AP Gov: CON‑3 (EU), CON‑3.A (LO), CON‑3.A.1 (EK), CON‑3.A.2 (EK), CON‑3.A.3 (EK), CON‑3.A.4 (EK)
An overview of the structures, powers, and functions of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Lesson overview

The structure and operations of Congress reflect the republican ideal of self-government via elected representatives. When crafting the legislative branch, the Framers created various differences between the two houses. These differences were a byproduct of the Great Compromise as the Framers were aiming to satisfy states with both large and small populations. Differences include district size, chamber size, and the enumerated powers of each house.

Key terms

TermDefinition
House of RepresentativesThe lower chamber of Congress, in which the number of representatives per state is determined by the state’s population, with 435 Representatives total. Members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms, so they are up for reelection every two years.
SenateThe upper chamber of Congress, in which each state has two representatives regardless of population size, with 100 senators total. Senators serve six-year terms, with one-third of them running for reelection every two years.
enumerated powersPowers of the federal government explicitly named in the Constitution
implied powersPowers of the federal government not explicitly named in the Constitution that enable the federal government to carry out its enumerated powers.
constituentsVoters in a legislative district.
coalitionAn alliance of political groups pursuing a common goal.

Key documents to know

The Constitution of the United States (1787 — The fundamental laws and principles that govern the United States. The document was a result of several compromises between federalists and anti-federalists at the Constitutional Convention.

Similarities and differences between the House and the Senate

Representation and responsiveness: The Senate represents large and small states equally with two senators per state; while each state’s share of the 435 representatives in the House is determined by its population. Because members of the House of Representatives have two-year term lengths, they are typically more responsive to their constituents’ concerns than senators, who have six-year terms. Senators cannot ignore their constituents, however, as one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years.
Debate procedures: Debate procedures are typically less formal in the smaller Senate compared to those of the larger House of Representatives. Shorter term-lengths in the House can make representatives more sensitive to constituent concerns than Senators, and less likely to form bipartisan coalitions in support of legislation as a result.
Powers: Both Houses of Congress have different enumerated powers (those explicitly stated in the Constitution) as well as implicit powers (not stated in the Constitution but assumed in order to carry out enumerated powers).

Structual and operational comparison

SenateHouse of Representatives
RepresentationTwo senators per state, regardless of populationNumber of representatives based on population
Procedures and rulesLess formalMore formal
FilibusterYesNo
HoldsYesNo
Unanimous consent agreementsYesNo
Rules CommitteeYesYes

Review questions

How do the different chamber sizes in the House and the Senate influence the formality of debate?
The House has more formal debate procedures because it's much larger than the Senate!
What is one power unique to the House of Representatives, and why is the House responsible for carrying out that power?
What is one power unique to the Senate, and why is the Senate responsible for carrying out that power?
Revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives. This is because representatives are more responsive to their constituents, who care deeply about how the federal government spends tax dollars.
Impeachment trials happen in the Senate. This is because each state has an equal number of representatives in the Senate, which gives states ultimate power over the presidency.
Article written by Leah Cabrera-Marquez. This article is licensed under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.
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