Congress and almost all the state legislatures are bicameral, meaning that there are two houses through which legislative initiatives must pass. At the federal level, these houses are the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. This system was set up for two reasons: .
It was a compromise between those who thought that democratic representation should be based on population (the House) and those who thought that the states should be represented equally (the Senate). .
The founding fathers thought that having two houses would limit the number of irrational proposals passed through Congress. .
The House: Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are elected every two years and represent a judicious group of about 650,000 to 700,000 people in congressional districts. The House operates under very strict rules--rules for debate, rules for floor scheduling, rules for committee consideration, and so forth. These rules are necessary to ensure the smooth operation of a system made up of 435 people with individual interests, expectations, and abilities. .
Although these rules can be--and often are--waived, the strong presence of rules means that representatives do not exert a lot of individual power on the floor; they tend to have much more influence on legislation at the committee level. If representatives want to make changes to legislation, they often need to create coalitions and voting blocks that will demonstrate strong support for such changes. .
The Senate Members of the U.S. Senate are elected every six years and represent the interest of entire states. Each state has two senators. Where the house operates on rules, the Senate operates on unanimous consent, which sounds odd because senators don't always agree. What this really means is that in order to consider legislation, all senators must agree to at least the ground rules for consideration. This gives individual senators a great deal of power to shape or stop legislation at any stage in the process.