Structures, powers, and functions of Congress
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The House of Representatives in comparison to the Senate
- [Instructor] What I want you to do in this video is a little bit more of a deep dive into the House of Representatives. Now we've already talked about how either chamber of Congress can introduce general legislation. And if it gets approved by one chamber, it has to be voted on and approved by the other chamber. But the House of Representatives has some specific constitutional powers. So for example, impeachment proceedings would start in the House of Representatives. In other videos we have talked about impeachment is not the removal from office, of say the president, it is just a formal indictment. Now if the House of representatives is able to impeach someone, say the president, then it would go to the Senate to try the impeachment, to decide whether to actually convict the person. Now we've also talked about the House being the place where tax and revenue bills would initiate. So if we're talking about tax or revenue, these bills would start in the House of Representatives. The other areas where the Senate has more influence by the Constitution are in ratifying treaties, and this is really one of the significant levers where the Senate has more influence on foreign policy, and also confirmation of presidential appointments, either into the executive branch if we're talking about the cabinet, or judicial appointments, the federal court system including the US Supreme Court. But beyond these constitutional powers, there's differences in how these different houses are run. And what we'll see is these processes result in the Senate being more deliberative. In the video on filibuster, we talk about how hard it is to end the debate in the Senate. While in the House, the power is more centralized amongst not just the majority party, but amongst the leadership in that majority party. We're talking about folks like the Speaker of the House, and the inner circle of the Speaker of the House. And we'll see why this is in a second. And to appreciate this centralized power, and you could argue a more efficient versus deliberative process in the House of Representatives, you just have to remember that if we have a bill coming to the House, it will first go to the Speaker, who decides which committee it goes to. So let's say it goes to some type of a committee right over here. Now just as in the Senate, this committee can conduct hearings, they can have some debate, and the leadership of the committee can decide to bring it to the House floor. But in reality, what happens is is that the Rules Committee gets involved. And as we've talked about in previous videos, the Rules Committee in the House has a significant amount of power. They can decide, assuming a bill gets through committee, they can decide to what degree it is debated on the House floor. They can even decide on the rules of debating. They could decide on the House floor, is it going to be debated as the House, or is it going to be debated as the Committee of the Whole? Which happens in the House chamber, but in this situation, the House discusses it as a very, very, very large committee. And it's usually done for very important legislation, or even sometimes complex legislation where they want to pass it in a more efficient way. And so the existence of a very powerful Rules Committee, you have a Rules Committee in the Senate, but they really don't have much power. But in the House of Representatives, some would argue that they are the most important or most powerful committee, because they decide how and when things get debated. They even decide if there is a debate, or their amendments can even be added to bills. Remember, in our discussion of the Senate, once something even goes to the Senate floor, it's still open to filibuster, and you still need those 60 votes for closure on a bill. That is not the case in the House of Representatives. Now in theory, there are some mechanisms where someone could bypass some of this. So for example, in a committee in the House of Representatives, just as in the Senate, the leadership of a committee could decide to not bring something to vote. They could just put a bill into limbo, not debate it. But if someone really wants it to come to the House floor, they could use something called a discharge petition. Discharge petition. But in order to get a discharge petition, in order to make it successful so that that bill actually goes through the House floor even if the committee chairman doesn't want it to go there, it has to get a majority vote of representatives. And so you could imagine, if it's someone from a minority party trying to have a discharge petition, it would be very difficult, because how are they going to get 51% of the 435 representatives to vote for it. And so that's why in practice, this is actually not that typical. So the big picture here, beyond the constitutional powers that are given to the House or the Senate, in general, the House of Representatives is much more hierarchical. The power is centralized, especially within the majority party. And because of that centralized power, it allows the House to get bills moving much faster, especially once they go through the House floor. You don't have this notion of a filibuster, and this notion that you have to get a super majority in order to actually get a vote and get something passed.