Constitutional FAQ Answer #155 – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

Constitutional FAQ Answer #155

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Q155. “Who has more power, the Congress or the

A. Wow, such a small question with no small answer. It is a good question,

Constitutionally speaking, the Congress is by far the most powerful of all
the branches of the government. It is the representative of the people (and,
originally, the states), and derives its power from the people. As such, it is
given power to do the people’s bidding and to rule over the people. It can set
taxes, can raise armies, can declare war, can suspend habeas corpus, can
impeach the President or judges, and can set laws touching the lives of every
person in the nation. This is a lot of power, and the framers made sure that
the power could not be wielded without balance.
The Congress itself has to agree between its two houses on every law; the
President checks the power of the Congress with the veto; the judiciary checks
the power with judicial review. Even with these checks, though, the Congress
is, on paper, the most powerful branch.

On paper, the President does not have a lot of power. He or she is the
commander is chief of the armed forces and has almost exclusive power over
foreign policy (though the Senate has to ratify any treaty and the Congress
always has the power of the purse to influence foreign policy). The President
also nominates judges and justices and maintains the cabinet, but these powers do not, in and of
themselves, seem very powerful. In practice, however, the President can be very
powerful, especially when the Congress and the President work together, such as
when the presidency and the Congress are held by a single political party. In
this case, it is common for the President to set policy that the Congress
merely rubber-stamps. In such a case, the President can be said to be very
powerful. The popularity of the President can also come into play — if
the President is very popular with the people, the Congress might not be
willing to challenge the President’s policies.

The answer to the question, then, depends on the context of the question.
The Constitution clearly makes the Congress the most powerful of the three
branches of government. Depending on the circumstances, however, the President
might have more influence on Congress than one would think based on the separation of powers outlined in the

Last Modified: 16 Aug 2010

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