As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there’s been plenty of news about the American mid-term election. I realized, to my small shame, that I don’t know much about the American Congress. Unlike a number of my Canadian peers, I’ve never been a follower of domestic US politics, so it’s never mattered very much to me.
Today, though, I actually read through the Wikipedia entries for the House of Representatives and the Senate. I learned how they’re formed, how their members are elected and what their main duties are. I was less successful, though, in determining the major differences between the two houses.
Here’s what Wikipedia says about the origins of the two houses:
The Framers of the Constitution created a bicameral Congress out of a desire to have two houses to check each other. One house was intended to be a “people’s house” that would be very sensitive to public opinion. The other house was intended to be a more reserved, more deliberate forum of elite wisdom that represented the state legislatures. The Constitution provides that the approval of both chambers is necessary for the passage of legislation. The exclusive powers enumerated to the Senate in the Constitution are regarded as more important than those exclusively enumerated to the House.
I also found this About.com page which offered a similar theme:
Have you ever noticed that major bills are often debated and voted on by the House in a single day, while the Senate’s deliberations on the same bill take weeks? Again, this reflects the Founding Fathers’ intent that the House and Senate not be carbon-copies of each other. By designing differences into the House and Senate, the Founders assured that all legislation would be carefully considered, taking both the short and long-term effects into account.
I now understand why the houses were designed as they were (reinforcing, once again, how moot Canada’s Senate is). I’m still kind of unclear on the practical differences. Do any Americans or knowledgeable Canadians want to wade in?