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U.S. Flag and Missouri State Flag Kit Bond, Sixth Generation Missourian

About the Senate Committee System

Due to the high volume and complexity of its work, Congress divides its tasks among approximately 250 committees and subcommittees.

There are limits on the number and types of panels any one Member may serve on and chair.

Thousands of bills are referred to committees during each Congress, but only a small number are selected for consideration. Those not addressed often receive no further action. Determining what pieces of legislation are considered by the Senate makes committees powerful.

When a committee or subcommittee moves to consider 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. Before the committee, these witnesses summarize submitted statements, then respond to questions from Members. (Other types of hearings focus on the implementation and administration of programs [oversight] or allegations of wrongdoing [investigative].)
  • 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 chamber, usually along with a written report describing its purposes and provisions and the work of the committee thereon.

A committee's power over legislation extends to their enactment into law. A committee that considers a measure will manage the full Senate's deliberation on it. Also, committee members will be appointed to any conference committee aimed at reconciling different versions of a piece of legislation proposed by the Senate and House of Representatives.

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