110th Congress Brings New Leadership to Senate

By Vince Crawley
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - The 110th Congress convened January 4 under new leadership that will influence the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

The Senate is one of two houses of Congress, composed of 100 members –- two from each state –- ensuring that each state is represented equally.  An elected senator serves a six-year term. Traditionally, the Senate has greater influence over the direction of international affairs than the House of Representatives.  According to the U.S. Constitution, the president cannot approve treaties or appoint ambassadors and other senior government officials without the “advice and consent” of the Senate.

For the first time since 2002, members of the Democratic Party hold a majority of Senate seats, so Democrats will chair committees and control the agenda of the Senate.

The Senate divides its tasks among 20 committees, 68 subcommittees, and four joint committees.  The chair of each committee and a majority of its members represent the majority party. Within each committee, the minority party is led by a ranking minority member who serves as spokesman for his party’s position on issues before the committee.  The chairman or chairwoman holds primary control over a committee’s business.


President of the Senate (by tradition, largely a ceremonial role)
Vice President Cheney, a member of the Republican Party
Can cast a tie-breaking vote if the Senate is evenly divided

Senate president pro tempore
Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Democrat
Presides over the Senate in the absence of the vice president

Majority leader
Harry Reid of Nevada, Democrat
Schedules debates and votes, sets the Senate agenda, serves as spokesman for his party’s position on issues and coordinates party votes

Majority whip
Dick Durbin of Illinois, Democrat
Assists the majority leader

Minority leader
Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Republican
Serves as spokesman for his party’s position on issues, coordinates party votes

Minority whip
Trent Lott of Mississippi, Republican
Assists the minority leader


Foreign Relations
Oversees foreign policy activities of the Senate; evaluates all treaties with foreign governments; approves all diplomatic nominations; and writes legislation pertaining to U.S. foreign policy, the State Department, foreign-assistance programs and related topics
Chairman: Joseph Biden of Delaware
Ranking Republican: Richard Lugar of Indiana

Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Oversees and reviews legislation related to national agricultural policy, food safety and forest management; and writes, with its counterpart in the House of Representatives, multiyear legislation that encompasses promotion of U.S. food and textiles in international markets, rural development, agricultural research and conservation programs and nutrition and feeding programs for the needy
Chairman: Tom Harkin of Iowa
Ranking Republican: Saxby Chambliss of Georgia

Reviews and modifies the president’s annual budget proposals; drafts laws allocating federal funds to the numerous government agencies, departments and organizations; drafts supplemental spending bills to fund emergency expenses, such as wartime operations.
Chairman: Robert Byrd of West Virginia
Ranking Republican: Thad Cochran of Mississippi

Armed Services
Reviews defense and military policy of the United States, authorizes the operations, personnel and equipment of the Department of Defense and the armed forces; and drafts laws that govern U.S. military policies
Chairman: Carl Levin of Michigan
Ranking Republican: John McCain of Arizona

Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
Oversees and reviews legislation related to export and foreign trade promotion, export controls, monetary policy, currency matters, banks and other financial institutions, economic stabilization, defense production and financial aid to commerce and industry as well as international economic policy that affects any of these issues
Chairman: Christopher Dodd of Connecticut
Ranking Republican: Richard Shelby of Alabama

Energy and Natural Resources
Oversees and reviews legislation related to national energy policy, including fossil fuels and renewable resources, energy efficiency and conservation; climate change; nuclear waste policy; privatization of federal assets; and territorial policy, including changes in status and issues on Antarctica. In addition, the committee deals with international energy affairs and emergency preparedness.
Chairman: Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico
Ranking Republican: Pete Domenici of New Mexico

Oversight and legislation related to reciprocal trade agreements; customs, tariffs, import quotas, and transportation of imported goods; U.S. Treasury bonds; general revenue sharing; public money spending; and public pension and health care programs. The committee crafts implementing legislation for any bilateral or regional free trade agreement reached by the United States with other countries.
Chairman: Max Baucus of Montana
Ranking Republican: Charles Grassley of Iowa

Homeland Security and Government Affairs
Reviews security within U.S. borders; prepares for natural disasters and terrorist attacks; improves the effectiveness and efficiency of all U.S. government agencies; studies relationships between the U.S. government and international organizations.
Chairman: Joe Lieberman of Connecticut
Ranking Republican: Susan Collins of Maine

Oversees and reviews intelligence activities and programs of the U.S. government, and ensures intelligence activities conform to the Constitution and laws of the United States.
Chairman: John Rockefeller IV of West Virginia
Ranking Republican: Christopher Bond of Missouri

Reviews the U.S. federal court system and criminal justice matters, as well as antitrust and property law; and reviews presidential nominations for U.S. Supreme Court justices and hundreds of federal judges who serve in 13 appeals court circuits and 94 federal district courts.
Chairman: Patrick Leahy of Vermont
Ranking Republican: Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania