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Select or special committee (United States Congress)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A select or special committee of the United States Congress is a congressional committee appointed to perform a special function that is beyond the authority or capacity of a standing committee. A select committee is usually created by a resolution that outlines its duties and powers and the procedures for appointing members. Select and special committees are often investigative, rather than legislative, in nature though some select and special committees have the authority to draft and report legislation.

A select committee generally expires on completion of its designated duties, though it can be renewed. Several select committees are treated as standing committees by House and Senate rules and are permanent fixtures in both bodies, continuing from one Congress to the next. Examples include the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the House and the Select Committee on Intelligence in the Senate. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is a select committee, though the word select is no longer a part of its name.[1]

Some select committees are called special committees, such as the Senate Special Committee on Aging. However, they do not differ in any substantive way from the others.[2]

Prior to the advent of permanent standing committees in the early 19th century, the House of Representatives relied almost exclusively on select committees to carry out much of its legislative work.[3] The committee system has grown and evolved over the years. During the earliest Congresses, select committees, created to perform a specific function and terminated when the task was completed, performed the overwhelming majority of the committee work. The first committee to be established by Congress was on April 2, 1789, during the First Congress. It was a select committee assigned to prepare and report standing rules and orders for House proceedings and it lasted just five days, dissolving after submitting its report to the full House. Since that time, Congress has always relied on committees as a means to accomplish its work.[2]

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Congressional Committees: Crash Course Government and Politics #7
  • 4.3 Congressional Committees AP Gov


Hi, I'm Craig and this is Crash Course Government and Politics and today we're going to get down and dirty wallowing in the mud that is Congress. Okay, maybe that's a little unfair, but the workings of Congress are kind of arcane or byzantine or maybe let's just say extremely complex and confusing, like me, or Game of Thrones without the nudity. Some of the nudity, maybe. However, Congress is the most important branch, so it would probably behoove most Americans to know how it works. I'm going to try to explain. Be prepared to be behooved. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are divided up into committees in order to make them more efficient. The committees you hear about most are the standing committees, which are relatively permanent and handle the day-to-day business of Congress. The House has 19 standing committees and the Senate 16. Congressmen and Senators serve on multiple committees. Each committee has a chairperson, or chair, who is the one who usually gets mentioned in the press, which is why you would know the name of the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Tell us in the comments if you do know, or tell us if you are on the committee, or just say hi. Congress creates special or select committees to deal with particular issues that are beyond the jurisdiction of standing committees. Some of them are temporary and some, like the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, are permanent. Some of them have only an advisory function which means they can't write laws. The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has only advisory authority which tells you pretty much all you need to know about Congress and climate change. There are joint committees made up of members of both houses. Most of them are standing committees and they don't do a lot although the joint Committee on the Library oversees the Library of Congress, without which we would not be able to use a lot of these pictures. Like that one, and that one, and ooh that one's my favorite. Other committees are conference committees, which are created to reconcile a bill when the House and Senate write different versions of it, but I'll talk about those later when we try to figure out how a bill becomes a law. So why does Congress have so many committees? The main reason is that it's more efficient to write legislation in a smaller group rather than a larger one. Congressional committees also allow Congressmen to develop expertise on certain topics. So a Congressperson from Iowa can get on an agriculture committee because that is an issue he presumably knows something about if he pays attention to his constituents. Or a Congressperson from Oklahoma could be on the Regulation of Wind Rolling Down the Plain Committee. Committees allow members of Congress to follows their own interests, so someone passionate about national defense can try to get on the armed services committee. Probably more important, serving on a committee is something that a Congressperson can claim credit for and use to build up his or her brand when it comes time for reelection. Congress also has committees for historical reasons. Congress is pretty tradish, which is what you say when you don't have time to say traditional. Anyway, it doesn't see much need to change a system that has worked, for the most part, since 1825. That doesn't mean that Congress hasn't tried to tweak the system. Let's talk about how committees actually work in the Thought Bubble. Any member of Congress can propose a bill, this is called proposal power, but it has to go to a committee first. Then to get to the rest of the House or Senate it has to be reported out of committee. The chair determines the agenda by choosing which issues get considered. In the House the Speaker refers bills to particular committees, but the committee chair has some discretion over whether or not to act on the bills. This power to control what ideas do or do not become bills is what political scientists call "Gatekeeping Authority", and it's a remarkably important power that we rarely ever think about, largely because when a bill doesn't make it on to the agenda, there's not much to write or talk about. The committee chairs also manage the actual process of writing a bill, which is called mark-up, and the vote on the bill in the committee itself. If a bill doesn't receive a majority of votes in the committee, it won't be reported out to the full House or Senate. In this case we say the bill "died in committee" and we have a small funeral on the National Mall. Nah we just put it in the shredder. Anyway, committee voting is kind of an efficient practice. If a bill can't command a majority in a small committee it doesn't have much chance in the floor of either house. Committees can kill bills by just not voting on them, but it is possible in the House to force them to vote by filing a discharge petition - this almost never happens. Gatekeeping Authority is Congress's most important power, but it also has oversight power, which is an after-the-fact authority to check up on how law is being implemented. Committees exercise oversight by assigning staff to scrutinize a particular law or policy and by holding hearings. Holding hearings is an excellent way to take a position on a particular issue. Thanks Thought Bubble. So those are the basics of how committees work, but I promised you we'd go beyond the basics, so here we go into the Realm of Congressional History. Since Congress started using committees they have made a number of changes, but the ones that have bent the Congress into its current shape occurred under the speakership of Newt Gingrich in 1994. Overall Gingrich increased the power of the Speaker, who was already pretty powerful. The number of subcommittees was reduced, and seniority rules in appointing chairs were changed. Before Gingrich or "BG" the chair of a committee was usually the longest serving member of the majority party, which for most of the 20th century was the Democrats. AG Congress, or Anno Gingrichy Congress, holds votes to choose the chairs. The Speaker has a lot of influence over who gets chosen on these votes, which happen more regularly because the Republicans also impose term limits on the committee chairs. Being able to offer chairmanships to loyal party members gives the Speaker a lot more influence over the committees themselves. The Speaker also increased his, or her - this is the first time we can say that, thanks Nancy Pelosi - power to refer bills to committee and act as gatekeeper. Gingrich also made changes to congressional staffing. But before we discuss the changes, let's spend a minute or two looking at Congressional staff in general. There are two types of congressional staff, the Staff Assistants that each Congressperson or Senator has to help her or him with the actual job of being a legislator, and the Staff Agencies that work for Congress as a whole. The staff of a Congressperson is incredibly important. Some staffers' job is to research and write legislation while others do case work, like responding to constituents' requests. Some staffers perform personal functions, like keeping track of a Congressperson's calendar, or most importantly making coffee - can we get a staffer in here? As Congresspeople spend more and more time raising money, more and more of the actual legislative work is done by staff. In addition to the individual staffers, Congress as a whole has specialized staff agencies that are supposed to be more independent. You may have heard of these agencies, or at least some of them. The Congressional Research Service is supposed to perform unbiased factual research for Congresspeople and their staff to help them in the process of writing the actual bills. The Government Accountability Office is a branch of Congress that can investigate the finances and administration of any government administrative office. The Congressional Budget Office assesses the likely costs and impact of legislation. When the CBO looks at the cost of a particular bill it's called "scoring the bill." The Congressional reforms after 1994 generally increased the number of individual staff and reduced the staff of the staff agencies. This means that more legislation comes out of the offices of individual Congresspeople. The last feature of Congress that I'm going to mention, briefly because their actual function and importance is nebulous, is the caucus system. These are caucuses in Congress, so don't confuse them with the caucuses that some states use to choose candidates for office, like the ones in Iowa. Caucuses are semi-formal groups of Congresspeople organized around particular identities or interests. Semi-formal in this case doesn't mean that they wear suits and ties, it means that they don't have official function in the legislative process. But you know what? Class it up a little - just try to look nice. The Congressional Black Caucus is made up of the African American members of the legislature. The Republican Study Group is the conservative caucus that meets to discuss conservative issues and develop legislative strategies. Since 2010 there is also a Tea Party caucus in Congress. There are also caucuses for very specific interests like the Bike Caucus that focuses on cycling. There should also be a Beard Caucus, shouldn't there? Is there a Beard Caucus Stan? No? What about an eagle punching caucus? The purpose of these caucuses is for like minded people to gather and discuss ideas. The caucuses can help members of Congress coordinate their efforts and also provide leadership opportunities for individual Congresspeople outside of the more formal structures of committees. There are a lot of terms and details to remember, but here's the big thing to take away: caucuses, congressional staff, and especially committees, all exist to make the process of lawmaking more efficient. In particular, committees and staff allow individual legislators to develop expertise; this is the theory anyway. Yes it's a theory. Committees also serve a political function of helping Congresspeople build an identity for voters that should help them get elected. In some ways this is just as important in the role in the process of making actual legislation. When Congress doesn't pass many laws, committee membership, or better yet, being a committee chair is one of the only ways that a Congressperson can distinguish him or herself. At least it gives you something more to learn about incumbents when you're making your voting choices. Thanks for watching. I'll see you next week. Crash Course is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support for Crash Course US Government comes from Voqal. Voqal supports nonprofits that use technology and media to advance social equity. Learn more about their mission and initiatives at Crash Course is made with all of these lovely people. Thanks for watching. Staffer! Coffee! Please. Thank you.

Early select committees

In the 1st Congress (1789–1791), the House appointed roughly six hundred select committees over the course of two years.[3] By the 3rd Congress (1793–95), Congress had three permanent standing committees, the House Committee on Elections, the House Committee on Claims, and the Joint Committee on Enrolled Bills, but more than three hundred fifty select committees.[4] While the modern committee system is now firmly established in both House and Senate procedure, with the rules of each House establishing a full range of permanent standing committees and assigning jurisdiction of all legislative issues among them, select committees continue to be used to respond to unique and difficult issues as the need arises.[2]

The United States Senate did not establish its first standing committees until 1816, so select committees performed the overwhelming majority of the committee work for the Senate during the earliest Congresses. Like the House, standing committees have largely replaced select committees in the modern Senate, but select committees continue to be appointed from time to time.[5]

Early select committees were fluid, serving their established function and then going out of existence. This makes tracking committees difficult, since many committees were known by the date they were created or by a petition or other document that had been referred to them. In a number of instances, the official journal and other congressional publications did not consistently refer to an individual committee by the same title. Though such inconsistencies still appeared during the 20th century, they were less frequent.[2]

Notable select committees

Henry Clay, Chairman of the Select Committee on the Various Propositions for the Admission of Missouri into the Union

While earlier select committees often narrowly tailored to specific issues, some select committees ultimately had a noticeable impact on federal legislation and American history. One was the select committee dealing with Missouri's admission to the Union as a new state.[3] The committee was established in 1821 and lasted just 7 days.[6] Chaired by Henry Clay,[3] the committee helped draft the Missouri Compromise, which attempted to resolve the question of whether slavery would be permitted in newly admitted states.

Some select committees went on to become permanent standing committees. The most notable of these is the Ways and Means Committee. It was first established as a select committee July 24, 1789 during a debate on the creation of the Treasury Department. Representatives had concerns over giving the new department too much authority over revenue proposals, so the House felt it would be better equipped if it established a committee to handle the matter. This first Committee on Ways and Means had 11 members and existed for just two months. In 1801, it became a standing committee, and still operates as one today.[7]

In the 20th century

Notable select and special committees established in the 20th century include:

In the 21st century

House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming

The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming was established in 2007 in the 110th Congress (under Speaker Nancy Pelosi) and renewed for the 111th Congress. The committee was advisory in nature, and lacked the legislative authority granted to standing committees.[13][14] The committee was chaired by Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts, co-author of the unsuccessful 2009 cap-and-trade legislation (Waxman-Markey) supported by Democrats.[14]

The committee held 80 hearings and briefings on issues such as climate change and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.[15] The committee played a role in the creation of the 2007 energy bill, the 2009 stimulus package (which contained funds for energy efficiency and other environmental provisions), and the 2009 Waxman-Markey bill (which was passed by the House, but never acted upon by the Senate).[15]

The committee was disbanded by the House in 2011, at the beginning of the 112th Congress, after Republicans took control of the chamber following the 2010 elections.[14][15]

House Select Committee on Benghazi

In May 2014, the House of Representatives voted to create the United States House Select Committee on Benghazi to investigate the 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. The committee spent more than $7.8 million on its investigation over two and a half years, issued its final report in December 2016, and shut down at the conclusion of the 114th Congress.[16] The committee was "one of the longest, costliest and most bitterly partisan congressional investigations in history",[17] lasting longer than the congressional inquiries into 9/11, Watergate, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the attack on Pearl Harbor.[18]

Democrats and critics viewed the inquiry as intended to damage the presidential prospects of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,[17] and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy prompted controversy when he suggested that Republicans had succeeded with the Benghazi special committee in bringing down Clinton's poll numbers.[19][20] James Fallows wrote that the committee was an "oppo-research arm of the Republican National Committee, far more interested in whatever it might dig up about or against ... Clinton than any remaining mysteries on the four Americans killed in Benghazi".[21] The committee's "most significant, if inadvertent, discovery" was Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state, which prompted an FBI investigation.[17]

The committee's final report found no evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Clinton, but did criticize Defense Department, Central Intelligence Agency and State Department officials for security lapses.[17] In a dissenting report, Democrats accused the committee and its chairman, Trey Gowdy, "of flagrant political bias while arguing the investigation wasted taxpayer money to try to damage Clinton".[22]

House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol

On July 1, 2021, Speaker Nancy Pelosi created a select committee to investigate the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, following the U.S. Senate's failure to overcome a Republican-led filibuster to create a bipartisan January 6 Commission.[23] Bipartisan membership on the committee was a point of significant political contention. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger were the only two House Republicans to serve on the committee, and the Republican National Committee eventually censured them for their participation.[24]

Proposed select committees

There have been a number of unsuccessful proposals to create select committees. For example, in 2017, Representative Mike Thompson and 162 other Democratic members of Congress unsuccessfully introduced a measure to create a House Select Committee on Gun Violence Prevention to address gun violence in the United States.[25][26] In the same year, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware and Republican Senator Cory Gardner introduced bipartisan legislation to create a Select Committee on Cybersecurity.[27]

The United States House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government was established on January 10, 2023 to fulfill promises made during negotiations for election of the House Speaker by Kevin McCarthy to investigate the Biden Administration's alleged weaponization of the federal government.

See also


  1. ^ Vincent, Carol Hardy; Elizabeth Rybicki (February 1, 1996). "Committee Numbers, Sizes, Assignments, and Staff: Selected Historical Data" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. p. 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 25, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-13.
  2. ^ a b c d Schamel, Charles E.; Mary Rephlo; Rodney Ross; David Kepley; Robert W. Coren; James Gregory Bradsher (1989). "Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition". National Archives and Records Administration. pp. Chapter 22. Retrieved 2009-02-13.
  3. ^ a b c d Canon, David T.; Garrison Nelson; Charles Stewart III (2002). Committees in the U.S. Congress: 1789-1946. Vol. 4, Select Committees. Washington, DC: CQ Press. ISBN 1-56802-175-5.
  4. ^ Galloway, George B. (1946). Congress at the Crossroads. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co. p. 88.
  5. ^ Coren, Robert W.; Mary Rephlo; David Kepley; Charles South (1989). "Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition". National Archives and Records Administration. pp. Chapter 18. Retrieved 2009-02-17.
  6. ^ Stubbs, Walter (1985). Congressional Committees, 1789-1982: A Checklist. Greenwood Press. pp. 90. ISBN 978-0-313-24539-8.
  7. ^ H. Doc. 100-244, The Committee on Ways and Means a Bicentennial History 1789-1989, page 3
  8. ^ Guide to House Records: Chapter 22: 1910-1946 Nazi and Other Propaganda: Special Committee on Un-American Activities Authorized to Investigate Nazi Propaganda and Certain Other Propaganda Activities (1934-35), National Archives and Records Administration.
  9. ^ a b c John David Rausch, Jr., "Committees: select or special" in Encyclopedia of the United States Congress (Infobase, 2007), pp. 118-19.
  10. ^ The Truman Committee: March 1, 1941, Senate Historical Office.
  11. ^ Fiftieth Anniversary of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investoigations, Congressional Record—Senate, January 28, 1998, p. 319.
  12. ^ Committee Reorganization, Senate Historical Office.
  13. ^ Pelosi, Dingell Compromise in House Over Climate Issue, Associated Press (February 7, 2007).
  14. ^ a b c Jackie Kucinich, Republicans Kill Global Warming Committee, Roll Call (December 1, 2010).
  15. ^ a b c Kate Sheppard, Republicans kill global warming committee, Mother Jones (republished by The Guardian) (January 6, 2011).
  16. ^ Mary Troyan, House Benghazi committee files final report and shuts down, USA Today (December 12, 2016).
  17. ^ a b c d David M. Herszenhorn, House Benghazi Report Finds No New Evidence of Wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton, New York Times (June 28, 2016).
  18. ^ Zach Toombs, Congress spent more time investigating Benghazi than it did 9/11, Atlanta-Journal Constitution (June 28, 2016).
  19. ^ Manu Raju, Deirdre Walsh & Tal Kopan, House Republicans repudiate McCarthy comments on Benghazi probe, CNN (October 1, 2015).
  20. ^ E.J. Dionne Jr., Kevin McCarthy’s truthful gaffe on Benghazi, Washington Post (September 30, 2016).
  21. ^ James Fallows, How the Press Can Deal With the Benghazi Committee, The Atlantic (October 12, 2015).
  22. ^ Stephen Collinson, Benghazi panel caps 2-year probe: No bombshell, faults administration, CNN (June 28, 2016).
  23. ^ "Pelosi Names Members to Select Committee to Investigate January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol". Retrieved 11 June 2022.
  24. ^ Orr, Gabby (February 4, 2022). "RNC approves censure of Cheney, Kinzinger for involvement in January 6 committee". CNN. Retrieved 2022-02-04.
  25. ^ H.Res.367 – Establishing the Select Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, 115th Congress (2017-2018).
  26. ^ Ed O'Keefe, Democrats fail to force vote on bill establishing select panel on gun violence, Washington Post (November 7, 2017).
  27. ^ Chris Bing, Superstar cybersecurity committee proposed by senators, Cyberscoop (January 25, 2017).
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