Would you rather be a member of Parliament or member of Congress? Explain your answer to show your understanding of the differences between the British Parliament and US Congress. As an...

Would you rather be a member of Parliament or member of Congress? Explain your answer to show your understanding of the differences between the British Parliament and US Congress. As an institution, which legislative body is stronger—the US Congress or the British Parliament? Explain your answer to show your understanding of the differences between Parliament and Congress. Which leader has more power—the Prime Minister of the UK or the US President? Why?

Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Having spent many years working for members for the United States Congress, I have often pondered the question of which of two systems, parliamentary or the US Congress, is better. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Putting aside for a moment the question of which system better serves the public, I would rather be a member of Congress than a member of parliament. While members of both types of institution are elected, members of the US Congress generally enjoy better stability. Under Article I of the Constitution of the United States, members of the Senate serve for six year terms and members of the House of Representatives for two year terms, with no limits on the number of terms members can serve. Those are fixed terms and, unlike a parliamentarian system in which new elections can be called at almost any time, congressmen and senators know that, once elected, they are safe until the next regularly scheduled elections.

Beyond the question of job stability, members of Congress can wield more power individually and collectively, especially when serving as a part of a minority party. In a parliamentary system of government, the majority party enjoys near-absolute power within the confines of the law. The minority parties in parliamentary systems serve as a “loyal opposition” with minimal power over the direction of government unless successful in forming a coalition with other minority parties and/or with defectors from the majority or governing party. When comparing a parliamentary system with the US Congress, though, distinctions obviously have to be made between the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the former, individual members of the House are largely without power except to the extent that they rise to leadership positions on powerful committees like that which oversees appropriations. In the Senate, in contrast, individual senators enjoy considerable power. The filibuster option, for example, provides individual senators the power of obstructing the normal operations of the institution, and is used for such purposes as blocking legislation from advancing or presidential nominations from being considered. So powerful is that authority that its mere threat is sufficient to disrupt proceedings.

With respect to which form of legislative body is more powerful, the answer is less complicated. A parliamentary majority gives the party in power absolute control over governing institutions. Department heads are chosen from the ranks of the majority party and those ministers, such as for Defense, Treasury, and so on, remain sitting members of parliament. That makes the parliamentary majority enormously powerful relative to minority parties. The United States Congress is an enormously powerful institution, but its powers are deliberately constrained under the articles of the Constitution. The Constitution’s authors established a system of checks and balances intended to prevent any one branch of the federal government from growing too powerful. Consequently, a powerful chief executive, the president, is vested with specified powers, such as serving as commander in chief of the armed forces despite Congress’s authority to declare war. The parliament, therefore, can be considered more powerful than the Congress.

The president of the United States is considered the most powerful individual in the world. That power derives from the scale of the US economy relative to most of the rest of the world and to this country’s military capabilities. As such, the president is more powerful than any prime minister. Presidents are elected for specified terms of four years (with a limit of two terms as president). Prime ministers, in contrast, can serve for as many years as their parties elect them to lead the government, but those tenures in office can end very quickly if the balance of power in parliament shifts. In general, the president of the United States is more powerful than any prime minister.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would rather be a member of Parliament, as the British Parliament is better able to pass legislation than the U.S. Congress. As the U.S. Congress is controlled by two parties, often one party is able to hold up legislation, and, even if legislation moves beyond the Congress, the president can veto it. As a result, legislation is often held in gridlock, which is partly a function of the American system of checks and balances. The British Parliament, on the other hand, is run by the party in control, and they are able to get more legislation passed. There are elections each year, and the system does not run with the idea of checks and balances. For example, the government ministers in Britain are also members of the Parliament.

While the British Parliament has more power than the U.S. Congress, the American president theoretically has more power than the British prime minister. The prime minister only serves when he or she has a majority of votes in the Parliament, and when there is a new election result, the prime minister changes immediately. In the United States, on the other hand, the president serves for a four-year term independent of Congress. Theoretically, the president of the U.S. has more power than the British prime minister; however, at times, it can be difficult for the president to get legislation through Congress. 

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question