Key Differences Between the House and the Senate

  House Senate
Constitutional Powers
  • Initiates all revenue bills (Art. I, sec. 7)
  • Initiates (and passes or defeats) articles of impeachment (Art. I, sec. 2)
  • Gives "advice and consent" to treaties (Art. II, sec. 2) and to major presidential appointments (Art. II, sec. 2)
  • Tries impeached officials (Art. I, sec. 3)
  • 435 members with two-year terms
  • More hierarchically organized (more centralized, more formal, stronger leadership)
  • Power distributed less evenly
  • Members are highly specialized
  • Emphasizes tax and revenue policy
  • More committees and subcommittees
  • 100 members with six-year terms
  • Less hierarchically organized (less centralized, less formal, weaker leadership)
  • Power distributed more evenly
  • Members are generalists
  • Emphasizes foreign policy
  • Fewer committees and subcommittees
Legislative/Committee Procedures
  • Bills introduced into "the hopper" and referred to committee by the Speaker
  • Speaker may create ad hoc committees
  • Committee action more influential than floor action for final decision
  • Scheduling generally controlled by majority party leadership and Rules Committee
  • Rigid floor debate rules favor majority (debate limits set by Rules Committee)
  • Bills introduced (may be introduced directly on the floor) and normally referred to committee by majority leader
  • No ad hoc committees may be created
  • Floor action as important as committee action for final decision
  • Scheduling generally mutually agreed by majority and minority leaders
  • Flexible floor debate rules protect minority (debate limits rare, set by full Senate via unanimous consent or cloture)
Changes in the Institution (1990s-2000s)
  • Power centralized in the Speaker's inner circle of advisors
  • House procedures are becoming more efficient
  • Those seeking reelection almost always win
  • Senate workload increasing and informally breaking down, threat of filibusters more frequent than in the past
  • Becoming more difficult to pass legislation
  • Turnover is moderate

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Adapted from O'Connor, Karen, Larry J. Sabato, Stefan D. Haag, and Gary A. Keith. 2004. American Government: Continuity and Change. Pearson Education Inc. p. 226.; Edwards, David V. and Alessandra Lippucci. 1998. Practicing American Politics: An Introduction to Government. Worth Publishers. p. 417.