The Bicameral Congress: Crash Course Government and Politics #2
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The Bicameral Congress: Crash Course Government and Politics #2


Hi. I’m Craig, and this is Crash Course Government.
Uh. It’s been a dream of mine to be on Crash Course since I was a little kid. Speaking
of acting like a little kid, today, we’re gonna talk about the U.S. Congress, which,
according to the Constitution, is the most important branch of government. That was probably
written by Congress. It wasn’t. They didn’t So when I say that Congress is supposed to
be the most important branch of government, I’m talking about the national government,
not the state government. There’s a difference, okay? I know this, because the Constitution,
which consists of seven articles and 28 amendments, mentions Congress first. In fact, right after
the preamble, the very first section of the very first article, which is helpfully labeled
Article I, Section I, says this: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a
Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.” So, right away, the Constitution sets up a
two house legislature, with a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Latin word for
this is bicameral, and I promise I’ll quit with the Latin now. I didn’t really say much Latin,
but, just once, but I’ll pr — I won’t say anymore. [Theme Music] That’s pretty catchy. [whistles theme] So
let’s start with the House of Representatives, because it’s a little easier. In order to
serve in the House, you have to be 25 years old, a citizen for seven years, and a resident
of the state that you hope to represent. I’d like to think that I represent a state of
enjoyment. Vote for me 2015. Representation is determined by population. No state has
fewer than one, Vermont, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Alaska each have one, and the
most populous state, California, has 52. Right now, there are 435 members of the House of
Representatives. The Senate has two senators from each state
for a total of 100. To be a senator, you must be at least 30 years old, a citizen for nine
years, and a resident of the state you hope to represent. Originally, senators were chosen
by the state legislatures, which meant that they tended to be politically important members
of a state’s elite class. But this changed with the 17th amendment, and now, senators
are elected by the people, just like representatives. I’m gonna explain how the two houses of the
legislature actually legislate in a later episode–I’ll have a bigger beard, probably–but
now, I’m going to point out a few of the ways that they are different. Ultimately, the houses
do the same thing, make laws, but the Constitution grants certain specific powers to each house.
Let’s look at those powers in the Thought Bubble. The House of Representatives is given the
power to impeach the president and other federal officials. This can be confusing because people
tend to think that impeaching means kicking the official out of office, but it doesn’t.
The House impeaches an official by deciding that that person has done something bad enough
to bring him to trial. An impeachment is like a criminal indictment. Once the official is
impeached, the trial happens in the Senate. If it’s the President who’s been impeached,
the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides. Otherwise, it’s the Vice President. You don’t
let the VP preside over a presidential impeachment, because he has a vested interest in seeing the president
removed. Then the VP would become president. Duhhh. The second power that the House has is that
they decide presidential elections if no candidate wins the majority of the electoral college.
I’ll explain this later, but for now, remember that this barely ever has happened ever. The third power that belongs specifically
to the House is found in Article I, Section 7: “All bills for raising revenue shall originate
in the House of Representatives.” This is pretty important, because it means that any
bill that raises taxes starts in the House, and if you know anything about America, you
know that we care about taxes, a lot. So this power is huge and is sometimes called “The
Power of the Purse”. The Senate has some important powers, too.
The first one I’ve already mentioned is that they hold impeachment trials. That doesn’t
happen very often at all. Another power the Senate has is to ratify treaties. This requires
a 2/3rds vote of the Senate. Most treaties you don’t hear much about, except when the
Senate refuses to ratify them, as it did or didn’t do with the Treaty of Versailles. I
totally would have ratified that treaty, just sayin’. The last significant power that belongs
only to the Senate is the confirmation power. The Senate votes to confirm the appointment
of executive officers that require Senate confirmation. Some of these, like the cabinet
secretaries, are obvious, but there are over 1,000 offices requiring Senate confirmation,
including federal judges, and this is probably too many. Thanks, Thought Bubble. Uh, I love saying that,
YES! So those are the major differences between the two houses of the legislature, but why
do we have two, and why did the framers of the Constitution make them different anyway?
There are two categories of reason here: historical and practical. The historical reason for the
two houses is that when the Constitution was being written, the framers couldn’t agree
on what type of legislature to have, because they came from states with different interests.
Delegates from states with large populations wanted legislatures to be chosen based on
the state’s population, so that their states would have, wait for it, more legislators
and more power. This is called proportional representation, states with small populations
understandably didn’t want proportional representation. They favored equal representation in the legislature,
which would give them equal power. Large states supported what was called the Virginia Plan,
and small states wanted the New Jersey Plan, and they argued over it until a compromise
was reached. Since it was brokered by Connecticut’s Roger Sherman, it was called the Connecticut
Compromise, or, more usually, The Great Compromise, because historians are really bad at naming
things. Hey, this war is nine years long. Let’s call it the Seven Years War. That’s
actually genius. If you guessed that the compromise was an
upper house with equal representation and a lower house with proportional representation,
congratulations, you understand the Great Compromise! You don’t win anything if you
guessed it right. Actually, if you guessed it right, click here and watch me punch an
eagle. So that’s the historical reason for the two
houses, but what about the practical reasons? One of the main reasons to divide the legislature
and to give the two houses power is to make it so that the legislature doesn’t have too
much power. How do we know that the Framers wanted this? Because one of them, James Madison,
told us that in one of the Federalist Papers. In Federalist 51, Madison wrote “In republican
government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency
is to divide the legislature into different branches and to render them different modes
of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the
nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.” James Madison may not have sounded like Foghorn
Leghorn. But that’s one of the theories. My theory. I say, I say. Anyways, the idea that
one house of the legislature can limit the power of another house is called an intrabranch
check. We’ll look at this in more detail when we talk about checks and balances. In general,
the Framers of the Constitution were kind of obsessed with the idea that the government
might have too much power. So we’ll be seeing lots of examples of how they try to deal with
this. So let’s finish up by looking at the reasons why the
specific powers were given to each house. To do this, let me introduce my assistants. By assistants,
I really mean clones. Let’s go to The Clone Zone! So I made these clones to help us understand
these multi-sided issues. This is Senate clone and this is House clone, and they’re quite
good looking I might add. Senate clone: So you may have noticed, according
to the Constitution, Senators are expected to be older than Representatives, and although
30 isn’t all that old today, it was in 1787 when the Constitution written. This was because
older people are wiser, or at least more experienced, and the Framers wanted the Senate, which is
sometimes called the Upper House, to be more serious, or just more dignified. And above
all, deliberative than the House. It was supposed to be more immune from the desires of the
public, which the Framers were kind of afraid of because of their unfortunate propensity
to riot. One of the ways that the Framers hoped to ensure this was by giving Senators
a 6 year term, which really would mean that they could ignore the ranting and ravings
of their constituents for at least, like, 5 years at a time. Because the Senate is supposed
to be the more deliberative body and the one that is more insulated from public opinion,
they are the ones given the power to confirm public ministers and to ratify treaties. I
guess they thought that being older and wiser, Senators would be better judges of character
and better able to govern based on their sense of what is in the public interest. Sometimes
the idea that a representative should govern based on what he thinks is best for the people
rather than what they say they want is referred to as a representative acting as a trustee. House clone: Haha, which is another way of
saying that the Senate is full of elitist snobs who don’t care what their constituents
want at all. In the House of Representatives, we’re supposed to take into consideration
the desires of the people in their district, who voted for them, acting in the role of
delegates. So the main way that the Framers tried to ensure that Representatives could
be more responsive to their voters, other than having them directly elected for by the
voters instead of state legislatures, was to give them 2 year terms. This method meant
that they have to be responsive to the changing opinions of voters in their districts, otherwise
they could easily be voted out of office. You don’t want that, no way. Oh boy. Why they
would be given the power of impeachment is beyond me, but it totally makes sense to give
the power of the purse to the branch of government that is closest to the people. After all,
one thing that the government does that is directly related to almost everybody is taxes.
So you want the most democratic body making the decisions that have the most direct effect
on people. Craig: Huh, thanks clones. So there you have
it, that’s the basics of our bicameral Congress, including the differences between the two
Houses and why they are that way. Oooh, I used Latin again. I’m sorry. Mea culpa. We’ll
be going into much greater detail about how the two houses work together, or don’t, in
future episodes. But that’s enough for now, thanks for watching Crash Course. I’ll see
you next week. Crash Course Government and Politics was produced
in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support for Crash Course US Government comes from
Voqal. Voqal supports non-profits that use technology and media to advance social equity.
Learn more about their mission and initiatives at Voqal.org. Crash Course was made with the
help of these nice people. Thanks nice people. And thanks for watching. You’re nice people,
I assume.

15 Comments

  • Madeleine Granger

    As a Danish exchange student, who is forced to take us government, having never studied it in Danish schools, these crash courses are incredible. Before I start high school in America I will hopefully know as much as possible about US government!!!

  • Dawn Quarles

    There are 27 amendments; not 28. And there is an inaccuracy in California's representation. Since California has 55 elector votes, that means they have 53 representatives and 2 senators.

  • Ramsés Vásquez

    How's that for entertainment?  Short fat bald guy that plays with plastic birds and loves small for his sizes courdoroi jacket…* Lol ;D Jajaja

  • Michelle Huntoon

    I just wanted to say thank you for breaking down the government for me. I have never really understood the government, but am now stuck taking a government class in college. This series helped me greatly, although I was marked down on my essay due to this not be a valid site for information, according to my professor.

  • HELL WITH IT!! B. L. A.

    There are usually certain kinds of people who watch videos on political and constitutional issues and state of law.
    Aspiring civil leaders and servants.
    And criminals.
    Wait a minute!?? Is that two or one??

  • Sarii

    While I enjoy the side comments and jokes, I find them extremely distracting and I lose my train of thought. I have to rewind a clip several times just to understand a simple concept 🙁

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