A congressional committee is a legislative sub-organization of the United States Congress. There are approximately 250 congressional committees and subcommittees, each responsible for a different function. They are constituted by members of Congress. In order to deal with the large volume and complex work of Congress, it distributes legislative, oversight, and internal administrative tasks among these committees and sub committees. Both the House of Representatives and Senate have their own committees. The preliminary work involved in any piece of legislation starts in committees and/or subcommittees of Congress. Members of the committees and subcommittees conduct hearings and debates, and draft and revise proposed legislation.
All bills and resolutions that are officially introduced in the House of Representatives or Senate are referred to one or more House of Representatives or Senate Standing Committees. Major legislation is usually referred to more than one committee. A bill must first be considered and approved by the appropriate committee or subcommittee before any debate over it happens in the full House of Representatives or Senate.
Special select committees can also be appointed by both the House of Representatives and Senate to consider bills relating to specific issues. The proposed bills are sent to one or more related committees depending on the subject matter and content. The committee considers the bill in detail. If the committee approves the bill, it moves on in the legislative process and if it is not approved, that is the end of the bill.
There are three main types of committees in Congress: standing; select or special; and joint. The duty of these committees include gathering information; comparing and evaluating legislative alternatives; identifying policy problems; proposing solutions; identifying, deciding, and reporting measures for full chamber consideration; monitoring executive branch performance (oversight); and investigating allegations of wrongdoing.
Standing Committees are permanent panels and generally have legislative jurisdiction. Subcommittees handle specific areas of its parent committee’s work. Subcommittees are formed by most Standing Committees to share specific tasks within the jurisdiction of that Standing committee. Standing Committees consider bills and decide whether or not to recommend or approve them for consideration by their respective chambers. Apart from this, Standing Committees also carry out oversight responsibility in monitoring agencies, programs, and activities within and outside their committee jurisdictions.
Select or Special Committees generally handle oversight or housekeeping responsibilities. Other responsibilities of these committees are to confirm government appointees such as federal judges; investigate government officials or pressing national issues; identify issues suitable for legislative review; gather and evaluate information or ensure that specific government functions are carried out, like printing government documents or administering the Library of Congress.
Joint Committees include members from both House of Representatives and Senate and are permanent. Joint Committees generally conduct studies or perform housekeeping tasks.
The Committees do a lot of background work involved in the legislative process, apart from the other common responsibilities. The Congressional Committees are often referred to as ‘mini-legislative units’ or ‘little legislatures’ and constitute the primary unit of the legislative process. These Committees are very powerful organs in that they decide what subjects can become law in the United States.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have their own separate committees to perform specific functions and they are listed below.
In the Senate, there are Standing Committees for:
- Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry,
- Armed Services,
- Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs,
- Commerce, Science, and Transportation,
- Energy and Natural Resources,
- Environment and Public Works,
- Foreign Relations,
- Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions,
- Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs,
- Rules and Administration,
- Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and
- Veterans’ Affairs.
The Special, Select, and Other Committees of the Senate are:
- Indian Affairs,
- Select Committee on Ethics,
- Select Committee on Intelligence, and
- Special Committee on Aging.
The Joint Committees of the Senate are:
- Joint Committee on Printing,
- Joint Committee on Taxation,
- Joint Committee on the Library, and
- Joint Economic Committee.
The Standing Committees of the House of Representatives are:
- Committee on Agriculture,
- Committee on Appropriations,
- Committee on Armed Services,
- Committee on the Budget,
- Committee on Education and Labor,
- Committee on Energy and Commerce,
- Committee on Financial Services,
- Committee on Foreign Affairs,
- Committee on Homeland Security,
- Committee on House Administration,
- Committee on the Judiciary,
- Committee on Natural Resources,
- Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,
- Committee on Rules,
- Committee on Science and Technology,
- Committee on Small Business,
- Committee on Standards of Official Conduct,
- Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
- Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and
- Committee on Ways and Means.
The Special Committees of the House of Representatives are:
- House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and
- House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
The Joint Committees of the House of Representatives are:
- Joint Economic Committee,
- Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, and
- Joint Committee on Taxation.