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In Search of How to Define Congress

define congress
The Oxford English Dictionary defines congress as “the action of coming together (of persons.)” In the United States, that definition takes on a literal meaning and forms one of the three branches of the federal government. Comprised of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the U.S. Congress is the country’s foremost legislative body.

Established by Article I of the U.S. Constitution, Congress convenes in two-year periods and is currently in its 113th session. With 435 members in the House and 100 in the Senate, Congress is a perfect example of the representational government which the Constitution seeks to impart. The results of the U.S. Census dictates the drawing of congressional districts which allow eligible voters to select their representatives. Historically, there is a high reelection rate among incumbents.

Congress draws most of its powers from those expressly written in the Constitution, but the principle of implied powers set forth by the Supreme Court in 1819 gives Congress an incredible amount of leverage. Congress also helps to maintain the system of checks and balances which is essential for the even distribution of power between the different branches of government.

One of the most important roles of members of Congress is their ability to appropriate funds. They are essentially tasked with directing the monetary commitments of the U.S. during any given fiscal period. This makes Congress an essential part of the United States’ government’s efforts to combat global poverty. In 1961, Congress passed the Peace Corps Act, which created one of the most well-known sources of American international aid in recent decades. In its first 50 years of existence, over 200,000 Americans served in nearly 140 different countries under the Peace Corps banner.

In recent years, international aid and American monetary commitments abroad have proven to be a divisive issue due to poor domestic economic prospects. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, in 2011 one percent of the United States federal budget was allocated to non-security foreign aid. Public support for increased foreign aid is substantial, but it often fails to engender significant changes in federal foreign commitments.

In any effort to define Congress, partisanship must be taken into account. Increased public scrutiny and media coverage created a politically polarized climate in the waning decades of the 20th century which has continued into the 21st century. In this climate, lobbying groups have gained influence, but topics like global poverty have also gained more prominence in the public sphere. As political coverage has increased in the media the attention given to the federal government’s commitments abroad has also increased.

As a legislative body it is Congress’s duty to enact legislation on behalf of its constituents, but to define congress a broader view of the interactions of delegates is necessary. Congress, both in its governmental and noun functions, is a forum for discussion. It is in this forum that global poverty asserts its presence and that the recognition process begins.

– Taylor Dow

Sources: OED, CFR, Gallup
Photo: The Washington Update