Powers & Functions of The American Senate

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 02:23 -- Umar Farooq

Legislative Powers

The Senate enjoys equal and co-ordinate legislative authority with the House of Representatives. Ordinary bills may be initiated in either House but the money bills can only be originated in the Lower House. As regards ordinary legislation, the legislative history of the Congress shows that all important bills are originated in the Senate and then referred to the House. A bill becomes a law when assented to by the President after having been passed in' both the house. In case, there is disagreement between the two Houses. A Conference Committee consisting of 3 to 9 members from each Hose is constituted to resolve the deadlock. Again; the legislative history of the US shows that it is the Senate, Which wins the point ultimately. Deadlocks between the two Houses are very frequent but most of them are resolved by mutual give-and-take policy. All these facts prove that the Senate unlike other Upper Houses, enjoy predominant position over the Lower House.

Executive Powers

Approval of Appointment

The approval of the Senate is necessary for all federal appointments made by the President. In this sphere, one convention "Senatorial Courtesy" plays very important part. It means that the Senate expects that the President in nominating certain office-holders will select persons who are satisfactory to the Senator(s) from the state in which the offices are located. If suggestions of such Senators arc ignored by the President, there is every possibility that the Senate will reject, the nominations made by the President. The approval of the Senate is, however, not necessary when the. President removes some officers.

Endorsement of Treaties / Control over Foreign Policies

The second executive function of the Senate is in connection with foreign policy. Constitution of the USA says that all treaties made by the President will have to be endorsed by the Senate. By its rejection of treaties negotiated by the President with other countries, the Senate may alienate foreign governments. There is a long record of treaties killed by the Senate. Inspite of the strong, advocacy of President Woodrow Wilson, the USA could not become a member of the League of-Nations because the Senate was opposed to it. These two executive powers, are enjoyed by the Senate exclusively. The House of Representative does not share such powers. Moreover, the Senate shares with the House of Representatives the power of declare war.

Judicial Powers

In case of impeachment the Senate sits as a Chief Court of Justice headed by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Impeachments are framed by the House of Representatives and the trial takes place in the Senate..-The President, Vice-President and all civil officers are can be impeached before the Senate. A two-thirds majority of the Senate is required for conviction.

Miscellaneous Functions of U.S. Senate


If in the election of the Vice-President of the USA, no candidate secures a clear majority of electoral vote, the Senators voting as individual elect one from the first two candidates.


It shares with the House of Representatives the power of proposing amendments to the constitution of the USA.


The Senate has a right to demand information about any administrative matter. It establishes committees for this purpose. These committees summon witnesses to appear before them. They do their job very thoroughly and thus expose the weaknesses of the administration.

The Fathers of the Constitution tried to make the Senate the backbone of the American Federal system. It was devised as a body representing the component states as such and not the people. The principle of equality of representation of the states, big or small, was a great compromise, which helped the formation of the Union of the USA. The Senate was created to safeguard the interests of the federating units.