Congress: formality of debate

The Senate was traditionally seen as the more mature and deliberative chamber, regarded as the home of the great political orators of the time — not to mention the body where true dealmaking took place. Its members prided themselves on their cool approach to legislating, in contrast with the more brawling nature of the House. 

Tensions flared in the House of Representatives as Rep. Matt Gaetz chose not to vote for GOP leader Kevin McCarthy in his bid to become House speaker. 

However the Senate is more partisan than in the past, less collegial . Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who retired in 2012, acknowledged that changed reality bluntly in an op-ed for The Post . "The Senate is not living up to what the Founding Fathers envisioned," she wrote. 

The movement away from the center has been accompanied by a coarsening of politics and bitter partisanshipþleaving voters increasingly disenchanted with Washington politics. Political discord has played itself out in part in an apparent decline in congressional comity. Senator Robert Byrd noted scathingly last year, “There have been giants in this Senate, and I have seen some of them. Little did I know when I came here that I would live to see pygmies.”

The polarized environment has also made it hard for members of both parties to meet in the center to forge compromise. As former majority leader Bob Dole lamented in retiring from the Senate, “None of us has a perfect solution. But there’s got to be some solution of where we can come together, Republicans and Democrats.”

The Senate, unlike the House of Representatives, was established by the United States Constitution to provide equal representation to all states, with each state having two senators. Due to the disparity in size between the two chambers—435 members in the House of Representatives and 100 in the Senate—each operates differently.

 The Senate allows for more extensive debate on legislation compared to the House. Senators and representatives collaborate differently due to their varying term lengths, with House members serving two years and senators serving six years. The Senate's longer terms and smaller size facilitate the building of relationships across party lines.



Polarisation is dividing America State by State 

 Representatives are tasked with representing their districts, considering individual constituents, organized interests, and the district as a whole. They engage with constituents by setting up mobile offices, responding personally to letters, contacting federal agencies, and providing various services. Representatives also work with organized groups by introducing legislation, securing grants, delivering speeches, and participating in events. Their efforts for the district as a whole include securing federal projects, advocating for employment and tax benefits, and supporting policies that benefit the district geographically. Representatives strive to connect with constituents through public relations strategies like sending congressional letters highlighting achievements in the district. The primary function of Congress is legislative responsibility, but understanding the process of how a bill becomes law is essential before delving into the different approaches to lawmaking.

The culture of the Senate is traditionally more informal.

If all politics is local in the House 'Reciprocity is a Senate folkway ' In the Senate personal relationships and favors are more important than the party groupings and factions in the House. Reciprocity, deals and favors cut across parties and factions.  The recognition of status and ways of deal making existed in unwritten rules or 'folkways'.

''It demands, too, an ability to calculate how much “credit” a senator builds up with a colleague by doing him a favor or “going along.” If a senator expects too little in return, he has sold himself and his constituents short. If he expects too much, he will soon find that to ask the impossible is fruitless and that “there are just some things a senator can’t do in return for help from you.” Finally, this mode of procedure requires that a senator live up to his end of the bargain, no matter how implicit the bargain may have been. “You don’t have to make these commitments,” one senator said, “and if you keep your mouth shut you are often better off, but if you do make them, you had better live up to them.” 

Political Scientist Donald R. Matthews, 1960 

House  Floor Procedure 

The House considers bills under a variety of procedures, each of which differs in the amount of time allotted for debate and the opportunities given to members to propose amendments. Most bills are considered under the suspension of the rules procedure, which limits debate to 40 minutes and does not allow amendments to be offered by members on the floor. However, for the House to pass a bill under suspension of the rules requires two-thirds of members voting to agree, so this method is not designed for bills that do not have supermajority support in the House.

Bills not considered on the House floor under suspension of the rules are typically considered instead under terms tailored for each particular bill. The House establishes these parameters on a case-by-case basis through the adoption of a simple House resolution called a special rule. Special rules are reported by the House Rules Committee. This committee, which is often referred to as the traffic cop of the House, is heavily dominated by the majority party, and works closely with House majority party leadership on the main elements of each special rule. Common provisions found in a special rule include selection of the text to be considered, limitations on debate, and limits on the amendments that can be offered on the floor. For instance, sometimes the committee reports a rule that places few restrictions at all on amending, which can result in dozens of amendments being offered on the floor during consideration. In other cases, the special rule will offer only specific pre-determined amendments, or even preclude floor amendments altogether.

Note that House procedures place certain other limitations on the content of amendments unless the special rule waives these restrictions. For instance, amendments must typically meet certain germaneness standards, meaning that they must be on the precise subject of the legislation being considered.

After the Rules Committee reports a rule for consideration of a bill, the House first considers that special rule itself on the House floor, for approximately one hour. After debate, the House votes on adopting the special rule. Only after its adoption will the House proceed to consider the bill itself, under the terms specified by the special rule.

In this situation, the House typically will consider the bill in a procedural setting called the Committee of the Whole, which allows members an efficient way to consider and vote on amendments. After any amendments are offered and debated, members vote on approval, and each amendment requires a simple majority to be agreed to.

After the amendment process is complete, the Committee of the Whole rises and reports to the full House any recommended amendments, which are then usually approved by the House by voice vote. Just prior to voting on final passage, members typically will briefly debate and then vote on a motion to recommit, which allows the minority party to effectively propose its own amendment. In the House, some votes are taken by voice, but many votes are taken by electronic device, a method that records the individual position of each member who voted.

Senate Floor Procedure

To consider a bill on the floor, the Senate first must agree to bring it up – typically by agreeing to a unanimous consent request or by voting to adopt a motion to proceed to the bill, as discussed earlier. Only once the Senate has agreed to consider a bill may Senators propose amendments to it.

Perhaps the modern Senate’s defining feature is the potential difficulty of reaching a final vote on a matter. Most questions that the Senate considers – from a motion to proceed to a bill, to each amendment, to the bill itself – are not subject to any debate limit. Simply put, Senate rules provide no way for a simple numerical majority to cut off or otherwise impose a debate limit and move to a final vote. As a result, Senators can effectively wage (or threaten to wage) a filibuster – in effect, insist on extended debate in order to delay or prevent a final vote on most amendments, bills, or other motions.

In addition, Senate rules provide few options to comprehensively limit the amendments proposed to a bill. Unlike the House, for example, under most circumstances amendments in the Senate need not be germane, and amendments sometimes involve subject matter unrelated to the bill in question. This can lead to a much more wide-ranging and less predictable floor debate than typically occurs in the House.

Senate Rule XXII, often called the cloture rule, does allow a supermajority to limit debate on a bill, amendment, or motion; in addition, in the case of a bill, cloture limits the amendments that can be offered. Supporters of, for instance, a bill under floor consideration can file a cloture motion, signed by at least 16 Senators. Two days of session later, Senators vote on the cloture motion. If three-fifths – usually 60 Senators – agree, then further consideration of the bill is limited to 30 hours, during which only amendments from a pre-specified list of germane ones can be offered. After this final period of consideration, the Senate will take a final vote on the bill. This final vote requires only a simple majority for approval. But because a cloture process is often required to end debate on a bill, then the bill first must garner the support of a three-fifths supermajority. All told, this process of reaching a final vote on a bill can require about a week of Senate floor time to complete.

Overall, these rules and practices governing floor debate and amending in the Senate provide significant leverage to each individual Senator. But rather than relying on the formal rules like cloture, frequently the Senate can more effectively act using unanimous consent agreements. Such an agreement is a structured plan for limiting debate and amending – a plan that can be tailored to each bill that comes to the floor (somewhat akin to a special rule in the House). Through the use of these agreements, the details of which all Senators have agreed upon, the Senate can more effectively process its business while protecting the procedural rights of each of its members.

While many votes are conducted by voice, a recorded vote is required in some cases, and is often requested by Senators in others. Unlike the House, the Senate does not have an electronic voting system; recorded votes are conducted through a call of the roll.

The Floor of the Senate