The House of Representatives and the Senate make up the two chambers of Congress in the United States. Both bodies are elected by the people during regular elections, usually held in November. Many have wondered why the United States Constitution calls for a bicameral approach to governance, thinking a single body would in effect streamline the process of governing the people. The founding fathers who wrote the constitution and created Congress back in 1787 believed that power should be a shared process among all units of the government. Making Congress a two headed monster means that all legislation must be approved by both chambers before passing to the president for signature.
This form of government employs the “checks and balances” that the Founders deemed necessary for the country to survive. The two chambers were also not meant to be carbon copies of one another, either. They were each designed to promote independent thinking from the various members of each body. This can sometimes cause the creation of vastly different bills to address the same topic. The House of Representatives is seen as being more closely aligned with the thinking of the people. The number of members are based on the number of people who live in geographically defined locations or districts. These districts are subject to change. Presently there are 435 members of the House of Representatives.
Senators always number 100, or two per state. This does not change. Rather than dealing with “back home” issues, Senators tend to look at the national impact of proposed legislation. The House is up for election every two years, while Senators are elected for six year terms. This is to protect them from the short term whims and passions of public opinion. United States Senators cannot be any younger than 30, while representatives have to be at least 25 years of age. The Senate or senior body as it is sometimes called, takes longer in deliberation when considering legislation. Many times bills that have an easy time passing the House get short shrift or disapproval in the Senate.
An oft repeated story told to illustrate the differences between the House and Senate revolves around an argument between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Washington favored the two chamber approach that America has today, while Jefferson thought more than one chamber was not necessary to govern effectively. According to lore, the pair were arguing while drinking coffee, when suddenly Washington asked Jefferson why he poured his coffee into his saucer before drinking it. To which Jefferson replied, he did this in order to cool down his coffee, which was common practice. Washington reportedly responded, that pouring legislation into the senatorial saucer cooled it down and made it palatable for the President.
For the record, the other parts of the checks and balances system are the White House or the President and the Supreme Court. The Congress is referred to as the legislative branch-they make the law. The White House-President executes or signs the laws. The Supreme Court determines whether or not the laws follow the guidelines of the Constitution. Each branch works in consort with the other, yet keep tabs on one another as well.