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What is the Senate?

The Senate is one of two houses of the United States Congress.  The other is the House of Representatives and together they make up the legislative branch of our federal government.

How many Senators are there?

Each of the 50 states elects two Senators, bringing the total number to an even 100.

What are the requirements to become a Senator?

If running for the United States Senate is something you would like to do in the future, here are three simple rules – as laid out by the Constitution – you need to follow:

  • You must be at least 30 years old.
  • You must have been a United States citizen for nine years prior to Election Day.
  • You must be a resident of the state you’re running for office to represent.

How often are Senators elected?

Once a Senator is elected, he or she serves a term of six years. However, not all 100 Senators are elected at the same time. Instead, Senate elections are staggered, with elections for certain groups of Senators (called “classes”) happening every two years.

And unlike presidents, who can only serve two terms, senators do not have limits on how many terms they can serve. Senators can stay in office for as long as the voters in their states continue to re-elect them.

What exactly does a Senator do?

The most important job of a Senator is to decide which laws the country should adopt. Senators propose legislation and then come together to vote on whether the legislation is good for the country. While all Senators work on behalf of the entire United States, they are elected to represent their home states.  As they work in Washington, D.C., it’s important for them to represent the concerns and priorities of the citizens back home.

Senators have certain responsibilities that no one else has – including those in the House of Representatives. These responsibilities include agreeing to treaties and confirming federal officials like Supreme Court Justices.

How does a bill become a law in the Senate?

All laws first begin as documents called “bills,” which are simply proposed laws.  To become a law, both the Senate and the House of Representatives must vote to pass identical versions of a bill, then the President must sign it. 

To start the process, a Senator (or Representative) introduces the bill to the committee in charge of handling that type of legislation. For instance, if a Senator put forth a bill dealing with schools, it would go to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The committee decides whether the bill should receive a vote by all the members of the Senate.  If they feel it does, they will vote to pass it on to the full Senate, either with or without changes.  

If both the Senate and the House of Representatives pass different versions of similar bills, then they bring together a conference committee, which is made up of members from both houses. At this point, members try to resolve differences between the Senate and the House bills and agree on a final version of the bill. Then, both the House and Senate go back to their chambers to vote on the final version of the bill.  If both bodies pass it, the bill goes to the President, to either be signed into law or vetoed.

If a bill is vetoed by the President and sent back to Congress, the House and Senate have the opportunity to override the president’s veto and the bill can become a law if both chambers can pass the bill with a two-thirds majority.

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