Leadership in Congress

The Senate has 100 members and the House has 435. House leaders usually have more power over their membership than Senate leaders. With so many people trying to make decisions together, the leaders must coordinate the lawmaking process. Political parties choose all top leadership positions.

The Speaker of the House is the most powerful member of the House of Representatives, and possibly the most influential legislator in both houses. Always a member of the majority party, the speaker's influence depends partly on strength of personality and respect of colleagues, but also on several important powers.

The Speaker rules over proceedings in the House, influences which bills go to which committees, influences committee assignments for new members, appoints the party's other leaders, and rules on questions of parliamentary procedure.

The majority leader is usually the second ranking member of the majority party and the party leader on the floor. Often hand-picked by the Speaker, the majority leader helps plan the party's legislative program. Many Speakers came to their positions by serving as majority leader first.

The minority leader heads and organizes the minority party. Because the party has less voting power than the majority party, this person's influence is usually limited. If the minority party succeeds in the next congressional election, the minority leader could well be the next Speaker.

The Senate leadership is characterized by its highest positions actually having very little power. As written in a provision of the Constitution, the president of the Senate is the Vice President of the United States, who only can cast a vote in case of a tie. The Vice President rarely sits with the Senate, so a junior Senator may temporarily take that place.

The floor leaders are the real leaders in the Senate, although they generally have less power than leaders in the House. The majority leader is usually the most influential person in the Senate. The majority leader begins debates on legislation and influences choices for committee assignments. The majority leader shares power with the minority leader, who leads the other party. Usually the two leaders cooperate to some extent, but the leader of the majority party always has the most power.

The major leadership positions — Speaker of the House, and majority and minority leaders in both houses — are based almost exclusively on party membership.

Source: Leadership in Congress
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