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Ekstrom Library

Government Resources: Legislative Branch: Congressional Committees

House Committee System

Standing committees are permanent panels identified in Chamber rules, which also list the jurisdiction of each committee. Because they have legislative jurisdiction, standing committees consider bills and issues and recommend measures for consideration by the House. They also have oversight responsibilities to monitor agencies, programs, and activities within their jurisdictions, and in some cases in areas that cut across committee jurisdictions. Most standing committees recommend authorized levels of funds for government operations and for new and existing programs within their jurisdiction, but a few have other functions.

Currently, there are 20 current standing committees of the House: Agriculture; Appropriations; Armed Services; the Budget; Education and the Workforce; Energy and Commerce; Ethics; Financial Services; Foreign Affairs; Homeland Security; House Administration; the Judiciary; Natural Resources; Oversight and Government Reform; Rules; Science, Space, and Technology; Small Business; Transportation and Infrastructure; Veterans' Affairs; and Ways and Means.

Source: U.S. House of Representatives

Senate Committee System

Due to the high volume and complexity of its work, the Senate divides its tasks among 20 committees, 68 subcommittees, and 4 joint committees.  Although the Senate committee system is similar to that of the House of Representatives, it has its own guidelines, within which each committee adopts its own rules.  This creates considerable variation among the panels.

 Standing committees generally have legislative jurisdiction.  Subcommittees handle specific areas of the committee’s work.  Select and joint committees generally handle oversight or housekeeping responsibilities.

 The chair of each committee and a majority of its members represent the majority party.  The chair primarily controls a committee’s business.  Each party assigns its own members to committees, and each committee distributes its members among its subcommittees.  The Senate places limits on the number and types of panels any one senator may serve on and chair.

 Committees receive varying levels of operating funds and employ varying numbers of aides.  Each hires its own staff.  The majority party controls most committee staff and resources, but a portion is shared with the minority.

 Several thousand bills and resolutions are referred to committees during each 2-year Congress.  Committees select a small percentage for consideration, and those not addressed often receive no further action.  The bills that committees report help to set the Senate’s agenda.

 When a committee or subcommittee favors a measure, it usually takes four actions.  First it asks relevant executive agencies for written comments on the measure.  Second, it holds hearings to gather information and views from non-committee experts.  At committee hearings, these witnesses summarize submitted statements and then respond to questions from the senators.  Third, a committee meets to perfect the measure through amendments, and non-committee members sometimes attempt to influence the language.  Fourth, when language is agreed upon, the committee sends the measure back to the full Senate, usually along with a written report describing its purposes and provisions. 

 A committee’s influence extends to its enactment of bills into law.  A committee that considers a measure will manage the full Senate’s deliberation on it.  Also, its members will be appointed to any conference committee created to reconcile its version of a bill with the version  passed by the House of Representatives.  

Other types of committees deal with the confirmation or rejection of presidential nominees.  Committee hearings that focus on the implementation and investigation of programs are known as oversight hearings, whereas committee investigations examine allegations of wrongdoing.

Source:  The Committee System in the U.S. Congress, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. August 29, 1994, revised by the Senate Historical Office, September 2002.

 

 

 

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