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The Committee System


The Committee System Congress in Committee is Congress at work - Woodrow Wilson (1888) The emergence of the committee system Congressional committees aren t ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Committee System

The Committee System
Congress in Committee is Congress at work -
Woodrow Wilson (1888)
The emergence of the committee system
  • Congressional committees arent mentioned in the
    constitution or any early Federal laws
  • By 1820s, federal government was beginning to
    look the way it looks today
  • Mass parties were coalescing, presidential
    elections became national, vote extended to all
    white males (and some free blacks)
  • In both houses a system of standing committees
    was established
  • This system has dominated the business of both
    chambers ever since

History of Standing Committees
  • 1571, House of Commons establishes a single
    committee, charged not with a single bill, but
    with a general subject.
  • By 1600s, 5 standing committees in House of
    Commons privileges and elections, religion,
    grievances, courts of justice, trade
  • American standing committees developed in
    colonial assemblies
  • By 1700s, colonial committees appointed for
    whole sessions, had fixed memberships and
    well-defined jurisdictions

Committee history in Congress
  • Originally, neither chamber had any standing
  • Only after deliberation by whole was a committee
    established to work on the bill
  • Committee had no veto power, modest proposal
    power, was dismissed after work on bill completed
  • Why no standing committees?
  • Not a radical concept (were used in many
  • Early forms didnt entail tremendous amounts of
    agenda or decision-making power

Why no standing committees?
  • A deliberate choice
  • Jeffersonian Republicans disliked idea of a small
    group being disproportionately influential at
    prelegislative stage
  • Felt principles of bill should emerge from
  • Federalists had no problem with standing
    committees, but felt they were redundant
  • Agenda-setting power of executive branch good
  • In reality, bills started being referred to
    legislators that had established expertise on the

Change in Congressional organization
In the first 9 Congresses (18 years), the House
had 8 standing committees. The Senate had 1.The
House created 2 in the 10th Congress
(1807-09)The Senate created 1.The House
created 10 standing committees between 1812 and
1817. The Senate created 12.
The creation of standing committees in the House
  • In elections of 1810, new legislators from South
    and West came to Congress in pursuit of a
    declaration of war
  • Had suffered at hands of British
  • Brits had cut off European markets for
    agricultural crops that were mainstay of frontier
  • Believed that Brits had provided arms to Native
    Americans for purpose of attacking settlers
  • One of these new legislators was Henry Clay

The War of 1812
  • Clay was elected Speaker in 1811, and began
    pushing President Madison for a war declaration
  • Stood as head of homogenous group of Southern and
    Western Republicans, and passed war declaration
    in 1812 against British
  • During war, 3 new standing committees
    established Judiciary, Revolutionary War Claims,
    Public Expenditures

Post-war Congress
  • After treaty of Ghent signed, signs of Republican
    coalition split
  • Disagreements over taxes, Western v Northern
  • Clay forced to search for new methods to gain
    control of House, since war no longer an issue
  • Expanded standing committee system solidified
    Clays support
  • Bolstered flagging troops by giving them a
    permanent stake in the business of the House.

Development of standing committees in the Senate
  • In 1816, Virginia Senator submitted a resolution
    to amend Senate rules by creating 11 standing
  • It passed and two weeks later a new Committee on
    the District of Columbia also added
  • Thus in 2 weeks, a standing committee system was

Why so quickly?
  • In first 30 years, Senate a reactive chamber
  • Responded to House and Executive initiatives
  • Surrendered much of its control over its agenda
    to external agents
  • By 1816, Congress had become estranged from
    Madison, and turned to standing committees to
    fill vacuum
  • Senate borrowed from House notion of standing
    committees, then extended this system to totally
    exclude earlier forms of organization

External Events and Internal Structure
  • Timing suggests War of 1812 a catalyst creation
    of committees usually linked to an important
    historical occurance
  • Louisiana Purchase (1803), Committee on Public
    Lands (1805)
  • Civil War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam
  • Reconstruction-era reorganization of committees
  • Budget Act of 1921,
  • Legislative Reorganization Acts of 1946 and 1970
  • Pressures simultaneously disorganize and create a
    need for more coherent organization of
    congressional decision making

Committees as workshops
  • When a bill is introduced in the House or Senate,
    it is usually referred to the committee with
    jurisdiction over its particular policy area
  • Committees allow for a division of legislative
    labor, enabling the 100 Senators and 435 House
    members to consider approximately 5,000 bills and
    50,000 nominations a year
  • Means by which Congress sifts through an
    otherwise impossible jumble of bills, proposals
    and issues.

2 Theories of committee purpose
  • Distributional Committees give lawmakers
    influence over policies critical to their
  • Those attracted to a particular committee are
    those whose constituents benefit from such
  • Filled with preference outliers, legislators
    whose preferences at odds w. membership of the
  • Informational Committees provide lawmakers with
    specialized expertise
  • Formulate policies that resolve national problems

Types of Committees(Standing, select, joint,
  • Standing Permanent committees (last from year to
    year) agriculture, appropriations, armed
    services, budget
  • Process bulk of legislation
  • Select (or Special)
  • Temporary, usually lasting only 2 years
  • Usually dont have legislative authority, but
    study bills and make recommendations
  • Coordinate legislation that overlaps jurisdiction
    of several standing committees (Select committee
    on homeland security)

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  • Joint Include members of both chambers (House
    and Senate)
  • Economic, Library, Printing, Taxation
  • Conference Reconcile differences between similar
    measures passed by both chambers (legislation
    must be identical before signed by president)
  • Composed of members of both houses
  • 4 types of conference bargaining
  • Traditional participants meet, haggle
  • Offer-counteroffer sides suggest compromises,
    recess to discuss
  • Subconference groups address special topics
  • Pro forma informal preconference negotiations

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How and Why Do Members Value Committee Assignments
  • District Interests
  • Agriculture, Transportation, Armed Services
  • Advancement in Party /Chamber
  • Rules, Appropriations
  • Personal Interest
  • Visibility
  • Homeland Security, Judiciary

How assignments are made
  • Formal Criteria
  • In Senate, Johnson rule is followed
  • All party members assigned to one major committee
    before someone gets a second major assignment
  • These are Appropriations, Armed Services,
    Commerce, Finance, Foreign Relations
  • In House, committees are ranked exclusive,
    nonexclusive, exempt
  • Exclusive cant serve on any other standing
  • Can serve on two nonexclusive

Informal assignment criteria
  • Seniority Only Senate Republicans apply
    seniority rigidly when two members compete for a
    vacancy or chairmanship (most senior ? longest
    continuing committee service)
  • Fundraising ability
  • Demographics
  • Issue Advocates

Are Committees Representative?
  • Should they be?
  • High Demanders
  • Expertise
  • Partisan effects, seniority, issue ownership
  • Bargaining with the other chamber/President

FIGURE 6.2. Median Conservative Score for
Standing Committees, 2005-2006Source Common
space scores from http//
Committee Leadership
  • Leaders are chairmen and ranking minority party
  • Chairmen have similar role over committee as
    Speaker has over House (a mini-legislature)
  • Can set agendas, allocate funds, arrange hearings
  • Can kill a bill by refusing to schedule it for a
    hearing or convening meetings when opponents are
  • 1970s era Subcommittee Bill of Rights
  • 1990s GOP centralization of committees
  • Role of Appropriations Committee

What happens in committees
  • 3 standard steps public hearings, markups,
  • Hearings committee listens to a wide variety of
  • Explore need for legislation
  • Provide a forum for citizen grievances
  • Raise visibility of issue
  • Educate lawmakers and public

  • 2. Markups members decide on bills actual
    language, conceptualize the bill
  • Outside pressures often intense during markup
  • Government in the Sunshine Act (1977) rules all
    markup sessions conducted in public (except Natl
    Security, some commerce, a few others)
  • After markup, if in a subcommittee,
    recommendations sent to full committee, which
    votes to ratify, conduct its own markup, return
    to subcommittee, or do nothing
  • 3. Reports If committee votes to send bill to
    floor, the staff prepares a full report
    summarizing results of committee research