The framers of the Constitution intended Congress to be the preeminent branch of government, sitting at the center of national power. As a result, Congress wields significant but limited power.
The Constitution enumerates some powers that Congress has but also specifies some powers that Congress does not have.
Enumerated powers, or the expressed powers, are powers the Constitution explicitly grants to Congress, including the power to declare war and levy taxes.
Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution also contains the necessary and proper clause, or the elastic clause, which gives Congress extra powers. As interpreted by the Supreme Court in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), this clause means that Congress can assume other powers and pass laws in order to fulfill its duties. The powers granted by the necessary and proper clause are called implied powers.
Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution places three important limits on Congress and its powers. Congress cannot
The House of Representatives and the Senate must jointly decide to exercise most of the powers granted to Congress. When Congress declares war, for example, both houses must pass the exact same declaration. Similarly, both houses must pass identical versions of the same law before the law can take effect. There are some exceptions, however, in which the House and the Senate wield power alone.
The Constitution gives the House of Representatives a few unique powers, including the power to do the following:
The Constitution also grants the Senate a few unique powers, including the power to do the following:
Example: The Senate acquitted both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton during their respective impeachment trials (in 1868 and 1999, respectively), so the presidents remained in office.