Saturday, April 27, 2024

What are the roles of the US House and Senate?

VOA News: What are the roles of the US House and Senate?

As the legislative branch of the United States government, Congress is responsible for proposing and passing the nation’s laws. But in recent years, fewer and fewer laws have been making their way to the president’s desk to be signed. The 118th U.S. Congress that began its session in 2023 passed only 34 bills in its first year, compared to 197 for the 108th Congress and 221 for the 98th. This deadlock is due not only to increased political polarization, but to the unique structure of two congressional chambers that operate in parallel yet distinct ways. The concept of a bicameral legislature originates with the British Parliament, where the House of Commons was intended to represent the people, while the House of Lords has evolved to be seen as a body of experts to review proposed laws. America’s founders adopted the model with a different idea. Since the nation began as a confederation of sovereign states, there was a conflict between representing each state equally and reflecting the greater contributions of the more populated states. Bicameralism enabled a compromise, where each state is represented proportionally according to population in the House of Representatives, but equally in the Senate. Each state’s total congressional representation also determines the number of votes they are given in presidential elections, giving voters in smaller states more impact. Today, the Senate has 100 members — two for each state — while the House has 435, each representing a district of about 760,000 people. Each of the two chambers introduces and votes on legislation, but only the House may introduce revenue bills. House bills are introduced when they are referred to committee by the House speaker, while Senate bills may be introduced by any senator on the floor. The two chambers also have different roles when it comes to impeachment. The House initiates the process and votes on whether to bring charges. The Senate conducts the trial by voting to convict or acquit. Another important difference is the filibuster, a maneuver allowing any senator to block a vote by drawing out debate indefinitely unless overruled by three-fifths of the Senate. Initially used only as an emergency measure, increasing polarization in recent years has turned the filibuster into a perpetual threat by the minority party to block any legislation favored by the majority. In practice, this means that every Senate bill needs a supermajority of 60 votes to pass.

The House, which has no filibuster option, only requires a simple majority. Ultimately, any bill must pass both the House and the Senate to be signed into law, which is especially difficult if the two chambers are controlled by opposing parties. The partisan gridlock of recent decades has periodically led to calls for reforming the Senate by removing the filibuster or even abolishing the chamber altogether in favor of a unicameral legislature.


USCIS 100:13. Name one branch or part of the government.* USCIS 100:14. What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful? USCIS 100:15. Who is in charge of the executive branch? USCIS 100:16. Who makes federal laws? USCIS 100:17. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?* USCIS 100:18. How many U.S. Senators are there? USCIS 100:19. We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years? USCIS 100:20. Who is one of your state's U.S. Senators?* USCIS 100:21. The House of Representatives has how many voting members? USCIS 100:22. We elect a U.S. Representative for how many years? USCIS 100:23. Name your U.S. Representative. USCIS 100:24. Who does a U.S. Senator represent? USCIS 100:25. Why do some states have more Representatives than other states? USCIS 100:45. What are the two major political parties in the United States?* USCIS 100:47. What is the name of the Speaker of the House of Representatives now? But as their structure is enshrined in the Constitution, both chambers of Congress will likely persist into the foreseeable future.

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