How many times have you felt that you had to keep out of a conversation, even though you had something to say, for fear of mistaking Congress for Parliament and making a fool of yourself? If you are one of the people who are still trying to understand who does what, continue reading and gain the confidence to step into political conversations without problems.
Congress is the legislative branch of the U.S. Government and it is the legislative forum of the Congressional Democracy. It formulates and gives the laws and it works alongside the other two branches: the executive (which decides on how the law will be enforced) and the judicial (which enforces them). Two houses make up Congress: the Senate and the House of Representatives. This is a form of state organization specific to the US.
According to the Founding Fathers, the Congress is the most important branch of government because they made sure that it provided representation. Two senators are sent to the Senate from each state. Also, according to the size of the state, the House of Representatives can get one or more members. All members of Congress are elected individually by the constituency, therefore by the people they are going to represent.
Parliament is the legislative branch of a Parliamentary democracy, meaning a system in which the executive is accountable to the legislative and to the head of state. It is made out of the Senate and the National Assembly, whose members are elected on party lists by constituencies. In the UK, for example, there are the House of Lords, where seats are inherited within the same family (or appointed by the leader of the political party in power), and the House of Commons, which represents individual people and where candidates get elected. This is a form of state organization found in the UK and in many other countries.
Members of Parliament elect the Prime Minister, who will effectively rule the country in the UK, for example, or become the representative of the legislature and internal affairs in other countries. Normally, the Prime Minister is chosen by the party with the most members in Parliament.
Congress vs Parliament
So what is the difference between Congress and Parliament?
They both represent the legislative branch of Government, but according to the type of democracy it is part of, it is a branch with more or less power. While Congress is independent of the other branches, Parliament controls the executive. Also, the role played by political parties varies. In the case of Congress, where members are elected individually based on their own career and promises, in Parliament, it’s political parties that push candidates in front and include them on their lists in order to get a chance to be voted in. It is also the party with a majority of members in Parliament that gets to decide the Prime Minister.
As far as passing a bill is concerned, Congress usually debates more on each issue, as every member is a representative of a separate group of interests (his/her own constituency), whereas Parliamentary duties are met with more ease as the interest groups are formed around political parties and votes are given in accordance.
When comparing Congress to Parliament, we are in fact comparing the American system of governance and the UK system of governance. This means that we must keep in mind that when the Americans won their independence and built their new country, they set out to improve the already existing political system, the one they knew, and created the Congressional form of democracy.
|The legislative branch of Government||The legislative branch of government|
|Characteristic to the congressional democracy||Characteristic to the parliamentary democracy|
|Branches are independent||Can check on the executive|
|All members are elected||Members are elected on party lists|
|Does not have a Prime Minister||The majority party elects the Prime Minister|
|Individuals/people are represented||Parties are represented|