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Difference Between Senator and Congressman

Within the context of the multilayered and multifaceted American government, there is often much confusion surrounding the terms “senator” and “congressman.” While it is intuitive that a senator is someone who is a part of the U.S. Senate, the term “Congressman” seems to refer to any member of the U.S. Congress – which is composed of Senate and House of Representative. In reality, a congressman (or congresswoman, or congressperson) is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Congress is the main legislative body of the government, and the two chambers – Senate and House of Representatives – are responsible (in different degrees) for making laws, approving Federal Judges, passing the national budget, and assisting the President in foreign policy matters. The powers, duties and responsibilities of the two chambers and of their members are set out in Article 1 of the United States Constitution.

Difference Between Senator and Congressman

Jim Inhofe – United States Senator from Oklahoma

What is Senator?

The Senate, the smaller and more aristocratic of the two chambers, is composed of 100 senators and has various roles:

  • It assists the President in foreign policy (i.e. initiation and ending of wars, analysis of treaties, etc.);
  • With a 2/3 vote, it has the power to ratify or reject treaties approved by the President; and
  • It has the duty to confirm the President nominations of Cabinet Members, Ambassadors and Federal Judges.

According to Article 1, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, “the Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof; and each Senator shall have one Vote.” Furthermore, the Constitution states that Senate nominees should be at least 30 years old and should be nine-year citizens of the United States. The term of a senator lasts six years, but every two years one third of senators are up for election. Finally, the Vice President of the United States is the President of the Senate but he has no vote.

Difference Between Senator and Congressman-1

John Campbell – U.S. Congressman

What is Congressman?

The House of Representatives is the larger and more democratic of the two chambers. It is composed of no more than 435 congressmen and congresswomen who serve a two-years term and who are (or should be) directly accountable to people and more responsive to popular demand.

The number of congressmen varies from State to State and depends on the number of persons living in the given State (proportional representation). In order to be elected, congressmen and congresswomen must be at least 25 years old and must have lived at least seven years in the state they wish to represent. Among other duties, congressmen:

  • Serve on committees;
  • Create all revenue bills;
  • Offer amendments; and
  • Introduce resolutions and bills.

At the same time, they have no say in the approval of Federal Judges and Members of the Cabinet and they are not largely involved in foreign policy matters.

Similarities between Senator and Congressman

Although they belong to different chambers, senators and congressmen are both part of the United States Congress – the main legislative body of the U.S. government. Therefore, their roles are not entirely different and we can find some similarities:

  • Both congressmen and senators meet in the Capitol – congressmen meet in the House of Representatives Chamber and senators meet in the Senate Chamber;
  • They both employ a committee system. Both congressmen and senators rely on staff to collect information, report and summarize findings, discuss solutions, etc. Yet, while both chambers employ a similar system, they use their own rules and guidelines;
  • Both are elected by popular vote of the constituents of their States – and can continue to be re-elected without term limits; and
  • Both have the ability to initiate bills and legislations. Most laws are started in the House of Representatives but both chambers have the possibility of revising and amending bills and laws. Once a bill is approved by both chambers, it goes to the President who decides whether to pass it into law or to veto it.

The main similarity between congressmen and senators lies in the nature of their work. In fact, both are nominated and elected by popular representatives of their respective states and, therefore, both have the duty to propose laws and bills that are in the best interest of their voters. While the order of debates and discussion over bills is not always the same, both senators and congressmen can propose new legislations and can veto a proposed bill.

What is the Difference between Senator and Congressman?

While some similarities between the two roles are undeniable, senators and congressmen are quite different. Indeed, the diversity between the two roles reflects in many ways the difference between Senate and House of Representatives.

In other words, senators and congressmen are difference because they are members of two different chambers, which have complementary but distinct functions, and which operate in different ways. Some of the main differences between the two are, inter alia:

  • Role: while both chambers of the Congress are involved in the legislative process, senators have a larger power and influence on the government and on the President. In fact, prior approval, any bill is reviewed and approved by the House and then sent to the Senate. If Senators do not approve it or propose amendments, the bill returns to the House and the process needs to start over;
  • Duties: congressmen (and the House of Representatives in general) create all revenue bills and vote for the approval of bills and laws. Senators vote for the approval of bills and laws but also assist the President in foreign policy matters (i.e. foreign treaties, peace agreements, initiation of wars, intervention in foreign conflicts, etc.) and vote to approve appointed Federal Judges and Members of the Cabinet; and
  • Debate: within both chambers, senators and congressmen debate over the approval or rejection of bills and laws. Yet, their debates are quite different; senators do not have a speaking-time limit (unlimited debate) whereas congressmen and congresswomen do.

Senator vs Congressman

Building on the differences explored in the previous section, we can identify few other features that differentiate senators and congressmen.

  Senator Congressman
Eligibility requirements Nominees must be over 30 years of age and must have been U.S. citizens for at least 9 years. Nominees do not necessarily have to be born in the United States but they need to live in the State they want to represent. Nominees must be over 25 years of age and must have been U.S. citizens for at least seven years. Nominees do not necessarily have to be born in the United States but they need to live in the State they want to represent.
Mandate The term of a senator lasts six years but every two years one third of senators is up for election. Senators can be re-elected for an unlimited number of terms. The term of a congressman lasts two years – as the House should always be in line with popular demands. Congressmen and congresswomen can be re-elected for an unlimited number of terms.
Representation Every State can only elect two senators, regardless of the population density and the demographic features of the State of concern. The House of Representatives has a proportional representation system. The number of congressmen per State depends on the number of persons living in that given State (larger and more populated States can elect more congressmen – no more than 435 in total).
Hierarchy The Senate is chaired by the Vice President of the United States – who is not a member of the chamber. He can only vote to break a tie. The House of Representatives is chaired by the “Speaker” of the House – who is a member of the chamber as well.

Conclusion

Congressmen and senators are part of the United States Congress – the main legislative body of the government. The first are members of the House of Representatives – the larger of the two chambers with 435 members – whereas the latter are members of the Senate.

The roles of congressmen and senators have some similarities as they are both involved in the legislative process and both are part of committees, but there are significant differences between the two concepts. In fact, senators play an important role in assisting the U.S. President in foreign policy-related matters (i.e. entering into war, signing peace treaties, accepting or rejecting international treaties, deciding the stance to be taken in international organizations, etc.).

Furthermore, senators – who have to be over 30 years of age and nine-year U.S. citizens to be elected – vote to approve (or not) the appointment of Federal Judges, ambassadors and members of the Cabinet.

Conversely, congressmen and congresswomen – who have to be over 25 years of age and seven-year U.S. citizens to be elected – are responsible for the creation of all revenue bills but have no say in foreign policy matters.

The roles of congressmen and senators are intertwined and complementary: in fact, both chambers are necessary to ensure the smooth functioning of the democratic legislative process and to ensure that popular demands are met.


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References :


[0]Krasno, Jonathan S. Challengers, Competitions, and Reelection: Comparing Senate and House Elections. Yale University Press, 1994.

[1]United States House of Representatives, Directory of Representatives, available at: https://www.house.gov/representatives/ [accessed 28 September 2017]

[2]United States Senate, Constitution of the United States, 1789, available at: https://www.senate.gov/civics/constitution_item/constitution.htm [accessed 28 September 2017]

[3]Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Inhofe

[4]Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_Campbell_(congressman),_official_photo_portrait,_color.jpg

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