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The U.S. Congress

The Senate, along with the House of Representatives, is the Legislative Branch of the United States Government. 

Members of the Senate work closely with constituents in their home state to determine what laws could be created or amended to improve their standard of living. They collaborate with the House representatives to secure funding for housing, schools, universities, hospitals, and infrastructure projects such as maintaining roads and bridges.

In the Senate, the process for creating new laws is similar to that of the House. New legislation could originate in the Senate or be passed from the House to the Senate, where it is reviewed and negotiated within committees and subcommittees before being debated and eventually voted on.

While the number of House representatives varies from state to state based on population, in the Senate each state is equally represented with two Senators. A term in the Senate is six years. Congressional elections take place in every even numbered year, with one-third of the 100 senate seats up for election or re-election every two years.

Senate Committees

The standing, joint, and select committees in the Senate parallel those in the House, each one with a focus on a specific part of the federal government. Besides passing legislation, committee members are also responsible for oversight of the agencies and programs within their jurisdiction, monitoring projects and activities and approving funding.

Besides being part of the Executive branch and first in line to the presidency, the Vice President is empowered by the Constitution to be president of the Senate.

The day-to-day leadership duties of the Senate are usually overseen by the President pro-tempore or else a Senator from the majority party, however, the President of the Senate steps in to cast a deciding vote on legislation in the event of a tie.

 The Powers of the Senate

Article I of the Constitution outlines the duties of Congress. These responsibilities are shared by the House of Representatives and the Senate, but each of the chambers of Congress has their own exclusive powers:

  • The Senate has the authority to “advise and consent” to the President’s nominees to positions within the Supreme Court, the cabinet, ambassadors to foreign countries, and heads of federal agencies. This allows Congress to keep the political influence of the Executive branch in check
  • When the House of Representatives brings impeachment charges against a government official for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” the Senate has to determine whether to charge the individual and remove them from office
  • During an election year, in the event of a tie in the Electoral College, the Senate has to choose the Vice Presidential candidate closest to receiving the majority of votes.