no one proportion or divisor which, applied to the respective numbers of the States will yield the number and allotment of representatives proposed by the Bill.
Secondâ€”The Constitution has also provided that the number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand; which restriction is, by the context, and by fair and obvious construction, to be applied to the seperate and respective numbers of the States: and the bill has allotted to eight of the States, more than one for thirty thousand.
Article I Section 6 Clauses 1 and 2
 The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.
 No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.
Members of congress get paid from the U.S. Treasury and get to vote for there own salaries. A fairly stupid setup if you ask me, but I was not at the convention when this was getting put down on paper.
Salaries of Members of Congress, 1789-2006 (from here pdf)
Payable Salary Effective Date
$1,500 March 4, 1789
$1,500 March 4, 1795
$1,500 March 3, 1796
$1,500 December 4, 1815
$1,500 March 3, 1817
$2,000 March 3, 1817
$3,000 December 3, 1855
$3,000 December 23, 1857
$5,000 December 4, 1865
$7,500 March 4, 1871
$5,000 January 20, 1874
$7,500 March 4, 1907
$10,000 March 4, 1925
$9,000 July 1, 1932
$8,500 April 1, 1933
$9,000 February 1, 1934
$9,500 July 1, 1934
$10,000 April 4, 1935
$12,500 January 3, 1947
$22,500 March 1, 1955
$30,000 January 3, 1965
$42,500 March 1, 1969
$44,600 October 1, 1975
$57,500 March 1, 1977
$60,662.50 October 1, 1979
$69,800 December 18, 1982, for Representatives July 1, 1983, for Senators
$72,600 January 1, 1984
$75,100 January 1, 1985
$77,400 January 1, 1987
$89,500 February 4, 1987
$96,600 (Representatives) February 1, 1990
$98,400 (Senators) February 1, 1990
$125,100 (Representatives) January 1, 1991
$101,900 (Senators) January 1, 1991
$125,100 (Senators) August 14, 1991
$129,500 (Reps. and Sens.) January 1, 1992
$133,600 (Reps. and Sens.) January 1, 1993
$136,700 (Reps. and Sens.) January 1, 1998
$141,300 (Reps. and Sens.) January 1, 2000
$145,100 (Reps. and Sens.) January 1, 2001
$150,000 (Reps. and Sens.) January 1, 2002
$154,700 (Reps. and Sens.) January 1, 2003
$158,100 (Reps. and Sens.) January 1, 2004
$162,100 (Reps. and Sens.) January 1, 2005
$165,200 (Reps. and Sens.) January 1, 2006
However we are lucky as the 27th amendment (ratified in 1992) made it so that the pay raise takes place only after the next election. This (in theory) gives us, the poor voters, the ability to vote anyone out of office we feel may be giving themselves a bit too much money. However because most people don’t pay a lick of attention to what the people who lead them do, this rarely if ever happens.
This part of the Constitution also protects legislators from arrests in civil lawsuits while they are in session, they may however be arrested in criminal matters. Congress members are granted immunity from lawsuits for the things they say and do as legislators. While this allows them to make statements without the fear of a libel or slander lawsuit it also lets them get away with saying some of the dumbest shit.
â€œThere is no one person in the Bush administration who is indispensable â€” with the exception of the president,â€ Rick Santorum
â€œThe Internet is not a big truck…it’s ah, ah, it’s a series of tubes!â€ Ted Stevens
We the voters are supposed to serve as the check on this branch of government. We are supposed to be watching what they say, and if its a crock, voting them out of office.
To ensure the separation of powers between the three branches, senators and representatives are prohibited from holding any other federal office during their service in Congress. They are however allowed to run for another office (say run for president while you are a senator) and simply step down from being a congressperson if they get the new job.
Article I section 5 Clauses 1 through 4
 Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.
 Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member.
 Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.
Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.
Another simple yet effective bit of text. Both houses are in charge of determining if elections are fair, they are in charge of making there own rules, and they need a Quorum to do business.
A quorum means that a majority of members must be present. If at any time a member realizes that they do not have a quorum then they can alert the speaker and bells ring all over the capital and people rush to form one. (really bells actually ring) Each house may authorize its sergeants at arms to arrest absent members and compel their attendance to establish a quorum to do business.
Each house keeps a journal which you can read online at www.gpoaccess.gov/crecord
To keep both houses on a similar schedule they are not allowed to go to another place or close for more than three days. To keep things moving forward when only one house is working members of the other house will often send a single senator or rep and have them gavel the session open and shut. Often these members will attempt to open and shut the session as fast as possible as a sort of game.« newer posts | older posts »