US government and civics
Course: US government and civics > Unit 2Lesson 1: Congress: The Senate and the House of Representatives
The Senate and the House of Representatives: lesson overview
An overview of the structures, powers, and functions of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
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.
|House of Representatives||The 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.|
|Senate||The 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 powers||Powers of the federal government explicitly named in the Constitution|
|implied powers||Powers of the federal government not explicitly named in the Constitution that enable the federal government to carry out its enumerated powers.|
|constituents||Voters in a legislative district.|
|coalition||An 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
|Senate||House of Representatives|
|Representation||Two senators per state, regardless of population||Number of representatives based on population|
|Procedures and rules||Less formal||More formal|
|Unanimous consent agreements||Yes||No|
How do the different chamber sizes in the House and the Senate influence the formality of debate?
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?
Want to join the conversation?
- In the list of Structual and operational comparison above, what are "holds"?(12 votes)
- From the author:A hold is an informal procedure in the US Senate. A senator can tell the floor leader that he or she does not want a bill to reach the floor for a vote. The floor leader can choose whether or not they want to listen to the senator. It's a way to block a bill from being voted on.(20 votes)
- Why do the House and Senate have different term limits?(4 votes)
- The House of Representatives is supposed to be closer to the will of the people with a shorter term limit. Because they only have two years in office, they have to vote in a way that pleases their constituents so they can become reelected. On the other hand, the Senate has longer term limits so they are not swayed by the will of the people.(3 votes)
- Is there a difference between enumerated powers and powers explicitly listed in the Constitution, because I am really confused and I keep getting quiz answers wrong...(4 votes)
- No, there is no difference, however there is a difference between implied and enumerated powers(0 votes)
- does the senate or the house have more variety in political views?(3 votes)
- Since the House of Representatives has smaller constituencies( lesser number of voters per seat) and shorter terms for its members, it generally comprises of a more diverse range of political views and ideologies.(1 vote)
- In the "Structual and operational comparison" chart there seems to be a spelling error where it says "Mo" instead of "No".(2 votes)
- Why was the 17th Amendment passed? What effects did it have on the Senate?(2 votes)
- how do they decide who is reelected in the senate after 2 years (the 1/3rd who is reelected)(2 votes)
- There is no "they" except the voters. All senators serve 6 year terms, but one/third is up for reelection every two years. So 1/3 of the Senators are voted on in 2024, 1/3 2026, 1/3 2028 and so on.(1 vote)
- What impact has the necessary and proper clause had on congressional power?(2 votes)
- The Necessary and Proper Clause gives Congress implied powers that are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.(1 vote)
- In the "Structural and operational comparison" chart, I thought that the House of Representatives was the only one that had a Rules Committee where it would decide on the rules for the floor debate. Am I mistaken on this?(2 votes)
- What impact has the necessary and proper clause had on congressional power?(1 vote)
- As I understand it, the Necessary and Proper clause has expanded the congressional power, as well as clarifying it. It has given definition to their implied power, and clarified that they may do any task not explicitly stated that allows them to carry out their enumerated powers. Therefore, it has justified the actions that they can take that are not explicitly stated.(2 votes)