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The Structure of Leadership in Congress

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The United States Congress is made up of two chambers the House of Representatives and the Senate

All together there are 485 congress people that come together to alter current laws or suggest new legislation. They are required to meet once per year on January 3 by the US Constitution, but they come together much more often than that. Their sessions can last months if the topic is very controversial. US legislation is slow and at times painfully inefficient. In order to make new legislation, the Congress has to go through a long process of getting a majority in the house as well as the Senate, and even after all that the President still has to approve of the bill in question.

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The Speaker of the House of Representatives is the only presiding officer and traditionally has been the main spokesperson for the majority party in the House. The position is a very powerful one; the Speaker is third in line in presidential succession (after the president and vice president). The Speaker's real power comes from controlling the selection of committee chairs and committee members and the authority to set the order of business of the House. The majority floor leader is second only to the Speaker

He or she comes from the political party that controls the House and is elected through a caucus, a meeting of the House party members. The majority leader presents the official position of the party on issues and tries to keep party members loyal to that position, which is not always an easy task. In the event that a minority party wins a majority of the seats in a congressional election, its minority leader usually becomes the majority leader. The minority party in the House also has a leadership structure, topped by the minority floor leader. Whoever fills this elected position serves as the chief spokesperson and legislative strategist for the party and often works hard to win the support of moderate members of the opposition on particular votes. Although the minority leader has little formal power, it is an important job, especially because whoever holds it conventionally takes over the speakership if control of the House changes hands.

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The Congress can also limit the presidential powers by passing a resolution not to commit American troops into combat abroad. In addition, the Congress may also declare war thereby allowing the president to exercise emergency powers such as prohibiting strikes and lockouts. The Congress has the power to tax and to spend and thus controls the president spending too (Dye 97 – 98)

The Congress also accompanies the president and participates in international conferences as American delegates thereby shaping the outcomes of such conferences. Moreover the Congress also, by repassing the bill in the same session by a two-thirds majority vote in each house, override presidential veto. The presidential powers are also limited by the Congress since it must approve all the judicial appointments as the president must consult the Congress. The Congress also has the power to impeach the president as seen in the case of presidents Nixon and Clinton (Smith, Jason and Ryan 120 – 191). The media and public opinion also prevent imperialism. The president should also have control and also listen to the counsel of family and friends. If these groups fail in any case, the Judiciary then takes up the matter and limit presidential powers to prevent imperialism.

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In conclusion, the major leadership positions — Speaker of the House, and majority and minority leaders in both houses — are based almost exclusively on party membership. Does this system encourage party loyalty above all else in members of Congress who want to get ahead? If that is the case, the impatience that Americans have with "partisan politics" is understandable.

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Dye, Thomas. Politics In America, (8th ed.). New York: Pearson/Ph, 2009.

Smith, Steven, Jason, Roberts and Ryan, Vander Wielen. The American Congress (5th ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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