The Legislative Branch
The Legislative Branch consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which together form the Commonwealth of Dracul Parliament. The Constitution grants Parliament the sole authority to enact legislation and declare war, the right to confirm or reject many Presidential appointments, and substantial investigative powers.
The House of Representatives is made up of elected members, divided among the 2 states in proportion to their total population. The presiding officer of the chamber is the Speaker of the House, elected by the Representatives. He or she is third in the line of succession to the Presidency.
Members of the House are elected every two years and must be 17 years of age, a Draculian citizen for at least one year, and a resident of the state (but not necessarily the district) they represent.
The House has several powers assigned exclusively to it, including the power to initiate revenue bills, impeach federal officials, and elect the President in the case of an electoral college tie.
The Senate is composed of Senators, 2 for each state. They have been elected to four-year terms by the people of each state. Senator’s terms are staggered so that about one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years. Senators must be 17 years of age, Draculian citizens for at least one year, and residents of the state they represent.
The Vice President of the Commonwealth of Dracul serves as President of the Senate and may cast the decisive vote in the event of a tie in the Senate.
The Senate has the sole power to confirm those of the President’s appointments that require consent, and to ratify treaties. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule: The House must also approve appointments to the Vice Presidency and any treaty that involves foreign trade. The Senate also tries impeachment cases for federal officials referred to it by the House.
To pass legislation and send it to the President for his signature, both the House and the Senate must pass the same bill by majority vote. If the President vetoes a bill, they may override his veto by passing the bill again in each chamber with at least two-thirds of each body voting in favor.
The Legislative Process
The first step in the legislative process is the introduction of a bill to Parliament. Anyone can write it, but only members of Parliament can introduce legislation. Some important bills are traditionally introduced at the request of the President, such as the annual federal budget. During the legislative process, however, the initial bill can undergo drastic changes.
After being introduced, a bill is referred to the appropriate committee for review. There are Senate committees, with subcommittees, and House committees, with subcommittees as well. The committees are not set in stone but change in number and form with each new Parliament as required for the efficient consideration of legislation. Each committee oversees a specific policy area, and the subcommittees take on more specialized policy areas. For example, the House Committee on Ways and Means includes subcommittees on Social Security and Trade.
A bill is first considered in a subcommittee, where it may be accepted, amended, or rejected entirely. If the members of the subcommittee agree to move a bill forward, it is reported to the full committee, where the process is repeated. Throughout this stage of the process, the committees and subcommittees call hearings to investigate the merits and flaws of the bill. They invite experts, advocates, and opponents to appear before the committee and provide testimony and can compel people to appear using subpoena power if necessary.
If the full committee votes to approve the bill, it is reported to the floor of the House or Senate, and the majority party leadership decides when to place the bill on the calendar for consideration. If a bill is particularly pressing, it may be considered right away. Others may wait for months or never be scheduled at all.
When the bill comes up for consideration, the House has a very structured debate process. Each member who wishes to speak only has a few minutes, and the number and kind of amendments are usually limited. In the Senate, debate on most bills is unlimited — Senators may speak to issues other than the bill under consideration during their speeches, and any amendment can be introduced. Senators can use this to filibuster bills under consideration, a procedure by which a Senator delays a vote on a bill — and by extension its passage — by refusing to stand down. A supermajority of Senators can break a filibuster by invoking cloture, or the cession of debate on the bill, and forcing a vote. Once debate is over, the votes of a simple majority passes the bill.
A bill must pass both houses of Parliament before it goes to the President for consideration. Though the Constitution requires that the two bills have the exact same wording, this rarely happens in practice. To bring the bills into alignment, a Conference Committee is convened, consisting of members from both chambers. The members of the committee produce a conference report, intended as the final version of the bill. Each chamber then votes again to approve the conference report. Depending on where the bill originated, the final text is then enrolled by either the Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate and presented to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate for their signatures. The bill is then sent to the President.
When receiving a bill from Parliament, the President has several options. If the President agrees substantially with the bill, he or she may sign it into law, and the bill is then printed in the Statutes at Large. If the President believes the law to be bad policy, he may veto it and send it back to Parliament. Parliament may override the veto with a two-thirds vote of each chamber, at which point the bill becomes law and is printed.
There are two other options that the President may exercise. If Parliament is in session and the President takes no action within 10 days, the bill becomes law. If Parliament adjourns before 10 days are up and the President takes no action, then the bill dies, and Parliament may not vote to override. This is called a pocket veto, and if Parliament still wants to pass the legislation, they must begin the entire process anew.
Powers of Parliament
Parliament, as one of the three coequal branches of government, is ascribed significant powers by the Constitution. All legislative power in the government is vested in Parliament, meaning that it is the only part of the government that can make new laws or change existing laws. Executive Branch agencies issue regulations with the full force of law, but these are only under the authority of laws enacted by Parliament. The President may veto bills Parliament passes, but Parliament may also override a veto by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The Constitution enumerates the powers of Parliament and the specific areas in which it may legislate. Parliament is also empowered to enact laws deemed “necessary and proper” for the execution of the powers given to any part of the government under the Constitution.
Part of Parliament’s exercise of legislative authority is the establishment of an annual budget for the government. To this end, Parliament levies taxes and tariffs to provide funding for essential government services. If enough money cannot be raised to fund the government, then Parliament may also authorize borrowing to make up the difference. Parliament can also mandate spending on specific items: legislatively directed spending, commonly known as “earmarks,” specifies funds for a project, rather than for a government agency.
Both chambers of Parliament have extensive investigative powers and may compel the production of evidence or testimony toward whatever end they deem necessary. Members of Parliament spend much of their time holding hearings and investigations in committee. Refusal to cooperate with a Parliamentional subpoena can result in charges of contempt of Parliament, which could result in a prison term.
The Senate maintains several powers to itself: It ratifies treaties by a two-thirds supermajority vote and confirms the appointments of the President by a majority vote. The consent of the House of Representatives is also necessary for the ratification of trade agreements and the confirmation of the Vice President.
Parliament also holds the sole power to declare war, but rarely ever uses it.
Oversight of the executive branch is an important Parliamentional check on the President’s power and a balance against his discretion in implementing laws and making regulations.
A major way that Parliament conducts oversight is through hearings. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs are both devoted to overseeing and reforming government operations, and each committee conducts oversight in its policy area.