Chapter 11: Congress

Leaders and Followers in Congress

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Leaders and Followers in Congress

Each house has leaders who work to maximize their party’s influence and keep their chamber functioning smoothly and efficiently. Party leadership in the House is exercised by the Speaker of the House and the minority leader. In the Senate, power is vested in the majority and minority leaders. These four leaders are selected by vote of their own party members in the chamber. Much of their work consists of persuasion and coalition building.

Rules and Norms of Behavior

An important difference between the two chambers is in the House’s use of its Rules Committee, which serves as the “traffic cop” governing the floor debate. Lacking a similar committee, the Senate relies on unanimous consent agreement to govern the rules of debate. Moreover, unlike the House, the Senate has the power to call for a filibuster to prolong the debate on an issue.

Each house has its own formal rules of procedure specifying how debates are conducted in that chamber. In addition, each house also has unwritten, informal norms of behavior that help reduce conflict among people who often hold strongly opposing points of view but who must work together. Some norms, such as the apprenticeship norm, have been weakened; but, over time, successful members of Congress still learn to compromise to build support for measures that interest them.

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