Introduction to Congress 13

The following is an extract from Lesson 3 of An Introduction to the U.S. Congress. You can get all of the lessons here:

Over the next several weeks, you will learn what Congress must do, can do, and cannot do within the system of checks and balances summarized in Lesson 2. You will also learn two ways that congressional powers have changed over time.

Getting the allocation of powers right can make all the difference between a system of government that prioritizes justice, happiness, and liberty (as in the Preamble to the Constitution) versus an autocracy set up to serve a few powerful families or military leaders. We will start today with what Congress must do.

A. What Congress must do

Most of the Constitution sets out what Congress may do and what it cannot do. There are, however, a few things it must do.

  • It must assemble at least once a year, per Article I, Section 4 (as modified by the 20th Amendment, Section 2).

Congress must be accountable to the citizens:

  • Congress must publish a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and expenditures of all public money, per Article I, Section 9, Clause 7. You can see this accounting from the Congressional Budget Office here.
  • “Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one-fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.”  See Article I, Section 5.

See our other topics here: and our glossary here:

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