Most United States citizens have a hard time deciphering what actually happens in Congress. Despite its low legislative productivity rate, Congressman and their staffers actually perform quite a bit of arcane and circuitous work.
Lobbying is partly built around this principle — that there are only a select group of insiders who are experienced enough to help a client navigate the Byzantine procedures and rules.
One of the least understood (yet, perhaps most important) of these rituals are Congressional committee assignments.
What is a Congressional Committee?
The congressional committees are subdivisions of the U.S. Congress that concentrate on specific areas of U.S. domestic and foreign policy and general government oversight. Congressional committees review pending legislation and recommend action on that legislation by the whole House or Senate. The congressional committees provide Congress with critical information related to specialized, rather than general subjects.
Congressional committees determine what kinds of legislation the member will work on. Most bills are first handled by the committee with relevant jurisdiction. Committee hearings are a key venue for members to raise their profile by drawing attention to the issues they care about.
What Are All The Congressional Committees, in both the House and Senate?
The Senate Special Committee on Aging conducts a continuing study of issues related to older Americans such as health, income, and lifestyle.
Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
The Senate Committee on Agriculture has legislative jurisdiction over agriculture, food, and nutrition.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations is responsible for legislation allocating federal funds prior to expenditure from the treasury.
The Senate Committee on Armed Services has legislative jurisdiction over military and defense.
Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs not only has legislative jurisdiction on the topics listed in its name, but also on a range of other topics such as economic stability, federal monetary policy, and government contracts.
The Senate Committee on the Budget is responsible for drafting a concurrent resolution on the budget for congressional action on spending, revenue, and debt-limit legislation.
Commerce, Science, and Transportation
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has legislative jurisdiction on matters related to science and technology, oceans policy, transportation, communications, and consumer affairs.
Energy and Natural Resources
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has legislative jurisdiction on matters related to energy resources and development, nuclear energy, Indian affairs, public lands and their renewable resources, surface mining, territories and insular possessions, and water resources.
Environment and Public Works
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has legislative jurisdiction on matters related to environmental protection, resource utilization and conservation, and public infrastructure.
The Senate Select Committee on Ethics is authorized to receive and investigate allegations of improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate, violations of law, violations of the Senate Code of Official Conduct and violations of rules and regulations of the Senate; recommend disciplinary action; recommend additional Senate rules or regulations to insure proper standards of conduct; and report violations of law to the proper federal and state authorities.
The Senate Committee on Finance has legislative jurisdiction on matters relating to taxation, debt, customs, foreign trade, and health programs under the Social Security Act such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and other health and human services programs financed by a specific tax or trust fund.
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations was established in 1816 as one of the original ten standing committees of the Senate. Throughout its history, the committee has been instrumental in developing and influencing United States foreign policy, at different times supporting and opposing the policies of presidents and secretaries of state.
Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions has jurisdiction over most of the agencies, institutes, and programs of the Department of Health and Human Services, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Administration on Aging, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is the Senate’s primary oversight committee with broad jurisdiction over government operations generally and the Department of Homeland Security in particular.
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has jurisdiction to study the unique problems of American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native peoples and to propose legislation to alleviate these difficulties. These issues include, but are not limited to, Indian education, economic development, land management, trust responsibilities, health care, and claims against the United States.
The Senate Committee on Intelligence was created to study the intelligence activities and programs of the United States Government and report to the Senate concerning such intelligence activities and programs.
The Senate Committee on the Judiciary provides oversight of the Department of Justice and the agencies under the Department’s jurisdiction, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Homeland Security.
Rules and Administration
The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration has legislative jurisdiction over the organization and operation of Congress. This includes matters such as congressional rules and procedures, corruption, the relationship of Congress with the other branches of government, and general administration of the Senate.
Small Business and Entrepreneurship
The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship has legislative jurisdiction over the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA is an independent federal agency meant to assist and protect the interests of small businesses.
United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control
The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control was created to “monitor and encourage United States Government and private programs seeking to expand international cooperation against drug abuse and narcotics trafficking” and to “monitor and promote international compliance with narcotics control treaties.”
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has legislative jurisdiction over matters relating to veterans compensation and veterans generally, as well as matters relating to the vocational rehabilitation, education, medical care, civil relief, and civilian readjustment of veterans.
The House Committee on Agriculture has legislative jurisdiction over agriculture, food, rural development, and forestry.
The House Committee on Appropriations is responsible for legislation allocating federal funds prior to expenditure from the treasury.
The House Committee on Armed Services has legislative jurisdiction over military and defense.
The House Committee on the Budget is responsible for drafting a concurrent resolution on the budget for congressional action on spending, revenue, and debt-limit legislation.
The Select Committee on the Climate Crisis develops innovative, effective solutions to prevent and reverse the climate crisis.
Education and Labor
The committee has legislative jurisdiction over matters related to higher and lower education, workforce development and protections, and health, employment, labor, and pensions.
Energy and Commerce
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has legislative jurisdiction on matters related to telecommunications, consumer protection, food and drug safety, public health research, environmental quality, energy policy, and interstate and foreign commerce.
The House Committee on Ethics has the jurisdiction to administer travel, gift, financial disclosure, outside income, and other regulations; advise members and staff; issue advisory opinions and investigate potential ethics violations.
The House Financial Services Committee has jurisdiction over issues pertaining to the economy, the banking system, housing, insurance, and securities and exchanges.
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs considers legislation that impacts the diplomatic community, which includes the Department of State, the Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps, the United Nations, and the enforcement of the Arms Export Control Act.
The House Committee on Homeland Security has jurisdiction over matters related to national defense.
The Committee on House Administration has legislative jurisdiction over the federal elections and the day-to-day operations of the House.
HPSCI is charged with oversight of the United States Intelligence Community — which includes the intelligence and intelligence-related activities of the following seventeen elements of the U.S. Government — and the Military Intelligence Program.
The Committee on the Judiciary has jurisdiction over matters relating to the administration of justice in federal courts, administrative bodies, and law enforcement agencies.
Modernization of Congress
Committees may hold hearings on policy issues and on specific bill proposals, consider and further develop bill proposals through a markup process, and report legislation and recommended changes to the full chamber.
The House Committee on Natural Resources considers legislation about American energy production, mineral lands and mining, fisheries and wildlife, public lands, oceans, Native Americans, irrigation and reclamation.
Oversight and Reform
The committee oversees the federal government and all of its agencies to ensure efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability.
The House Committee on Rules is commonly known as “The Speaker’s Committee” because it is the mechanism that the Speaker uses to maintain control of the House Floor.
Science, Space, and Technology
The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has a jurisdiction over a range of matters related to energy research and development, federally owned or operated non-military energy laboratories, astronautical research and development, civil aviation, environmental research and development; marine research, and more.
The House Small Business Committee was established to protect and assist small businesses.
Transportation and Infrastructure
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has jurisdiction over all modes of transportation: aviation, maritime and waterborne transportation, highways, bridges, mass transit, and railroads.
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is the authorizing committee for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Ways and Means
The Committee on Ways and Means is the chief tax-writing committee in the House of Representatives.
The joint committees are made up of both senators and representatives. They typically have an oversight or policy role but no legislative duties.
- Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
- Joint Committee on Printing
- Joint Committee on Taxation
- Joint Committee on the Library
- Joint Economic Committee
While the Joint Committees on Printing and the Library have nominal responsibility for oversight of the Government Publishing Office and the Library of Congress, respectively, the committees are essentially defunct and oversight takes place within the majority party leadership of each chamber.
How do Newly Elected Congressman get Appointed to Their First Committees?
to taking office officially, newly elected Congressman must secure
committee assignments. Congressional Committees determine what kinds of
legislation the member will work on. Most bills are first handled by the
committee with relevant jurisdiction. Committee hearings are a key
venue for members to raise their profile by drawing attention to the
The assignment process has three major steps. The first step is the formation of party steering committees, which generate lists of recommended assignments. There are four steering committees in total, one for each party in the House and Senate. Once the steering committees finish, the final lists are approved in two votes — one by the party caucus and another on the floor by the entire chamber. These votes are largely a formality, however, since the steering committee’s recommendations are essentially always approved.
On Election Day, the election results determine who controls the majority in each chamber, how many new vacancies there will be on each committee and how many new freshmen members will be seeking committee assignments.
Are There Rules Limiting What Committees a Member Can Serve On?
Chamber and party rules determine which committees members can serve on, although waivers are often granted.
most powerful committees — called “exclusive” committees in the House
and “Super A” committees in the Senate — have more limits
on membership and are rarely assigned to freshmen members.
Some committees also have special restrictions.