The Senate consists of 100 Senators (two per state) each serving six-year terms. Most of the Senate's work is done in committees.
Since there are fewer Senators than Representatives, each Senator serves on more committees than Representatives do. This lends Senators to general knowledge about lots of policies. Senators rarely specialize in one or two areas, rather being generalists -- although they may become specialists after several decades.
Since each state has two Senators, the basis of senatorial representation is statehood (as opposed to population in the House).
A third of the Senate is up for re-election every two years. This means that somebody elected in 2004 would be up for re-election in 2010, while somebody elected in 2006 would be up for re-election in 2012. Since the 17th Amendment was passed, the Senate has been directly elected.
Powers unique to the Senate
Powers unique to the Senate include:
- Advise and consent to treaties made with foreign powers.
- Approval of appointments of top officials (such as ambassadors, Supreme Court justices, & Cabinet).
- If the House impeaches an official, the Senate decides whether the impeachee is guilty of alleged crimes.
The senate is a non-majoritarian institution.
Other than representation based on statehood, the major non-majoritarian feature is the filibuster.
However, there are benefits of being the majority party. The majority party:
- controls the number of members of each party on committees/sub-committee;
- has chairmanship of all committees and sub-committees;
- also, most committee and subcommittee votes require a simple majority.
Amendments to Bills
Amendments in the Senate do not have to be germane, except on budget bills. This means that Senatorial amendments to bills need not be pertinent to the bill itself. This often leads to earmarks and pork.
Formal Leadership of the Senate
The Vice President is President of the Senate (currently Republican Dick Cheney). This role is usually ceremonial, but in the case of a Senatorial tie the president of the Senate will break the tie.
The Senate Majority leader (currently Democrat Harry Reid) has the right of first recognition, sets committee assignments, allocates office space and schedules legislation.
The Senate Minority Leader (currently Republican Mitch McConnell) works in conjunction with the Senate Majority leader and is the chief spokesperson for the opposition party.