Where does power lie in Congress?
Congress in the US is granted all legislative powers by the Constitution, the power to appropriate funds, regulate trade and commerce and to formally declare war. Although the President imposes his will on all of these activities Congress is still an extremely important and powerful body; arguably today it has a superior mandate as President Bush was elected on a popular minority and less recently. Congress is regularly re-elected (every two years) and because of the diversity of the US population it represents a very broad range of interests. The Gingritch years in the House of Representatives show how a reassertion of power in Congress can shape the political landscape in the US.
David McKay comments that in Congress "Two major foci of power exist - committees and party leadership". During the early 1990s the balance between these two powers shifted as modernisation reforms removed some of the institutionalised powers of committee chairs, and afforded the Speaker of the House a more prominent role.
Unlike in the UK where the speaker is politically neutral, the US Speaker is very much a political player and votes on every issue. Undeniably the most senior position in the House of Representatives, the Speaker is elected by all members of the House at the beginning of each new Congress (i.e. every two years). The powers of the Speaker are crucial to the smooth running of Congress, although the extent to which the speaker chooses to use the powers depends very much on their personality and views on their position. Formally, the Speaker chairs debates, refers bills to committees, enforces the rules of the house, appoints select and conference committee chairs and appoints the majority party members of the important House Rules Committee. Newt Gingritch was Speaker from 1995-1998,