Citizen Action Kit: Role of Congressional Committees

The Physicians Committee
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Citizen Action Kit

Role of Congressional Committees

Committees are groups of Members of Congress who are charged with reviewing, debating, reporting on, and revising bills and other issues.

There are five types of committees:

  • Standing committees: Permanent committees based on topic.

  • Subcommittees: Panels that are part of a standing committee organized on more specific topics within a standing committee.

  • Select committees: Temporary committees assembled for a special issue.

  • Joint committees: Comprising members from both the House of Representatives and Senate.

  • The Committee of the Whole: Comprises all members of the House of Representatives;
    it allows for faster debate on certain issues.

Standing committees are especially prominent in the legislative process. After a bill is introduced into the House of Representatives and designated with a number, it is assigned to the appropriate standing committee for consideration, investigation, debate and possibly revision. A subcommittee may be involved in this process. The committee then reports its conclusions to the rest of the House or Representatives.

Similarly, when a bill is introduced into the Senate, it is assigned to a Senate standing committees for deliberation and reporting. That standing committee may then assign it to a subcommittee for further consideration before the standing committee makes its report to the entire Senate.

Each committee has a specific jurisdiction, which may focus on a particular set of issues and may include oversight of certain government agencies. For example, in the House of Representatives, the Energy and Commerce Committee covers issues related to the health, environment, and consumer protection, and the Armed Services Committee has jurisdiction over the military and related issues.

Lobbyists and citizen activists concerned about a specific bill often communicate with committee members who have been assigned to evaluate that bill.