As they are fewer in number and serve longer terms (6 years as opposed to 2), Senators are generally considered to be more powerful. But are the Representatives also important in Congress?

1 Answer 1


But are the Representatives also important in Congress?

There are 4.35 Representatives per Senator. So a simplistic analysis makes one Senator worth more than four Representatives. However, this really depends on the specific circumstances. For example, contentious legislation can be filibustered in the Senate, requiring sixty votes for cloture. But most House votes are a simple majority. The means that there are more than five Representatives per Senator (217 to 41) that can vote against legislation before it fails to pass.

On any specific legislation though, a bill may be more popular in either chamber. Perhaps sixty votes in the Senate is easy, but a majority of the House is difficult. Or vice versa. Regardless, it takes support in both to pass a bill.

The House has two powers that the Senate does not have. First, tax bills must originate in the House. Although when sent a bill with any sort of tax change, the Senate can make arbitrary changes to it. So that power only matters if the House sends no tax-related bills to the Senate whatsoever. Second, the House gets to vote for a president if no one gets an electoral college majority. However, that power rarely gets exercised (twice, in 1801 and 1825).

The Senate has two powers that the House does not have. It can ratify treaties and confirm (or reject) presidential appointments. The House has no role in treaties. Its only power in terms of appointments is the ability to keep Congress in session to block recess appointments. But the Senate can also do that, so it's only really useful if the Senate and President are one party while the House is another.

Both chambers share a role in impeachments. The House indicts and the Senate acts as a jury. The Chief Justice acts as judge. The House has impeached twice (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton), but the Senate has failed to convict either time.

The general impression is that a Senator is more powerful than a Representative. There may be individual circumstances where a Representative is more important, but in general, a Senator is. However, both are needed for legislation.

  • 3
    You missed the Senate's power to choose the VP that parallels the House's power to choose the President (when the electoral college deadlocks).
    – Bobson
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 22:43

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