The United States Senate is the upper chamber of the United States Congress. Being the upper chamber, the powers and functions of the United States Senate are the Legislative, Executive, Judicial as well as various other powers.
The United States Senate comprises of 100 members. Each of the 50 states in the US sends two Senators. The States sents 2 Senators on the basis of equal representation irrespective of size and population.
Formerly, the legislature of the states indirectly elects the Senators. However, the 17 Amendments of the constitution in 1913 made a change. As a result, the people of the states elect the Senate directly.
The United States Senate was devised as a body to represent the component of the states as such and not the people.
The fathers of the constitution try to make the senate the backbone of the United States Federal System as it was set up to safeguard the interest of the Federating States.
- WHAT IS THE POWERS AND FUNCTIONS OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE?
- WHY IS THE SENATE THE MOST POWERFUL 2ND CHAMBER IN THE WORLD?
- THE TENURE OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE
- QUALIFICATION OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE?
- THE PRESIDING OFFICER OF THE SENATE
WHAT IS THE POWERS AND FUNCTIONS OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE?
The Senate enjoys extensive legislative, executive, judicial and other powers.
Legislative powers and functions of the United States Senate
The Senate enjoys equal and co-ordinates legislative authority with the House of Representatives. Its amending power is so wide that it can insert new proposals by striking out everything from a Money Bill.
Thus, this almost equal to the origination of a new money bill. Moreover, there is no time limit for the Senate to pass the money bill.
As regards the ordinary legislation, the legislative history of the congress shows that the Senate has originated more important legislations than the house of representatives. A bill becomes law only when agreed by the President after having passed in both the houses.
In case there is a difference between the two houses, a conference committee that consists of 3-9 members from each house is constituted to resolve the deadlock. Even in this compromised committee, the Senate has every prospect of out-witting the members of the other house by sheer advantage of greater political skill and superior bargaining capacity.
Executive powers and functions of the United States Senate
The constitution also gives many executive powers to the Senate. The Senate may act as a check on the monarchical ambitions of the President. The constitution requires that all appointments made by the President are subject to ratification by the Senate.
Judicial powers and functions of the United States Senate
As per the constitution, the Senate has the sole power to try all impeachment. The House of Representatives and the Senate can impeach the President, the Vice President, and other high-ranking officials.
When the Senate acts as the court of impeachment, it is considered the highest court preside over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. With the consent and advice of the Senate, the President can appoint judges of the Supreme Court.
WHY IS THE SENATE THE MOST POWERFUL 2ND CHAMBER IN THE WORLD?
The Senate is the most powerful 2nd Chamber in the world because of the following points:
The Structure of the US Senate:
Unlike other second-chambers in the world like the British House of Lords, Indian Rajya Sabha, Swiss Council of States and French Senate, the US Senate is democratically constituted and directly elected. The system of popular election of the US Senators as well as the equality of representation of the states in it has contributed to strength, dignity, and vitality of the US Senate.
The Power of the US Senate with Other Countries’ Senate:
The other second chambers in the world are inferior to the lower houses in their respective countries. Thus, the US Senate is clearly more powerful than the House of Representatives. As a legislative body, the House of Lords in the United Kingdom can delay a non-money bill only for a year but cannot veto it. In India, though the Rajya Sabha has equal law-making power with the Lok Sabha, but the joined session method of conflict resolution between the two houses favors the Lok Sabha. However, the joined conference committee method of conflict resolution between the Senate and the House of Representatives in the USA almost always favors the former. The US Senate enjoys a superior position even in matters of controlling the finances of the country. Except for the limitation that money is not introduced in it.
US Senate has every power to modify and change the contents of a money bill. There is also no time limit for it to pass the money bill. However, the House of Lords in the United Kingdom has one month and the Rajya Sabha in India has 14 days, within which they have to pass the money bill.
Countries of other second chambers have little direct control over the executive which is responsible for the lower house in their respective countries. The US Senate, on the other hand, exercises direct control over the appointments and treaties made by the President. Besides this, the US Senate’s role in impeachment is very effective and deterministic.
The Investigating Power of the US Senate:
The US Senate has not only created an instrument of supreme power in the hands of a few powerful leaders. It has also in some way undermined the system of separation of powers and checks and balances so masterly devised by the founding fathers and so zealously safeguarded by the Supreme Court. This may result in the possibility of a tyranny of the upper chamber. Such is the power of the US Senate which is unparalleled by any other second chamber.
Long Tenure with High Power and Functions:
The small size, long tenure, important function and powers, higher age requirement, and the provision of check over the executive have put the US Senate in a position of advantages over others Senate. As a result, the US Senate has become more prestigious and honor to become its members.
The US Senators Enjoys Greater Freedom of Speech:
The US Senate enjoys the freedom of speech than the members of any other second chamber in the world. Discussion and debates in the house are lively and dynamic. It can elicit nation-wide interest and attention. Its opinion is reckoned even by the President.
Solidarity and Unity of the US Senate:
Another factor that adds to the power and prestige of the US Senate is its solidarity and unity. Unlike in other second chambers, its members stand as one unit. Thus, an attack on its authority, its rights, and tradition raise a storm of protest from all Senators, irrespective of party affiliations.
THE TENURE OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE
The term of the United States Senate is 6 years. 1/3 (One third) of the United States Senate retired every two years. The retiring Senators are eligible for re-election. The Senate has a continuous life as it will never dissolve as a whole.
QUALIFICATION OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE?
Senators must be citizens of the United State for at least 9 years.
He/she must be at least 30 years of age
Must be residents of the states from which they are chosen.
They must not be holding any office of profit under the government of the United States.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER OF THE SENATE
The presiding officer of the Senate is the Vice-President of the United States. Despite his much-exalted position, he is a little more than a moderator. He is not a member of the Senate and votes only in case of a tie. He does not appoint the committees of the Senate and nor has no power of pre-determining the character of the legislation. The Senate does not expect leadership from its officers. He chooses a president from its own members to presides in the absence of a Vice-President,
The United States Senate transacts its business mainly through the various committees appointed at the beginning of a new session of congress. Some of the most vital committees are – finance, foreign relations, interstate commerce, etc.
All issues before the Senate are referred to as the relevant committees for opinion and advice. A Senator cannot be a member of more than two committees together. The Senate as chairman head these committees.
There is greater freedom of debate in the Senate. Generally, a Senator can speak on a particular bill for any length of time. A minority of Senators may willfully misuse the privilege of unlimited freedom of speech with a view of delaying and even preventing passage of a bill.
To put a check on this insidious practice, in 1917 the Senate decide to apply the closure motion, i.e. a debate can be put to an end if a move is initiated by at least 1/6 (One-sixth) or 16 members is adopted by the Senate with 2/3 (Two-third) majority of the members present and voting.
However, the Senators continue to enjoy great freedom of speech and debate. The debate in the Senate is lively and effective and it makes politics exciting and dramatic.
Thus, the position of the US Senate as an Upper House is unprecedented. James Bryce has aptly remarked that the Senate in the US has succeeded in effecting the chief object of the father’s constitution. Namely creation of a center of gravity in the government, an authority able to correct and check the democratic recklessness of the House of Representatives, the Monarchical ambitions of the president.
The US Senate had added to its strength and prestige. Hence, it is not only the most powerful second chamber but also one of the most powerful legislative assemblies in the world.