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United States Senate

The United States Senate, named after the ancient Roman Senate, is the upper house of the Congress of the United States, smaller than the U.S. House of Representatives. Together, they comprise the legislative branch of the United States government.

Each state elects two senators through statewide elections, for a total of 100 senators. The Constitution of the United States endows the U.S. Senate, in addition to its duty of passing all legislation passed through Congress, with the exclusive responsibility of confirming certain Presidential appointments, particularly federal judges (as part of the system of checks and balances) and ratifying international treaties negotiated by the executive.

The Senate chamber is located in the north wing of the U. S. Capitol building, in Washington, D.C.

Table of contents
1 Operation
2 Leadership
3 Composition and elections
4 Committees
5 During the 108th Congress (2003-2005)
6 History
7 Senate Salaries
8 External Links


impeachment trial of Bill Clinton (1999).

Unlike the United States House of Representatives there are no strict rules regarding the debate, and one strategy used by senators to kill a bill is to filibuster which is to continue to debate the bill thereby preventing its passage. On March 8, 1917 the power of the filibuster was considerably reduced in theory by the cloture rule in which 60 senators can sign a petition to end debate (the initial version of the rule called for 2/3 but that was later reduced to 60). In practice, this rule is rarely used as Senators are reluctant to end debate so forcefully and may avoid breaking a filibuster to prevent retaliation against possible future filibusters of their own. The first ongoing filibuster in the Senate began on February 18, 1841 and lasted until March 11. The longest filibuster in the U.S. Senate was delivered by Strom Thurmond. He spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an unsuccessful attempt to block the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He began by reading the entire text of each state's election laws.


The Vice President of the United States also serves as President of the Senate and is empowered with the duty of presiding over all proceedings and breaking tie votes. However, in practice, the Vice President rarely enters the Senate chamber, and the members of the Senate choose a President pro tempore (usually the most senior member of the majority party) to stand in the Vice President's absence. However, even the President pro tempore delegates his duties as presiding officer in the Senate chamber to junior members because (unlike in the House) the presiding officer is accorded with little authority.

The agenda of the Senate is determined by the Majority floor leader (leader of the party with a majority of seats), who is assisted by a Majority whip (responsible for "whipping" party member in line). Their counterparts across the aisle are the Minority floor leader and Minority whip.

When the major parties are evenly split, the party affiliation of the Vice President, as the tie-breaker vote, determines which is the majority party.

Composition and elections

With two Senators from each state, the Senate presently has 100 members. For details, see the current list of United States Senators. When it first convened, the Senate had 26 members for each of the original 13 states. Senators serve for terms of six years; the terms are staggered so that approximately one-third of the Senate is up for election every two years: each time there are elections in about 33 states for one of the two seats. They coincide with the elections for the House of Representatives; alternately they coincide with the presidential election; when they do not, they are called mid-term elections.

If a vacancy occurs between elections, generally the governor of the state appoints a replacement to serve as senator until the next biennial election.

See also: List of former members of the U.S. Senate


Much of the business of the Senate is done in committee. There are three categories of committee: Standing, Joint and "Special, Select or Other." Committees usually have their own staffs, separate from the staffs of individual members. Committees often have subcommittees. Each committee has a chairperson and a ranking minority leader.

Because the Senate is smaller, the committees within the Senate are generally less powerful than the corresponding committees in the House. The exceptions to this are the Judiciary Committee which reviews Presidential appointments to federal judgeships, and the Foreign Relations Committee which reviews treaties.

Standing Committees of the U.S. Senate

Joint Committees of Congress

Special, Select and Other Committees of the U.S. Senate

During the 108th Congress (2003-2005)

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+Republicans: 51 -Independent: 1 (James Jeffords (I-VT) votes with the Democrats.)
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Debate over
Compromise of 1850 in the
Old Senate Chamber.

The Senate was designed as a more deliberative body than the House. According to James Madison, "The use of the Senate is to consist in proceeding with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom, than the popular branch." Instead of two year terms like in the House, Senators serve six year terms giving them more authority to ignore mass sentiment in favor of the country's broad interests. The smaller number of members and staggered terms also gives the Senate a greater sense of community.

Devised as part of the Connecticut Compromise, the Senate was also intended to give states with smaller populations equal standing with larger states, which are given proportionately more Representation in the House.

The first session of Senate to be open to the public was held on February 11, 1794 and on February 27, 1986 the Senate allowed its debates to be televised on a trial basis (which was later made permanent).

Senate Salaries

Historical information on the salaries Senators have been paid:

External Links