United States Congress

Capitol Hill

Constitutional Qualifications for Members of Congress

  • Members of the House must be at least 25 years of age and a citizen of the US for a minimum of 7 years.
  • Members of the Senate must be at least 30 years of age and a citizen of the US for a minimum of 9 years.
  • All representatives must reside in the state from which they are elected, although House members do not need to live in their congressional district.

Powers of Congress (Article 1)

  • Power to tax – Congress has the power to “lay and collect taxes”
  • Power to regulate commerce – Congress can make laws regarding trade and commerce amongst the states and with other countries
  • Power to coin money – The individual states are forbidden to have their own currencies
  • Power to borrow money – Congress can “borrow money on the credit of the United States”
  • War Power – The Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war. In 1973 it passed the War Powers Act which limited the President’s power to send US troops overseas
  • Elastic Clause – Article 1, Section 8, Clause 18 of the Constitution states that the Congress is able “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.” This has allowed the Congress to pass laws on matters not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, leading to a great expansion of Federal power.
  • Choosing a President – If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral College votes in a presidential election, the House of Representatives is able to choose a president. Congress also has the power to approve the selection of a vice-president if that office becomes vacant (as happened in 1973 following the resignation of Spiro Agnew, or 1974 following Vice-President Ford’s accession to the presidency after President Nixon resigned).
  • Impeachment – The House may bring charges against an official, such as a judge, or the president. The Senate then acts as the jury and can convict by a two-thirds vote. No president has ever been convicted, although President Andrew Johnson survived by one vote in the 1860s and there is not much doubt that President Nixon would have been removed in 1974 if he had not resigned.
  • Presidential Appointments and Treaty Ratification – This power is given to the Senate alone. In the 1980s the Senate rejected the nomination by President Reagan of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. A number of Cabinet nominations by various presidents have also been rejected.
  • Oversight Function – The investigatory role of Congress is an important responsibility. Through committee hearings, the congress is able to investigate government departments and agencies and inquire into issues of concern at any time.

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