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Committee Assignments In Congress Are Determined By Meaning

"House committee" redirects here. For the committee of the House of Lords, see House Committee (House of Lords).

A congressional committee is a legislative sub-organization in the United States Congress that handles a specific duty (rather than the general duties of Congress). Committee membership enables members to develop specialized knowledge of the matters under their jurisdiction. As "little legislatures", the committees monitor ongoing governmental operations, identify issues suitable for legislative review, gather and evaluate information, and recommend courses of action to their parent body. Woodrow Wilson once wrote, "it is not far from the truth to say that Congress in session is Congress on public exhibition, whilst Congress in its committee rooms is Congress at work."[1] It is neither expected nor possible that a member of Congress be an expert on all matters and subject areas that come before Congress.[2] Congressional committees provide valuable informational services to Congress by investigating and reporting about specialized subjects.

Congress divides its legislative, oversight, and internal administrative tasks among approximately 200 committees and subcommittees. Within assigned areas, these functional subunits gather information; compare and evaluate legislative alternatives; identify policy problems and propose solutions; select, determine, and report measures for full chamber consideration; monitor executive branch performance (oversight); and investigate allegations of wrongdoing.[3] While this investigatory function is important, procedures such as the House discharge petition process (the process of bringing a bill onto the floor without a committee report or mandatory consent from its leadership) are so difficult to implement that committee jurisdiction over particular subject matter of bills has expanded into semi-autonomous power. Of the 73 discharge petitions submitted to the full House from 1995 through 2007, only one was successful in securing a definitive yea-or-nay vote for a bill.[4]

The growing autonomy of committees has fragmented the power of each congressional chamber as a unit. This dispersion of power has possibly weakened the legislative branch relative to the other two branches of the federal government, the executive branch and the judiciary branch. In his often cited article History of the House of Representatives, written in 1961, American scholar George B. Galloway (1898–1967) wrote: "In practice, Congress functions not as a unified institution, but as a collection of semi-autonomous committees that seldom act in unison." Galloway went on to cite committee autonomy as a factor interfering with the adoption of a coherent legislative program.[5] Such autonomy remains a characteristic feature of the committee system in Congress today.

History[edit]

In 1932, a reform movement temporarily reduced the number of signatures required on discharge petitions in the U.S. House of Representatives from a constitutional majority of 218 down to 145, i.e., from one-half to one-third of the House membership. This reform was abolished in a 1935 counterattack led by the intra-House oligarchy.[6] Thus the era of the Great Depression marks the last across-the-board change, albeit a short-lived one, in the autonomy of House standing committees.[7]

The modern committee structure stems from the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the first and most ambitious restructuring of the standing committee system since the committee system was first developed. The 1946 act reduced the number of House committees from 48 to 19 and the number of Senate committees from 33 to 15. Jurisdictions of all committees were codified by rule in their respective chambers, which helped consolidate or eliminate many existing committees and minimize jurisdictional conflicts.

The Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, a temporary committee established in 1993 to conduct a policy and historical analysis of the committee system, determined that while the 1946 Act was instrumental in streamlining the committee system, it did fail to limit the number of subcommittees allowed on any one committee. Today, Rules in the U.S. House of Representatives generally limit each full committee to five subcommittees, with the exception of Appropriations (12 subcommittees), Armed Services (7), Foreign Affairs (7), and Transportation and Infrastructure (6).[8] There are no limits on the number of subcommittees in the U.S. Senate.

Congress has convened several other temporary review committees to analyze and make recommendations on ways to reform and improve the committee system. For example, the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 led to further reforms to open Congress to further public visibility, strengthen its decision-making capacities, and augment minority rights. The 1970 Act provided for recorded teller votes in the House's Committee of the Whole; allowed minority party committee members to call their own witnesses during a day of hearings; established the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs; and enhanced the research capabilities of two legislative support agencies: the Congressional Research Service and the General Accounting Office.

Senate committees[edit]

See also: List of current United States Senate committees

The first Senate committee was established April 7, 1789, to draw up Senate rules of procedure. In those early days, the Senate operated with temporary select committees, which were responsive to the entire Senate, with the full Senate selecting their jurisdiction and membership. This system provided a great deal of flexibility, as if one committee proved unresponsive, another could be established in its place. The Senate could also forgo committee referral for actions on legislation or presidential nominations. These early committees generally consisted of three members for routine business and five members for more important issues. The largest committee established during the 1st Congress had eleven members, and was created to determine salaries of the president and vice president. Also in the first session, the entire membership of the Senate was divided into two large committees, with half the senators on the committee to prepare legislation establishing the federal judiciary and the other half on the committee to define the punishment of crimes against the United States.

This system proved ineffective, so in 1816 the Senate adopted a formal system of 11 standing committees with five members each. Three of those committees, the Finance, Foreign Relations and the Judiciary Committees exist largely unchanged today, while the duties of the others have evolved into successor committees. With the advent of this new system, committees are able to handle long-term studies and investigations, in addition to regular legislative duties. According to the Senate Historical Office, "the significance of the change from temporary to permanent committees was perhaps little realized at the time." With the growing responsibilities of the Senate, the committees gradually grew to be the key policy-making bodies of the Senate, instead of merely technical aids to the chamber.

By 1906, the Senate maintained 66 standing and select committees—eight more committees than members of the majority party. The large number of committees and the manner of assigning their chairmanships suggests that many of them existed solely to provide office space in those days before the Senate acquired its first permanent office building, the Russell Senate Office Building. There were so many committees that freshman Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin was assigned chairmanship of the Committee to Investigate the Condition of the Potomac River Front at Washington. According to La Follette, he "had immediate visions of cleaning up the whole Potomac River front. Then [he] found that in all its history, the committee had never had a bill referred to it for consideration, and had never held a meeting." In 1920, the Congressional Directory listed nearly 80 committees, including the Committee on the Disposition of Useless Papers in the Executive Departments. By May 27, 1920, the Russell Senate Office Building had opened, and with all Senate members assigned private office space, the Senate quietly abolished 42 committees.[9]

Today the Senate operates with 20 standing and select committees. These select committees, however, are permanent in nature and are treated as standing committees under Senate rules.

House committees[edit]

See also: List of current United States House of Representatives committees

The first House committee was appointed on April 2, 1789, to "prepare and report such standing rules and orders of proceeding" as well as the duties of a Sergeant-at-Arms to enforce those rules.[10] Other committees were created as needed, on a temporary basis, to review specific issues for the full House. The House relied primarily on the Committee of the Whole to handle the bulk of legislative issues. In response to the House's need for more detailed advice on certain issues, more specific committees with broader authority were established. One of the first—a three-member committee "to prepare and report an estimate of supplies ... and of nett [sic] produce of the impost"—was established on April 29, 1789. The Committee on Ways and Means followed on July 24, 1789, during a debate on the creation of the Treasury Department over concerns of giving the new department too much authority over revenue proposals. The House felt it would be better equipped if it established a committee to handle the matter. This first Committee on Ways and Means had 11 members and existed for just two months. It later became a standing committee in 1801, a position it still holds today.[11]

Committee assignment procedure[edit]

An analysis of U.S. House of Representative committee request letters from the 92nd, 93rd, 97th, 98th, 100th, and 101st Congresses showed that the most common justifications raised by members seeking a committee assignment were prior professional experience, geography and electoral considerations, in that order. About 80% of justifications in letters fell into one of these three categories.[12] Members who request an assignment to the House Armed Services Committee have a greater military presence in their district, while members requesting assignment to the House Interior Committee generally tend to come from sparsely populated areas with more land held in public trust.[13]

Types of committees[edit]

There are three main types of committees—standing, select or special, and joint.[3]

Standing committees[edit]

Standing committees are permanent panels identified as such in chamber rules (House Rule X, Senate Rule XXV).

Because they have legislative jurisdiction, standing committees consider bills and issues and recommend measures for consideration by their respective chambers. They also have oversight responsibility to monitor agencies, programs, and activities within their jurisdictions, and in some cases in areas that cut across committee jurisdictions.

Most standing committees recommend funding levels—authorizations—for government operations and for new and existing programs. A few have other functions. For example, the Appropriations Committees recommend appropriations legislation to provide budget authority for federal agencies and programs. The Budget Committees establish aggregate levels for total spending and revenue that serve as guidelines for the work of the authorizing and appropriating panels.

Select or special committees[edit]

Select or special committees are established generally by a separate resolution of the chamber, sometimes to conduct investigations and studies, and, on other occasions, also to consider measures. Often, select committees examine emerging issues that do not fit clearly within existing standing committee jurisdictions, or that cut across jurisdictional boundaries. A select committee may be permanent or temporary (all current select committees in the House and Senate are considered permanent committees). Instead of select, the Senate sometimes uses the term special committee (as in the Special Committee on Aging).

Joint committees[edit]

Joint committees are permanent panels that include members from both chambers, which generally conduct studies or perform housekeeping tasks rather than consider measures. For instance, the Joint Committee on Printing oversees the functions of the Government Printing Office and general printing procedures of the federal government. The chairmanship of joint committees usually alternates between the House and Senate. A conference committee is a temporary joint committee formed to resolve differences between competing House and Senate versions of a measure. Conference committees draft compromises between the positions of the two chambers, which are then submitted to the full House and Senate for approval.

Other[edit]

Other committees are also used in the modern Congress.

  • Subcommittees are formed by most committees to share specific tasks within the jurisdiction of the full committee. Subcommittees are responsible to, and work within the guidelines established by, their parent committees. In particular, standing committees usually create subcommittees with legislative jurisdiction to consider and report bills. They may assign their subcommittees such specific tasks as the initial consideration of measures and oversight of laws and programs in the subcommittees' areas.
  • Committee of the Whole—used by the House of Representatives, but not the modern Senate
  • Conference committee—are joint, ad hoc groups formed to work out the differences between similar bills from both houses.

Current committees[edit]

Main articles: List of current United States House of Representatives committees and List of current United States Senate committees

See also: List of defunct United States congressional committees

In the House of Representatives, there are 20 permanent committees, and 21 in the United States Senate. Four joint committees operate with members from both houses on matters of mutual jurisdiction and oversight.

Committees in the House of Representatives generally have more members, due its larger size, as compared to the smaller 100-member Senate. Senate rules fix the maximum size for many of its committees[citation needed], while the House determines the size and makeup of each committee every new Congress.

House of RepresentativesSenateJoint

(click here for complete list with subcommittees)

(click here for complete list with subcommittees)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^Woodrow Wilson, "Congressional Government", 1885, quoted in the JCOC Final Report. Archived December 27, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^English (2003), pp. 46–47
  3. ^ abCommittee Types and RolesArchived 2010-03-24 at WebCite, Congressional Research Service, April 1, 2003
  4. ^Source on discharge petitions since 1997: Beginning with the 105th Congress, the House Clerk lists discharge petitions per Congress at its website,
  5. ^George B. Galloway, History of the House of Representatives (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1961), pp. 99–100.
  6. ^Cannon's Precedents, vol. 7, sect. 1007, gives a short history of the discharge rules from early times to 1935. In 1910 the House established the first known discharge rule since the Civil War. In 1924 the House passed the rule requiring Congressmen's signatures on discharge petitions, and the required number of signatories was 150. [Congressional Record, 68 Congress 1, ppip and FDR opposed — and by a vote of 245 to 166 they raised the signature requirement to 218. [CR, 74 Congress 1, pp. 13–20]. Today's rule is identical to that of 1935.
  7. ^The "21-day rule" applied to the Rules Committee alone; this rule was in force during 1949–1951, and 1965–1967, and it allowed the chairman of the legislative committee involved to bypass the Rules Committee and report a bill directly to the House floor, provided that three weeks had passed without a rule being reported for floor debate on the bill. See James A. Robinson, The House Rules Committee (New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1963), pp. 70, 87; Congressional Record, 81 Congress 1, p. 10; CR, 89 Congress 1, p. 21; CR, 92 Congress 1, p. H69; Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 1967, pp. 180–81; CQ Weekly Report 29 (January 29, 1971): 257–258.
  8. ^Committee System Rules Changes in the House, 110th Congress, Congressional Research Service, January 25, 2007
  9. ^Senate Eliminates 42 Committees, Senate Historical Minute Essays, U.S. Senate Historical Office
  10. ^U.S. House Journal.1st Cong., 1st sess., April 2, 1789.
  11. ^H. Doc. 100-244, The Committee on Ways and Means a Bicentennial History 1789-1989, page 3Archived September 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^Frisch & Kelly, pp. 143-45.
  13. ^Frisch & Kelly, pp. 108-09.

References[edit]

  • Scott A. Frisch & Sean Q. Kelly, Committee Assignment Politics in the U.S. House of Representatives (University of Oklahoma Press, 2006).
  • George B. Galloway, History of the House of Representatives (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1961), pp. 99–100.

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

The second committee room upstairs in Congress Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Governor La Follette of Wisconsin addressing the Chautauqua assembly in Decatur, Illinois in 1905.
The house appropriations committee is a standing committee and meets regularly. In this instance, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator R. David Paulson was answering questions before the committee about the 2009 budget.
This subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations works under the direction of the Energy and Commerce committees of the House, and met in January 2002.

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Term
Definition
Leader of the majority House party; preside over the House, refer legislation to committees, involved in committee assignments of party's members. setting agenda of House activities, formally elected by the members of the House
Term
Majority/Minority Floor Leader
Definition
Majority-helps with stategy, spokesperson for the party, Monitor House floor; Minority- less legislative power, keep party members together as opposition to majority party
Term
Definition
Liaison between party's rank-and-file membership and party leaders; Gauge support, Communicate to party members how they should vote
Term
Definition
meeting for each party where members set agendas, select committee members and chairs, and hold elections to choose various Floor leaders
Term
Definition
By convention, most senior majority party member; Next in line after Speaker
Term
Definition
group of a dozen or so members of majority party, one-hour stints as presiding officer; recognizes who is speaking, controls meetings
Term
Definition
When a bill gets to the floor for debate, floor manager help split up time for who gets to talk; usually chairman of the reporting committee takes the lead on managing bill on the floor
Term
Definition
Congress where committees have most of the power and Party leaders are relatively muted. Occurred in the 1970s, before bills were passed to cut power from committee chairmen
Term
Conditional Party Government (CPG)
Definition
We should expect party government when Parties are internally homogeneous and parties are clearly different from each other
Term
Definition
What percent of roll call votes in a Congress had over 50% of Democrats opposite of over 50% of Republicans; measure of party disagreement
Term
Definition
Measures of intra-party cohesion; Member-Level proportion of votes party votes on with the member voted with their party's position
Term
Definition
Up until the 1960s and 70s, Committee chairmanships were held by senior members; giving privileges and positions to senior ranking members
Term
Definition
Distributional Hypothesis; Informational hypothesis; Party Hypothesis; Structure Induced Equilibrium
Term
Distributional Hypothesis
Definition
Gives MCs policy influence in areas important to their reelection-get material benefits (pork) for distrit; autonomous committees, everyone lets each other get what they want
Term
Definition
Division of labor to increase specialization, Specialize to develop expertise to better understand potential effects of policy; Full chamber benefits from this
Term
Definition
Committee members are agents/instruments of their party; support party's agenda/proposals, benefits the parties
Term
Structure Induced Eqiulibrium
Definition
Committee system is the structure that induces an equilibrium; organization causes a predictable stable outcome; where as a Condorcet's paradox would induce chaos
Term
Definition
Single-peaked preferences; policy at median voter's ideal point is the Condorcet winner
Term
Definition
Committees have jurisdiction over creating bills on certain topics. Example: Environmental law is broken down into 11 committees, all having different jurisdiction than the other committees, although sometimes these jurisdictions overlap
Term
Definition
permanent entity created by public law or House or Senate rules; they continue from Congress to Congress but sometimes changes-eliminated, name changes
Term
Definition
In the House. Especially powerful committees that all MCs highly value- Rules, Appropriations, Ways and Means, Budget
Term
Definition
can influence essentially all legislative matters in the House; determines when a bill goes to the floor for debate and determines rules of debate
Term
Definition
Holds power of the purse and Jurisdiction over spending bills
Term
Definition
Jurisdiction: Taxation, trade, Social security; Tax bills must come from this
Term
Definition
Write budget resolutions; 5 from appropriations, 5 from ways and means, rest from other committees; limits in years can serve
Term
Definition
Issues-based motivations (personal or reelection; Examples: banking, commerce, foreign affairs, education and labor
Term
Definition
Classic pork-barrel committees (credit claiming; Ex: agriculture, armed services, transportation and infrastructure
Term
Select/Special Committees
Definition
temporary panels (lifespan is usually just one Congress); usually do not have legislative authority; study, investigate, make recommendations
Term
Definition
Includes members from both House and Senate; used for study, investigation, oversight, and other routine activities; usually appointed by Speaker and chamber's presiding officer
Term
Definition
"The Third House of Congress"; Before a piece of legislation goes to President to sign, must pass House and Senate in identical form, reconciles differences between House and Senate versions
Term
Committee Assignment Process
Definition
Basic process: MCs make requests, Party's comittee on committees (CC) makes decision, party caucus approves, full chamber approves
Term
Committee on Committees (CC) (generic term)
Definition
Each of the party's CC has its own criteria as to how to determine what committee a MC should be placed on. All Senate Dems have been assigned one major committee before any party member receives a second major assignment
Term
Definition
Party Caucus is likely to awards itself extra seats on Congress Committees
Term
Definition
bill referred to committee(s) by Senate presiding officer or House Speaker; given to multiple committees due to overlapping jurisdictions can be used strategically, not used often in the Senate
Term
Definition
Committees or Subcommittees conduct hearings on a bill to listen to a wide variety of witnesses such as the sponsors, federal officials, private citizens, etc. Usually follow a traditional format
Term
Definition
After hearings, committee members decide on the bill's actual language, bill is marked up or amended. Committee members email their colleagues with their amendment, must decide whether to support a bill that might be good for the nation or oppose it because of the opposition of their constituents
Term
Definition
If committee votes to send the bill to the House or Senate, the staff prepares a report, subject to committee approval, describing the purposes and provisions of the legislation
Term
Positive vs. Negative Committee Power
Definition
Positive- Get things done. Pass legislation the committee wants; most preferred policy of committee is at its median; need to pass on the floor; Negative- Gatekeeping power. Refusing to report out bill.
Term
Definition
Committees decide what information comes out to Congress and what doesn't
Term
Definition
Term
Definition
Same process as passing a bill-like a bill, has force of law; except some budget stuff, creates temporary commissions, propose constitutional amendments, declare war
Term
Definition
Must pass both houses of Congress but does not require presidential signature; does not have force of law; deal with rules applicable to both houses
Term
Definition
Deals with stuff within one house-rules and committee assignments, no force of law
Term
Definition
Bill does not have to even be reported from committee, 40 minutes of debate, no amendments, requires 2/3 vote for passage; example: naming federal buildings or post office
Term
Definition
chairman of reporting committee makes a rules request, hearings on the request, house floor votes on the rules; Open, Closed, Modified
Term
Definition
Any germane amendments can be proposed
Term
Definition
Term
Definition
Vary in restrictiveness, time limit, number of amendments, contents of amendments, etc.
Term
Definition
Changes to bill. Can be proposed at various times in a bill's life cycle
Term
Definition
Three requirements-believe that bill in original form would beat current status quo in vote, believe original would lose to an amended version, believe that the amended bill would lose to status quo; rarely works
Term
Definition
Amendments to bill can only be to what the bill is about i.e., farming bill can only be amended about corn laws, not taxes on small businesses. Only in House
Term
Unanimous Consent Agreements (UCA)
Definition
Helps schedule for floor action, limit time and amendments, need unanimous approval-one Senator can ruin it for everyone; in House majority rules, in Senate unanimous support neede
Term
Definition
need signatures of a majority when bill is stuck in committee, placed on Discharge Calendar for 7 days, can then be called up to the floor for consideration
Term
Definition
parliamentary artifice designed to expedite consideration of legislation. Quorum in the committee of the whole is only 100 members, Speaker appoints a majority party colleague to preside over the committee, only in the house
Term
Definition
minimum number of members to debate a bill/conduct a hearing
Term
Definition
Ability to talk continuously, get modifications delay or kill legislation through threat of filibuster; only in the Senate
Term
Definition
(Senate) Make request to their party leader not to schedule a measure for floor action, informal custom, signal threat of future actions like not supporting on the floor
Term
Definition
in Senate, 60 votes to invoke cloture, ends debate and imposes germaneness requirement on amendments; ends t
Term
Definition
concept of issue positions
Term
Definition
scores created by political scientists that look at roll call votes to determine MC's ideology based on a -1 to 1 scale
Term
Definition
exchange support so that all individuals included in the deal can achieve their individual goals, i.e., vote-trading across bills

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