Orientation and Getting Started
Early Development of the Legislative Branch and the Problem of Representation
Enumerated Powers of Congress
Implied, Expansive, and Limited Powers
The Two Congresses: Representation and Lawmaking
Separation of Powers and Interaction between the Branches
Institutional Development and Change
Congress and the American People

Introduction to Bicameralism

The Framers of the Constitution believed a bicameral legislature would serve two important purposes. First, bicameralism is part of the checks and balances that would diffuse the power of the Congress. After proclaiming that “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates…” in Federalist No. 51, Madison proposes that “the remedy for this inconveniency is, to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election, and different principles of action, as little connected with each other, as the nature of their common functions, and their common dependence on the society.” Second, the framers believed that the Senate would improve deliberation in lawmaking. Due to their advanced age and appointment via state legislatures, senators would lend greater stability, experience, and knowledge to the lawmaking process, prevent Congress from yielding “to the impulse of sudden and violent passions” (Federalist No. 62), and improve the chances that laws will reflect the “cool and deliberate sense of the community” (Federalist No. 63).

While the House and the Senate are both representational assemblies and lawmaking bodies, they differ in fundamental ways as a result of constitutional provisions that led to differing paths of internal development over time. Members of the House and Senate have different qualifications for holding office, they represent different people, and they serve for different lengths of time. Moreover, because of the staggered terms of senators, only about one-third of the Senate is elected at the same time as all of the House members. The two chambers also differ in size—the Senate has always been much smaller than the House. Finally, the Constitution prescribes different powers to each chamber—the Senate has a role in enacting treatises and judging presidential appointments, while the House has the power to initiate revenue bills. We will describe these fundamental differences and consider their consequences for representation and lawmaking.

We will also discuss the causes and consequences of the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, which mandated direct, popular election of senators. In addition to substantially altering the Constitution’s emphasis on federalism, direct election of senators made representation in the two chambers more similar. Yet, differences in chamber rules, organization, and leadership continue to distinguish the House from the Senate. The essence of the difference between the two chambers is that the House operates on the rule of the majority, whereas the Senate values minority rights and individualism.