United States Congress: Facts and Figures

Briefing 25-10-2021

The Congress is the legislative branch of the US system of government. It is divided into two chambers: the House of Representatives (lower chamber) and the Senate (upper chamber). The formal powers of Congress are set out in Article 1 of the US Constitution, and include making laws, collecting revenue, borrowing and spending money, declaring war, making treaties with foreign nations, and overseeing the executive branch. Elections to the US Congress occur in November every second year, with the Congress convening the following January. The current, 117th, Congress was elected in November 2020 and was convened in January 2021. The US has a long-standing two-party system, which means that nearly all members of Congress belong to either the Republican or Democratic parties, while independent members (if any) generally align or sit with one of the two main parties. At the most recent, simultaneous US Presidential and Congressional elections, in November 2020, the Democratic party won the White House. The Democrats retained a reduced majority in the House of Representatives, whilst both parties got the same number of seats in the Senate (including two Independent Senators who sit with the Democrats), where the Democrats now enjoy a de facto majority because of the casting vote of the US Vice-President, Kamala Harris. This EPRS Briefing is designed to provide key facts and figures about the US Congress as an institution, including relevant comparisons with the European Parliament (EP). The back page contains a map showing the location of the various Congressional buildings on Capitol Hill, home to the Congress in Washington DC. This updates previous EPRS Briefings on the 115th Congress and 116th Congress, which are available online.