Difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives

Published on January 28, 2016

The United States Congress is what is known as a “bicameral institution,” meaning there are two houses, namely the Senate and the House of Representatives, that comprise it. In this article, we will discuss what the differences between them are.

Definitions

Senate vs House of Representatives
A class photo of the 111th United States Senate

The United States Senate is an “upper house” in the United States Congress.

The history of the Senate goes back to 1787, when William Paterson at the Constitutional Convention proposed the New Jersey plan, which constituted the structure of the United States Government. The plan was initially based on the principle of equality, and later would become a foundation of the United States Senate. Originally senators were chosen by the state legislators, which meant they were largely representatives of the state’s elite class. That changed in 1913 with the 17th amendment, and since then senators have been elected by the people just like representatives. The Senate was formed on the example of the ancient Roman Senate. The name refers to the Latin term senatus, meaning council of elders.

The seal of the U.S. House of Representatives
The seal of the U.S. House of Representatives

The history of the House of Representatives goes to back to the Virginia plan envisioned by Edmund Jennings Randolph, the first United States Attorney General. He came up with the idea of a bicameral legislature and the House as the Lower House represented the people as far as all American Constitution issues were concerned. In the beginning, the House of Representatives was the only body in the Congress that was elected. It essentially represented what is it that people want, even before the President, let alone the Senate.

Every state in the United States of America sends its representatives to the House. The more populous the state, the more representatives it has (for example, Alaska and Vermont each have only one representative, while California has 52).

Senate vs House of Representatives

What is the difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives?

1) The Senate with its 100 members is smaller, compared to the House of Representatives, which has 435 members. One of the consequences of this arrangement is that the Senate has more flexibility in their rules. In the Senate, there is such a thing as a “filibuster,” which means that if the senator has a podium, he can talk as long as he wishes. One of the consequences of the filibuster is that a minority can rule the Senate. In The House of Representatives, on the other hand, there are structured rules on what members can talk about, and how long they can talk, because there are many more members in the House, and things have to proceed more quickly in order to be done at all.

2) The constitutional requirements for the senators and the house members are different.

For the Senate:

  1. A senator has to be a minimum of 30 years old.
  2. He must have lived in the United States for a minimum of 9 years.
  3. There is a 6 year term.

For the House of Representatives:

  1. A citizen has to be a minimum of 25 years old in order to become a House member.
  2. A citizen must have lived in the United States for a minimum of 7 years. (One doesn’t need to be born in the United States)
  3. The period of membership is 2 years. Every two years there are re-elections in the House. This is done so that the House members will be more responsive to the will of the people.
house of representatives
The composition of the United States House of Representatives

3) An individual member of the Senate has the opportunity to change the course of events, while an individual member of the House of Representatives doesn’t. If you are a member of the House of Representatives, and happen to be in a minority part, regardless of being Republican or Democrat, you at a disadvantage, because the majority in the House of Representatives controls everything. In the Senate, on the other hand, the power is given to an individual senator. So even if the given senator belongs to the minority, he can play a major role.

In the Senate, there is such a thing as “unanimous consent,” meaning that every senator has to agree on the given issue in order to move forward with approving it. Even if only one senator doesn’t agree, he can object to the legislation or whatever is in question.

composition of the senate
The composition of the 114th United States Senate with the independent members outlined in blue to show that they are caucused with Democrats

5) A party can theoretically win the majority in the House of Representatives in one election cycle. For example, the Republican Party did it in 2010, as did the Democratic Party in 2006. On the other hand, in order to gain the majority in the Senate, it takes several election cycles.

6) As far as economy-connected decisions are concerned, all revenue bills, or any bills that deal with money must originate in the House of Representatives. The Senate considers the bills, its members are able to promote amendments regarding them, but they cannot make a final decision.

7) The U.S. President can nominate people to office, but they gain it only with the subsequent approval of the majority of the Senate. The House of Representatives, on the other hand, has no role in nominating candidates whatsoever.

8)  In terms of foreign treaties and regulations, such as those connected to wars, etc., it is up to the Senate majority to decide whether to ratify them or not. The House of Representatives, on the other hand, doesn’t have a say in these matters.

9) The House of Representatives has the power to impeach an elected official. The Senate, on the other hand, doesn’t have this power.

Comparison chart

The SenateThe House of Representatives
Is a smaller institutionIs a bigger institution
A senator has to be a minimum of 30 years old; must have lived in the U.S. 9 years; is elected for 6 yearsA House member has to be a minimum of 25 years old; must have lived in the U.S. 7 years; is elected for 2 years
An individual member of the Senate can change the course of events even while in minorityThe majority controls everything; an individual member cannot change the course of events, while in minority
A party cannot win the majority in one election cycleA party can win the majority in one election cycle
Doesn’t have power to make decisions regarding the economyMakes decisions regarding the economy
Approves candidates to officeDoesn’t approve nominations
Ratifies international treatiesDoesn’t have power to ratify international treaties
Cannot impeach an officialHas power to impeach an official

Video

In this video you can see the structure of the United States Government explained: