NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

In The Senate, Majority Rule Is Not Absolute

June 6, 2001

The switch in control of the Senate from Republicans to Democrats will not make much difference in determining whether the Senate pursues President Bush's agenda or that of Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the new Senate majority leader.

The main reason is simply the nature of the Senate itself, which is very different from the House of Representatives.

Unlike the House, where majority control is absolutely critical, neither party ever really controls the Senate.

  • In the House, the Speaker has enormous institutional power, both directly and indirectly through his control of the House Rules Committee.
  • No bill or amendment can be considered on the House floor unless there is a rule, passed by the full House, that allows for its consideration.
  • For this reason, most legislating in the House is done in committee.
  • Hence, House committees are very important, since they generally are the only place an individual member of Congress can affect legislation.

By contrast, any member of the Senate can pretty much bring up any bill for consideration at any time. Committees are also less powerful in the Senate for the same reason. In the House, getting a bill out of committee is the essential first step in the legislative process. By contrast, legislation is often brought up in the Senate without hearings or committee mark-ups.

Finally, the minority has vastly greater power in the Senate than the House, in part due to the filibuster.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, June 6, 2001.


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