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  Learn About Congress

House Committees
committee table graphicCommittees are not mentioned in the Constitution, but they are an important part of our law-making process. The first Congress adopted a committee system to handle all of the many tasks given to the new American government by the Constitution.

Committees are like teams that study national problems. They help Congress organize its workload, report progress, and suggest solutions to the challenges that face the nation. They propose laws that are debated and voted on by the whole House.


bulletWhat are standing committees, and why are they necessary?
Standing committees are permanent committees. When Congress was first formed, temporary committees helped legislators organize their work into different categories. As the number of laws proposed increased, standing committees replaced temporary ones. Today the congressional standing committees are permanent panels made up of Members of the House or Senate that make and debate laws for different areas of public policy. Each committee has jurisdiction over a certain area, for example, health, education, the environment, or foreign affairs.

The U.S. House of Representatives has twenty standing committees: Agriculture, Appropriations, Armed Services, Budget, Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security, House Administration, Judiciary, Natural Resources, Oversight and Government Reform, Rules, Science and Technology, Small Business, Standards of Official Conduct, Transportation and Infrastructure, Veterans’ Affairs, and Ways and Means.

A Closer Look icon A Closer Look
Does the Education and Labor Committee have anything to do with my school lunch? What does the Ways and Means Committee study? Take a look at the legislative jurisdictions of the committees to find out.

Which committee would you most like to serve on?
 

bulletWhat happens in committee meetings and hearings?
In committee meetings and hearings, Members are informed by experts about issues related to the proposed law. Guided by a chairperson, committee members ask questions about the testimony of witnesses, exhibits, photographs, demonstrations, and other material presented in hearings. Most committee hearings and meetings are open to the public, but in special cases committees may vote to close hearings or meetings to the public.

bulletWhat happens when a committee votes on a bill?
Committees may draft a bill, rewrite the bill several times, or revise it in a markup session before voting on it. A committee can vote to send, or report, the bill to the House Chamber for debate or to pass the bill along to another committee for further review. If the bill goes to the House Chamber, the majority leadership puts the bill on the Floor schedule or decides what further action should be taken. If not passed to the House Chamber or another committee, the bill usually "dies" in committee. However, Members may force a bill to a vote in the full House by using a discharge petition.

bulletHow are Members assigned to standing committees?
The two main political parties in the House and Senate assign Members to committees, using a three-stage process.

  • Stage One - Member requests: At the beginning of a new Congress, Members request assignments to the committees they prefer. The incumbent Members (those who are not new) usually keep the committee assignments they have because they have expertise and seniority.
  • Stage Two - Party approval: Each political party uses a committee in charge of committee assignments to recommend assignments. This committee on committees matches the Member requests with available committee seats, prepares and approves an assignment slate for each committee, and submits all slates to the full party for approval. The full party meets to approve the recommendations.
  • Stage Three - Full Chamber approval: Each committee (now made up of members from each political party) submits its slate to the full Chamber for approval. When a committee member resigns or is assigned to another committee, all of Congress is notified.

The Members' committee assignments can be found on the Clerk's Alphabetical List of Members.

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Challenge Question
STEP 1: Find out the name of your Representative using the "Write Your Rep" feature.
 
 


bulletWhat is a select committee?
Select committees are usually established by the House or the Senate for limited periods and purposes. After completing its assigned task, for example, investigating a government activity and writing a report, the select committee dissolves. In most cases, select committees do not send, or report, bills to the full House or Senate.

The House or Senate can extend the existence of a select committees and can grant them greater authority. For example, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have legislative jurisdiction and report bills to the full House and Senate for action. There are two select committees in the U.S. House of Representatives; The Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

bulletWhat are joint committees and how are they established?
Joint committees have Members from both the House and Senate. In general, joint committees do not have the authority to consider legislation or report legislation to the House or the Senate.

The joint committees are the Joint Economic Committee, the Joint Committee on the Library, the Joint Committee on Printing, and the Joint Committee on Taxation.

bulletWhat is the Committee of the Whole?
The Committee of the Whole is technically a committee on which all of the representatives serve. It was created to move legislation quickly to the House Floor for debate, by eliminating some transitional steps. Most bills are debated in the House by the Committee of the Whole.


The Speaker and the Rules Committee declare the House resolved into the Committee of the Whole by passing a House resolution. The resolution sets the guidelines or "rule" for considering a bill. The Mace is placed on a lower pedestal when the House is working as the Committee of the Whole.

There are many rules about how a bill is debated in the Committee of the Whole. For example, a bill or resolution may be debated for one hour, and then Members may each make five-minute speeches about amendments to the bill. These rules help to make the debate fair and ensure that time is used efficiently.

When the amending process is complete, the Committee of the Whole dissolves and rises to officially report its activities to the House through the Speaker. The House then votes the amendments recommended by the Committee of the Whole and on the final passage of the measure. The Senate stopped using the Committee of the Whole for debate in 1986.

In-depth Report icon Committee of the Whole (THOMAS)

bulletWhere can I find committee Web sites?
You can find a list of committee and subcommittee websites on the U.S. House of Representatives Web site.



 
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All the House Office Buildings are named after former Speakers!

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Glossary Terms
Key Words
Use the glossary to learn key terms.

Adjourn
Amendment
Bicameral
Bill
Caucus
Checks and Balances
Citizen
Committee
Conference Committee
Constituent
Delegate
Democratic
Federal
Joint Committee
Joint Meeting
Jurisdiction
Mace
Member
Reapportionment
Redistricting
Report
Representative
Republic
Select Committee
Standing Committee



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