The United States government is divided into three branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives are all parts of the legislative branch. In US politics, the term "Congress" refers to the Senate and House of Representatives together. All of the elected officials in the legislative branch are members of one of these two chambers. Some of the many differences between the Senate and the House of Representatives are the number of members from each state, the term of office that each official serves, the eligibility requirements for election and the various rules, powers and duties of each chamber.
One key difference between the two chambers of Congress is their membership numbers. The Senate has two members from each of the 50 states, for a total of 100 members. In the House of Representatives, or House, the number of elected officials from each state is based on its population. Since 1911, the total membership of the House has been fixed at 435, with a minimum of one member from each state. As of 2012, the most populous state, California, had 53 officials in the House of Representatives.
The District of Columbia and certain US territories also send delegates to the House of Representatives. They are not allowed to vote but can participate in discussions and debates. The four territories with delegates as of 2012 were the US Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. Puerto Rico sends an official called a resident commissioner, whose role is the same as the non-voting delegates.
A significant difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives is how long their members serve after being elected. Senators are elected to six-year terms, and members of the House are elected to two-year terms. There is no limit on the number of terms that a member of either chamber of Congress can serve. Perhaps because they serve shorter terms, representatives in the House have been more likely to be re-elected than senators.
The requirements for being elected are different for the Senate and the House. A senator must be at least 30 years old and must have been a US citizen for at least nine years. To serve in the House of Representatives, a person must be at least 25 years old and must have been a US citizen for at least seven years. A candidate for either chamber can be elected to represent only the state in which he or she lives at the time of the election, although there are no requirements for how long a person must have lived in that state.
To many people, there is more prestige associated with the Senate than with the House of Representatives. The main reason is because there are far more members of the House, so senators are considered more rare and more powerful. They also tend to get more media attention. It is common for members of the House to try to get elected to the Senate, but it would be very unusual for a senator to try to get elected to the House of Representatives. Also, senators are widely considered to be better candidates for national offices such as president or vice president.
Duties and Powers
The US Constitution gives each chamber specific powers. For example, the House begins the process of impeachment when an official is accused of criminal activity. If the House passes an article of impeachment, the Senate puts the official on trial. The Constitution also gives the House the power to initiate any bills that concern government revenues or spending, and it gives the Senate the right to provide the president with advice and give consent to any treaties and to confirm or reject presidential appointments, such as those of Supreme Court judges.
Another of the many differences between the chambers is that the majority party has more control over the House. For example, the majority party controls the rules committee that sets the voting schedule and determines the parameters for debating policies and bills on the House floor. The Senate's rules protect the minority party, so the majority party cannot control scheduling or debate parameters.
For a bill to become a law, it must be passed by both chambers of Congress. The bill begins in either the House or Senate and must be passed by a majority vote. It is then voted on by the other chamber, and if the majority of congresspersons in that chamber also vote for it, it is sent to the president, who can sign it into law or veto it. A bill that has been vetoed by the president can be made a law by Congress if two-thirds of the members of each chamber vote for it.