[US Institutions] the SenatePosted: November 2, 2010
Second part of the series on US institution: we continue with the second chamber of congress: the Senate
The Senate and Senators:
The Senate complete the US congress – it is composed of one hundred senators, two per State. Until 1913, the senators were elected by state legislatures, they are now elected directly by citizens. About a third of the seats are up for election every two years (at the same time at for the House elections) – the two senators for a state are generally not elected at the same time.
There is at the moment two independants senators; however, they seat in the democratic caucus which make them count in the majority.
It is actually the vice-president that is presiding the Senate sessions; however, he is not doing so much anymore, in the VP absence, the senate elects a president pro-tempore; who himself delegate to other senators the charge of presiding. Party leaders don’t have as much importance as in the House, the Majority leader have control of the debate and vote schedule.
The Senate has a set of rules, some of them really old – from the time when senator arrived in Washington on a horse – that makes the legislative process ridiculously difficult when some senator want to play nasty politic: sometimes even a simple senator can (secretly) hold a vote, a ‘majority’ of 41 votes can be enough to stop a bill, …
The powers of the Senate:
The Senate must approve any bill passed by the House for it to become law. It has the exclusive power to appoint members of the Cabinet, heads of federal agencies, Supreme Court Justices, … any Presidential nominated function.
The Senate also ratifies all international treaties.
In case of ties in the electoral process, the Senate elects the Vice-President.
Comparison with the EU:
There are no institution in the EU that can compare with the US Senate.
The fact that the Senate appoints members of the cabinet can be related to the EU Parliament voting for the Commission – but there’s a difference on scale.
Some people try to compare the Senate with the Commission or the Council from the fact that each US State as an equal vote in the Senate, but again, that’s wrong.
Nota: Americans are voting on Nov 2nd for 37 senator seats.