The Senate is one of the two parts of the United States Congress, the legislature that makes the country’s laws.
The Congress has two parts because the men who wrote the U.S. Constitution could not agree on details of the new form of government.
Men from states with large populations thought they should be able to send more lawmakers to Congress. After all, their states had more people.
But men from states with smaller populations thought each state should have the same number of lawmakers. After all, people in small states did not want their voices to be lost.
So the Constitution-writers agreed that part of Congress should be based on states’ populations, and the other part of Congress should have equal representation.
The Senate is the part with equal representation. Each state has two senators, no matter how big or small its population.
Differences between the Senate and House
The Constitution-writers expected members of the Senate – called senators – to help set limits on the office of the president. They gave senators the power to decide whether to try and remove the president and other government officials accused of wrongdoing. Senators also approve or reject the president’s choices for top government positions, including Supreme Court justices. And senators have powers to approve treaties with other countries.
At the same time, the Constitution-writers wanted the Senate to limit what they feared would be the strong emotions of voters. James Madison called it a “fence” against the passion of the people.
George Washington reportedly said the Senate would “cool” laws proposed by House members, who were more closely connected with everyday Americans.
Because senators have so much responsibility, the Constitution-writers required them to be a little older than House members – at least 30 years old, compared to 25. And they decided that each senator would serve six years – compared to two for members of the House. A longer time in office would make the Senate stronger and reduce political pressures, they reasoned.
However, not all senators finish their terms at once. Every two years, one-third of senators must leave their office or seek re-election. The other two-thirds remain in place.
Finally, the Constitution-writers decided that state lawmakers would elect the state’s senators. This situation would permit states some additional power in the federal government. However, in 1913, the Constitution was changed to permit voters to elect senators directly.
The work of the Senate
The Senate does its lawmaking work through 16 regular committees. They study and make decisions on the federal budget, foreign relations, national laws and other issues.
Senators also gather together to talk – a lot – about why they plan to vote a certain way, and why other senators should support them. Unlike in the House of Representatives, the Senate permits senators to debate at length.
Because of all their talk, the Senate has been called the world’s “greatest deliberative body.”
But others have pointed out that the Senate is a group of very different, independent individuals. Getting a majority to agree can be extremely difficult. One former Senate leader said trying to get them to move together was like “herding cats.” Another described it as “loading frogs into a wheelbarrow.”
I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
no matter – n. to say that something does not, will not, or should not affect something else
regular – adj. normal or usual
certain – adj. used to refer to something or someone that is not named specifically