Senate Majority Leader: a Job Description
What are the duties of the Senate Majority Leader? How much does he get paid? What can be done to get rid of a Majority Leader?
Both the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders make $193,400 annually, which is more than the salary of other Senators, who make $174,000 a year.
The salaries of the two Leaders are at parity because they share many of the same responsibilities, detailed below. The chief distinction between them is the exclusive right of the Majority Leader to schedule bills for floor consideration.
Much has been made in the press lately of Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) sway over the legislative agenda. No doubt, the largest measure of control over what is taken up for debate and what is voted on belongs to the Senate Majority Leader, regardless of the Senator holding that position. But, the Majority Leader's control over the agenda must be seen in context.
Filibusters are tools that can be used to delay or even stop a bill from getting consideration. Legislation the Majority Leader schedules can be filibustered – upping the required votes to take up a bill for debate from 51 to 60.
Also, Senators in most cases (but not all), can offer subject matter for floor debate through the procedural device of offering non-germane (off topic) amendments to bills that are being debated on the floor.
Part of the current upset with Majority Leader Reid is that he often cuts off the ability of Senators to use the non-germane amendment tool. See "Amendment Tree in the Senate" on this website for a further explanation.
An important exception to the filibuster hurdle are nominations – nominations are not legislation, and are treated differently. If a nomination is not scheduled for floor consideration by the Majority Leader, it cannot be offered in the form of an amendment to a bill. Therefore, the Majority Leader has significant influence over nominations.
In November 2013, Majority Leader Reid with the support of all but two Senate Democrats, changed the Senate's rules so that presidential nominations can be brought to a vote by a simple majority, 51 Senators, rather than 60 votes, which had been the prevailing rule for the last 40 years. The consequence of the change is that a President whose party is the majority in the Senate can get his nominees approved more quickly and more easily than before.
An important exception to this change – it does not apply to Supreme Court nominations. They can still be filibustered until 60 votes are reached.
Majority Leaders are replaced in one of three ways: 1) voters send more Senators from the "other" party to the Senate, switching the majority/minority status of the two parties; 2) the Senate Majority Leader loses his bid for re-election from his home state and is not returned to office; 3) a majority of the Majority Leader’s party colleagues decide to replace him with an internal party caucus vote. This would usually be attempted at the start of a new Congress.
Duties of the Senate Majority Leader
Responsibilities which are assigned to the Senator Majority Leader exclusively:
- To set the Senate's annual schedule of work-days and days in recess, in consultation with the Speaker of the House.
- To move to adjourn or recess the Senate, thereby adjusting the Senate's daily work schedule.
- To choose legislative priorities and schedule legislation for floor debate and votes.
- To announce to the Senate changes in scheduling and any agreements negotiated about the agenda or the schedule with the Minority Leader.
- To consult with the Speaker of the House to arrange joint sessions and meetings.
- To represent the Senate on ceremonial occasions.
- To provide hospitality and welcome official visitors, such as foreign dignitaries, to the Senate.
Responsibilities which are shared with the Senator Minority Leader:
- To be the spokesman for their respective party on the Senate floor, and to the outside world.
- To maintain a working relationship with the leader of the other party and negotiate procedural agreements with the other party.
- To define his party's policy agenda and priorities in consultation with his party colleagues serving in the Senate.
- To monitor floor proceedings continuously during each day the Senate is in session to ensure that his party's procedural rights are protected. (A duty usually delegated to staff.)
- To lead strategy sessions within his party to deliberate over response options to floor maneuvering by the other side.
- To act as chief liaison in the Senate on behalf of the President, if the leader shares the same party with the President.
- To stay in continuous contact with his party's senior Senators on each Senate committee and to coordinate their work to best serve the interests of the party’s legislative priorities.
- To encourage party unity among his party's Senators.
- To reconcile any personal and policy differences among senators on his side of the aisle.