Making Laws

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The United States Congress

Who gets this important job of making laws? Congress! This is the legislature (or lawmaking group) for our country.

Congress is divided into two parts, the Senate and the House of Representatives. When the Constitution was written, this was the topic of a huge fight! The large states wanted a legislature where representation was based on a state's population; the more people, the power the state would have. Guess who disagreed? The small states! They wanted a legislature where each state had an equal say. How was this resolved? By creating a Congress with two houses. Let's see how this actually works! 

More people, more power

Congress includes the U.S. House of Representatives, which is based on population. The more people a state has, the more votes it has in the House of Representatives. Each House member represents a district. The map to the right uses color to show the House districts in each state. The more colors, the more districts and people a state has.

How many House members does your state have? Click on the link, and then go to the 2nd drop down menu that allows you to see members by state. Find your state and click "View." How does your state compare with its closest neighbors? Click on those states to see who has more votes in the House!  

Working for you

Your House member cares what you and the other people in your district think. Why? Because you vote for him or her every two years! You can choose to re-elect that person or you can vote for someone else.  Even though you may not actually vote yet, this person still represents you!

Who is your House member? Click on the link, and look in the top right corner where it says, "Find Your Representatives by ZIP." Enter your zip code. NOTE: If the +4 digits of your zip code are needed, the website will redirect you to the U.S. Postal Services website to find it.

Equal votes

Remember, we said there were two houses in Congress? The U.S. Senate is the place where each state gets the same number of votes. In fact, each state gets two Senators, which means two votes!  The smaller states really like this because it gives them equal power with the large states.

Just like in the House of Representatives, a Senator's job is to look out for people's interests. But this time, they must think about more than just the people in a town or city. They are responsible for an entire state! Click on the link to see who your two Senators are! Select your state, and then click on the links to see your Senators' webpages.  

Making laws

House and Senate members have a really, really important job. They are in charge of making the laws that run this country!  

How is a law made? It starts with having an idea on how to deal with a problem facing the country. House members and Senators are called legislators because they have the unique ability to write bills or legislation that could become laws. Watch the video clip to see how this happens!   

Compromise required

Remember that large and small states wanted to make sure they each had a voice when laws were made? Well, the law making process guarantees this!

HOW is this guaranteed, you may ask? It's guaranteed because the SAME bill must pass the House of Representatives AND the Senate to become a law. You can imagine that with 435 House members and 100 Senators, there are a lot of different opinions on how problems should be solved. That's why COMPROMISE is a key ingredient in bills becoming law. 

One more step

Congratulations! The House of Representatives and Senate have done the difficult job of creating a compromise bill and getting it passed through both houses. It's a law now, right?

Not so fast! The Constitution also guarantees "checks and balances." The President, a member of the executive branch, gets to decide whether to sign the bill into law or veto it. If he signs it, then the bill is law. If he vetoes it, then the Congress can override the veto with a two-thirds majority and the bill will become law. Time for congratulations! Watch the video clip to see how this works.