US Government


You may think there is only one election in the US on Tuesday 03 November, but you’d be wrong! Clearly the Presidential race catches the headlines, but each state has a number of additional plebiscites. For example, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives (MPs/TDs) are being contested. Seats are allocated to states proportionate to population. California has 53 seats and Alaska has 1.

Members are elected to the House for 2-year terms and may seek re-election indefinitely. There are currently 232 Democrat representatives, 198 Republicans, 1 Libertine and 4 vacancies. The Speaker of the House, currently Nancy Pelosi, rules the roost as chief presiding officer; and automatically assumes the role of Vice-President or President, where circumstances dictate.

Only 35 of the Senate seats are up for grabs this year; 23 currently held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats. The Senate comprises 100 senators with a very democratic split of 2 from each of the 50 states; serving terms of 6 years each. Accordingly, Alaska has 2 senators; just the same as California.

Senate elections are staggered so that about 30-35 seats are due for re-election every 2 years. There is no cap on the length of time a Senator may serve in office once re-elected. Currently, there are 53 Republican senators, 45 Democrats and 2 Independents, who vote with the Democrats. The sitting US Vice-President acts as the Chair of the Senate and has the casting vote where ballots are tied.

The US Government is made up of 3 branches providing for an appropriate separation of powers – one making laws; one carrying out laws and one interpreting laws.

  1. The Legislative branch consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Both are located at Capitol Hill in Washington DC and together they make up the US Congress.
  2. The Executive branch – the President; Vice-President; and the Cabinet.
  3. The Judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court and other high courts. There are 9 Supreme Court judges, who are nominated by the President and require Senate approval.

Congress functions by way of sub-committees with each chamber recommending its own initiatives. The US Senate does not meekly approve legislative proposals as typically happens in upper chambers elsewhere. In many instances, the Senate will not just reject what is being proposed by the House but will hit back with its own very distinct ideas. This has the effect of keeping the House in check and giving due expression to the views of every state. But it can also lead to lengthy and frustrating exchanges. Ultimately, the President has the power of veto.

The Judicial branch interprets the meaning of laws and eventually decides if laws offend the Constitution. The Supreme Court is the highest court and consists of a Chief Justice and eight other judges. A quorum of six members is required to decide a case. There is no fixed term – members serve until their death, retirement, or removal.

US Government; well that’s the way it should work!

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