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In US Politics, what is the Difference Between Congress, the Senate, and the House of Representatives?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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The United States government is divided into three branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives are all parts of the legislative branch. In US politics, the term "Congress" refers to the Senate and House of Representatives together. All of the elected officials in the legislative branch are members of one of these two chambers. Some of the many differences between the Senate and the House of Representatives are the number of members from each state, the term of office that each official serves, the eligibility requirements for election and the various rules, powers and duties of each chamber.

Chamber Structure

One key difference between the two chambers of Congress is their membership numbers. The Senate has two members from each of the 50 states, for a total of 100 members. In the House of Representatives, or House, the number of elected officials from each state is based on its population. Since 1911, the total membership of the House has been fixed at 435, with a minimum of one member from each state. As of 2012, the most populous state, California, had 53 officials in the House of Representatives.

The District of Columbia and certain US territories also send delegates to the House of Representatives. They are not allowed to vote but can participate in discussions and debates. The four territories with delegates as of 2012 were the US Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. Puerto Rico sends an official called a resident commissioner, whose role is the same as the non-voting delegates.


A significant difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives is how long their members serve after being elected. Senators are elected to six-year terms, and members of the House are elected to two-year terms. There is no limit on the number of terms that a member of either chamber of Congress can serve. Perhaps because they serve shorter terms, representatives in the House have been more likely to be re-elected than senators.

The requirements for being elected are different for the Senate and the House. A senator must be at least 30 years old and must have been a US citizen for at least nine years. To serve in the House of Representatives, a person must be at least 25 years old and must have been a US citizen for at least seven years. A candidate for either chamber can be elected to represent only the state in which he or she lives at the time of the election, although there are no requirements for how long a person must have lived in that state.

To many people, there is more prestige associated with the Senate than with the House of Representatives. The main reason is because there are far more members of the House, so senators are considered more rare and more powerful. They also tend to get more media attention. It is common for members of the House to try to get elected to the Senate, but it would be very unusual for a senator to try to get elected to the House of Representatives. Also, senators are widely considered to be better candidates for national offices such as president or vice president.

Duties and Powers

The US Constitution gives each chamber specific powers. For example, the House begins the process of impeachment when an official is accused of criminal activity. If the House passes an article of impeachment, the Senate puts the official on trial. The Constitution also gives the House the power to initiate any bills that concern government revenues or spending, and it gives the Senate the right to provide the president with advice and give consent to any treaties and to confirm or reject presidential appointments, such as those of Supreme Court judges.

Another of the many differences between the chambers is that the majority party has more control over the House. For example, the majority party controls the rules committee that sets the voting schedule and determines the parameters for debating policies and bills on the House floor. The Senate's rules protect the minority party, so the majority party cannot control scheduling or debate parameters.

For a bill to become a law, it must be passed by both chambers of Congress. The bill begins in either the House or Senate and must be passed by a majority vote. It is then voted on by the other chamber, and if the majority of congresspersons in that chamber also vote for it, it is sent to the president, who can sign it into law or veto it. A bill that has been vetoed by the president can be made a law by Congress if two-thirds of the members of each chamber vote for it.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to America Explained, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon299869 — On Oct 26, 2012

I believe the reason state legislatures quit electing senators was because in some instances, infighting among a state legislature resulted in that state not having a senator in Washington.

That being said, it's quite well known that many members of Congress become corrupt over the years. I personally think we should put it on the ballot for the people to decide if Congress should have term limits. I think two terms for senators and six terms for house reps. (12 years for each chamber) would be fair.

By anon269449 — On May 17, 2012

"Support for bills pending in the Senate generally fall more reliably along political party lines than in the House of Representatives, where members may not feel as pressured to vote along party lines." - This is backward, actually. The House is far more partisan than the Senate specifically because Representatives serve such short terms and must constantly consider their reelection.

Breaking from your party line is far more politically costly and unlikely in the House, whereas the Senate is notorious for voting less partisan and more independently minded.

By anon268873 — On May 15, 2012

For the house of representatives, whats their limit of power? Two of them.

By anon210760 — On Aug 31, 2011

The Vice President is the tie breaking vote in the Senate, if the senate is equally divided. This is however, the only instance in which the VP has a vote.

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no

Vote, unless they be equally divided. Article I, sec 3

By anon177870 — On May 19, 2011

While all these politicians are voted into office by the people, I believe that, after time, they forget a bit what the people want, and they pretty much do what they want.

We should limit all terms to two consecutive, then they may be re-elected for only two more. Of course, this will never happen. They have to approve this themselves.

By anon167207 — On Apr 11, 2011

Who breaks the tie if there's a tie in the senate?

By anon164367 — On Mar 31, 2011

You refer to a U.S. Senate Member as 'Senator', and a U.S. Representative as "Congressman" or "Congresswoman". This isn't the case for members of your State House of Representatives. You would refer to them as 'Representative.'

By anon157714 — On Mar 03, 2011

My question wasn't quite answered so I'm re-asking it?

Ultimately does a Senate person earn more then a Congress person because they have six year terms? And when would a Senate person make more the a Congress person?

By anon155987 — On Feb 25, 2011

"Thank God for Rush Limbaugh! " - anon131008

Oh look, a troll. R.L. is nothing but an Oxycontin fueled brown-shirt propaganda monster paid for by the religious right.

By Rev — On Jan 09, 2011

Ultimately does a Senate person earn more then a Congress person because they have six year terms? And when would a Senate person make more the a Congress person?

By anon139046 — On Jan 03, 2011

why does the house only serve two years versus the six years of the senate? Is it because of reapportionment?

By anon131008 — On Nov 30, 2010

Thank God for Rush Limbaugh!

By anon123786 — On Nov 03, 2010

it hard to follow the usa election. canada is more open.

By anon90648 — On Jun 17, 2010

"seeing as convicted felons aren't allowed to vote, I'm guessing they're not allowed to be congress members."

Each state makes their own laws concerning voting rights for felons. Michigan allows felons to vote after they have completed their sentences (their rights are restored). Virginia does not allow a felon to vote unless the Governor explicitly allows that person to vote.

In the 2008 election the Virgina governor did a campaign asking all felons that wanted to vote to write his office and he would restore their voting rights.

By anon89845 — On Jun 12, 2010

I was wondering about the gains and losses of congress with the republicans and the democrats every four years starting with 1974. what were the gains and losses of the house of representatives and the senate.

By anon83654 — On May 11, 2010

Congress is more or less the sum of the two houses - the Senate and the House of Representatives during a given period of time.

So Congress does not have 435 members as someone stated previously but the House of Representatives does have 435 and the Senate has 100 (two for each state). Hope this clears things up a bit!

By anon81509 — On May 02, 2010

Little known fact: originally the people elected the House and the state legislatures elected the Senate. This created a balance of power among the people, the states and the federal government.

This balance was disrupted by the passage of the 17th amendment and has led to the overpowering growth in the size and power of the federal government.

The state government no longer has a say in the operation of the federal government and must give in to its ever growing power.

By anon71406 — On Mar 18, 2010

You state that when one refers to the 87th Congress, they refer to those who served during that year. Actually, when one refers to, for example, the 87th Congress they are referring to a two year period, coinciding with the every two year election of the entire House of Representatives and approx. 1/3 of the Senate, thus giving us a new Congress.

By anon65263 — On Feb 12, 2010

If career politicians (senators) have no limit to how long they can be in office and are the ones who are creating ridiculous laws for 50 years (some have been there longer), how can we change it so they can only be in office for only one or two terms like the president (he can't because then he'd be a dictator), so they can't always push their agenda until they get their way?

Also, then they would be forced to live like us and obey the laws they've created themselves and step into the shoes of an average american and see how hard it is to live without being "above the law."

Maybe then they would think twice about some of the stuff they try and pull over our eyes.

By anon58633 — On Jan 03, 2010

Seeing as convicted felons aren't allowed to vote,

I'm guessing they're not allowed to be congress members.

By pollick — On Sep 22, 2009

There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution which would automatically prevent a convicted felon from running for public office. The only requirements involve age and residency. Individual states can make their own laws concerning qualifications, but they cannot add restrictions concerning a candidate's legal history. If a public official is convicted of a felony after taking office, the House or Senate can take a vote to decide how to handle it. A convicted felon who qualifies for candidacy can run for office, but there is nothing in the rules which would prevent his or her opponent from mentioning that fact during the campaign.

By anon45190 — On Sep 14, 2009

Can a convicted felon run for either house of congress?

By anon44833 — On Sep 10, 2009

These are great questions.

By anon37591 — On Jul 20, 2009

So, Senators have more power than Congress-persons? Am I correct or am I wrong? Please tell me.

By anon33187 — On Jun 02, 2009

If both Senators and Representatives are members of Congress, can they both be referred to as Congressman? Or asked another way, is it appropriate to refer to my Senators my Congressmen or is that term reserved solely for reference to my Representatives (e.g. "I'm going to write to my Congressmen")? Maybe it's only intended to be referred to in the plural (i.e. Congressmen) vs. the singular (i.e. Congressman)?

By anon27649 — On Mar 03, 2009

the senate has more power. they have filibuster power, which can completely halt the passing of a bill unless they have 60 members to vote down the filibuster, and thereby put the bill into effect. furthermore, they are far more connected to the president than the house.

hope this helps!

By anon16750 — On Aug 14, 2008

the senate and the house, which is more powerful??

By angeleyes02 — On May 05, 2008

Compare and contrast the US congress and the US senate. Give details of how many are in each body. How often are they elected and how long they serve for each term. How does the makeup of each states house delegation change and why. What are the qualifications for a house candidate and a senate candidate?

By angeleyes02 — On May 05, 2008

Describe how and when the Republican party was created. Name some of the early members of the party and prominent republicans of the 20th century. how has the image of the party changed since the civil war?

By angeleyes02 — On May 05, 2008

Describe the problems of a minor political party in competing with the Republicans and the democrats in national elections. Also who were the most successful 3rd party candidates for president? Give the names of their parties and the years they ran and some idea of the percentage of the vote they garnered.

By mfleming70 — On Apr 06, 2008

For practical purposes, when would one write a Senator instead of a Representative and vice versa?

By anon4969 — On Nov 07, 2007

How much do Senators and Representatives get paid?

How much is their retirement?

By anon4938 — On Nov 06, 2007

Is it true that senators have more power than representatives?

By anon532 — On Apr 27, 2007

Congress has 435 members

Senate has 100 members

Do you need majority of the vote to declare war in USA ??

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to America Explained, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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