(Conversation) – Fetterman or Oz? Walker or Warnock? Bolduc or Hassan? Kelly or Masters?
Hard-fought US Senate races dominate the news ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, with energetic and close contests in Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Hampshire and Arizona, among others. Some are included record amounts of consumption; others introduced themselves seemingly endless amounts of vicious attacks. Some have left voters wondering what policies the candidates want to pursue, or how the issues will affect their daily lives.
They are 34 seats in the Senate in regular races this midterm, plus one additional seat in a special election to replace retiring Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe.
US Senators serve 6 years, and approximately one third of them are re-elected every two years. It is a system founded by the fathers intentionally placed to ensure some degree of continuity and stability in Congress while at the same time allowing for change on a regular basis.
Each state has two senators and their elections are always staggered to avoid both being re-elected at the same time.
As voters consider their choices, understanding the role and duties of senators is important. What does a US senator do after being elected?
Their primary job is to serve their state’s interests in the national government. This can take many different forms. Like political scientistI think it is useful to break down the roles and responsibilities of senators under four main headings.
1. To shape the legislation
Senators participate in deliberations and voting within the Senate, with the goal of advancing issues and positions that are important to their state. But they also serve to advance the country’s interests. Political scientists often call it “two congresses – each member is expected to serve different local interests while simultaneously, and collectively, representing the best interests of the nation as a whole. Those two roles can sometimes conflict when it comes to passing laws.
There is much legislative work to be done. The Senate divides it by assigning certain questions various commissionsas it is committee on the judiciary or Health, Education, Work and Pensions (HELP) Board..
Each senator serves on multiple committees and subcommittees gather expertise on specific issues, oversee executive branch agencies and review proposed legislation.
Each party chooses leaders facilitate decision-making and advance the party’s political goals in the Senate. Senate majority leader – that is, the elected leader of the majority party – has a lot of power to decide which proposals will be brought up for discussion.
But each senator has significant power to shape legislation.
In the House of Representatives, the leaders of the majority parties have firm control over which legislation will be considered and which rules will be used to consider each bill, meaning they have power over content and process. In comparison, Senate leaders have less control.
That’s why The Senate has a filibustera tool that allows any senator to effectively delay legislative action by taking the floor and talking for as long as they want to speak, subject to some important limitations.
Real “talking filibusters” are rare these daysbut various delaying tactics within Senate procedures, such as something called “wait,” allow any senator, regardless of party, to potentially stop consideration of a bill.
2. They represent constituent parts
Senators also serve their constituents – both those who voted for them and those who did not. They do this through their legislative activity – debate, voting and committee work – but they also have other ways to act on behalf of constituents.
Although they probably have to be in the Capitol when Congress is in session, most senators travel to their home states often. There they hold town halls, meet with constituents, learn about how policies affect local communities and talk about the work they do in Washington.
Every Senate office has people whose job it is to do things like read constituent mail, listen to constituent concerns, schedule senator visits, and work to untangle bureaucratic red tape to make constituents’ lives easier. Worried your passport won’t arrive on time? Call your senator’s office. Are you a disabled veteran wondering what happened to that check for a new wheelchair? Send that email to your senator’s office.
Internet and social networks have dramatically increased the capacity of the public communicate with members of Congress, which makes tracking voter opinion a daunting task.
Still, senators know that their ability to remain in office depends on the trust and goodwill they build with voters. They they are constantly looking for information about the needs of their constituency.
3. To serve state interests
Because they represent the entire state, a senator must be familiar with a wide range of “interests”—a broad term covering public, business, and industrial concerns. These interests can be represented by well-organized groups of individuals or small businesses that contribute to the health and vitality of local communities. In other cases, they may be powerful corporations and industry associations.
For example, a senator from Texas cannot ignore the needs of the state’s oil companies, or he could face a backlash from large numbers of voters who work for or otherwise depend on those oil companies. But at the same time, that senator must listen to the voices of farmers and ranchers, small business owners, law enforcement officers, housing developers, homeowners, immigrant communities, health care workers and food service employees.
Americans have a tendency distrust interest groups seeking specific policy changes. Part of the mistrust is due to the role they play in elections. Powerful interest groups may support a preferred candidate in the hope of advancing their legislative goals, give them money or spend it independently to help their campaign.
While interest groups can be influential in elections, they can also play a much more benign role—providing insights and information that can help senators make good decisions in the service of their constituents. That’s why senators spend some of their time meeting with representatives—and, yes, lobbyists—from these groups.
4. Prepare to run again
Finally, every senator must constantly prepare for the next election cycle. This means raising money, working with national party representatives and maintaining relationships with local political leaders.
As re-election approaches, senators will devote significant time and energy to the task of building and sustaining a campaign. Usually, fundraising becomes a primary concern in the two years before an election. And senate campaigns it can be expensive – in 2020 an average Senate campaign it costs 27 million dollars.
Many tasks, one senator?
All of these tasks take a lot of time and energy, and Senate staff members are vital to the day-to-day work of a senator. Employees monitor issues, communicate with constituents, manage constituent mail, schedule senators’ time, contribute to committee work, prepare background material, write legislative speeches, coordinate with colleagues and communicate with the media.
Today, in the average Senate office approx 40 people. Some employees work in the senator’s office in Washington, while others work in state offices.
Managing the congress office and the members of the office staff itself takes a lot of time.
A quick look at congress calendar indicates that senators spend relatively few days “working”—that is, the days they are in Washington while the Senate is in session.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t work in other ways. The various roles and responsibilities that a senator must perform mean that many have a Working week from 60 to 70 hours, including some very late nights. however, with an annual salary of $174,000at least they are well compensated.