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Background: During a conversation about politics, I mentioned that one party in the US might try to amend the Constitution so that, should a bill pass the House of Representatives but be voted down in the Senate, the House would have an option similar to the one that allows a two-thirds majority of the Senate to pass a law which has been vetoed by the President - in effect, a two-thirds to four-fifths majority in the House would be able to overrule the Senate vote and send the bill to the Executive branch for ratification.

My friend swears that the House is already given this ability in the Constitution. I clarified that I was talking about the House utilizing such a vote, and not the Senate overruling a Presidential veto. My friend replied to the effect of "It's in the Constitution, you just have to read it carefully."

Well, I've done that several times now, but I also realize I'm no constitutional law scholar - maybe my friend is correct that the House already has this ability, but it just isn't explicitly stated in the Constitution? Could two or more clauses in the Constitution interact to grant this ability to the House? Is there a Supreme Court ruling that I don't know about that gives the House the right to do this?

Or is my friend just genuinely confused between the House and the Senate?

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    Side note: The Senate cannot override a Presidential veto. Overriding a veto requires a 2/3 majority vote in both the Senate and the House. – user4556274 Jul 26 at 10:58
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    Have you asked your friend to point out where the Constitution this is laid down? – Stephan Kolassa Jul 27 at 8:55
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    @StephanKolassa: Actually, I disagree that this is even imaginable. Article V provides that "no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate." So it really depends on how you interpret "suffrage" in that context. Arguably, depriving the Senate of one of its core functions would qualify, meaning you can't amend the Constitution in this fashion anyway. – Kevin Jul 27 at 20:44
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    @Andy: That's one to two chapters of a typical novel (depending on whether you include amendments), and you are not going to read about how laws get passed in the Sixteenth Amendment (for example), so most of the document only needs to be read once. Have attention spans really shortened to such an extent? – Kevin Jul 27 at 20:46
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    @Kevin You can't rule a Constitutional Amendment unconstitutional; it's Constitutional by definition. If it's a contradiction then the Constitution is self-contradictory and we get to have problems, but if such an Amendment were passed 1) it would amend the relevant section in article V in some fashion, most likely, and 2) even if it didn't explicitly do so, the most logical course of action for the courts would be to say that it did. – Please stop being evil Jul 28 at 7:16
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No, the House of Representatives does not have the power to overrule a Senate veto. Article I, Section 7 is quite clear that a bill needs to pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate in order to become law.

The two-chamber Congress was designed as a compromise between those founders who wanted every person to have an equal say in American politics, and those who wanted every state to have an equal say. Allowing the Senate to, in effect, be ignored in this way undermines this compromise.

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    Thank you. I realize this question is... kindergarten level stuff here, but my friend was so certain I started doubting myself. – KernelOfChaos Jul 26 at 8:20
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    It's worth mentioning that there are other countries where the lower house can effectively overrule a veto from the upper house, so perhaps that's what your friend is thinking. But the US is not one of those countries. – Joe C Jul 26 at 8:29
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    One example of the lower house being able to override the upper house is the UK, under en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliament_Acts_1911_and_1949 – John Dallman Jul 26 at 13:34
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    Strictly speaking, the Senate does not veto a bill. Only the President can do that. The Senate (and the House) simply votes on whether or not to pass a bill. – jamesqf Jul 26 at 16:37
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    As Joe C suggests, here in the united Kingdom the lower House of Commons can over-ride the upper House of Lords. I suspect that's due to constitutional changes in the 20th Century. Let's not go into the procedure, nor try to compare US senators to British lords, as such. Still, I suggest guarding against such an over-ride is part of the reason the US constitution is crafted as it is. – Robbie Goodwin Jul 26 at 19:29
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No

The Constitution is clear that all bills must by passed by the House and the Senate. Here's the relevant excerpt from Article 1, Section 7:

Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States

Because of the rules of the Senate, a bill that has 100% support in the House and 51% support in the Senate might still not pass. This article does a good job explaining why that's the case.

Your friend may benefit from understanding not only that the House and Senate need to agree on a bill but why. After all, there's no reason that a legislative body needs two chambers. I live in Washington DC and our Council has only one chamber. During the Revolutionary War, the colonies saw themselves as different groups fighting for a shared cause. The first form of government in the newly-formed United States was defined by the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles, each state retained massive power and there was very little centralized national government. That system proved unworkable, so representatives from different states got together and wrote the Constitution. Some people were worried that the powers of the individual states would be eliminated in the new system. Alexander Hamilton and other supporters of the Constitution put a lot of work into convincing people that the states would keep much of their power. Having two houses in Congress was part of that. The House meant that each person would have equal say. And the Senate meant that each state would have equal say. It was critical to the new government that both chambers had to agree.

Here's an explanation of the importance of the Senate from Federalist 62:

In this spirit it may be remarked, that the equal vote allowed to each State is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual States, and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty. So far the equality ought to be no less acceptable to the large than to the small States; since they are not less solicitous to guard, by every possible expedient, against an improper consolidation of the States into one simple republic.

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No, this is not a power that is given to the house and it was setup so that the house, senate and president all need to agree with the exception that if the president does exercise veto power it can be overridden with a 2/3rd vote in both the house and senate. Something to remember, though not directly related, is that in the 1990's congress tried to give the president the line item veto but that was shot down by the supreme court. They said it was unconstitutional because it violated the Presentment Clause.

There is also an important part you are missing about amending the constitution. In order for that to happen from congress it would need a 2/3rd vote in both the house and senate in order for it to get the processes started. Once it passes that route it would need to be ratified by 3/4th of the states which makes it highly unlikely that a single party could force it through especially given how important that section of the constitution is.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line-item_veto_in_the_United_States#Line-Item_Veto_Act_of_1996

Presidents of the United States have repeatedly asked the Congress to give them line-item veto power.[11] According to Louis Fisher in The Politics of Shared Power, Ronald Reagan said to Congress in his 1986 State of the Union address, "Tonight I ask you to give me what forty-three governors have: Give me a line-item veto this year. Give me the authority to veto waste, and I'll take the responsibility, I'll make the cut, I'll take the heat." Bill Clinton echoed the request in his State of the Union address in 1995.[12] Congress attempted to grant this power to the president by the Line Item Veto Act of 1996 to control "pork barrel spending", but in 1998 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the act to be unconstitutional in a 6–3 decision in Clinton v. City of New York. The court found that exercise of the line-item veto is tantamount to a unilateral amendment or repeal by the executive of only parts of statutes authorizing federal spending, and therefore violated the Presentment Clause of the United States Constitution. Thus a federal line-item veto, at least in this particular formulation, would only be possible through a constitutional amendment. Prior to that ruling, President Clinton applied the line-item veto to the federal budget 82 times

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presentment_Clause

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law. Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

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  • There's a second method of amending the Constitution that you haven't mentioned: if a sufficient number of States agree, they can hold a new Constitutional Convention. There's been a few attempts at holding one over the last few decades regarding Amendments for Congressional term limits, IIRC. – nick012000 Jul 28 at 5:51
  • @nick012000 I didn't mention that method on purpose because it has never happened and is unlikely that a party would try to amend it that way. – Joe W Jul 28 at 12:13

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