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United States congressional subcommittee

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A congressional subcommittee in the United States Congress is a subdivision of a United States congressional committee that considers specified matters and reports back to the full committee.

Subcommittees are formed by most committees to share specific tasks within the jurisdiction of the full committee. Subcommittees are responsible to, and work within the guidelines established by, their parent committees. In particular, standing committees usually create subcommittees with legislative jurisdiction to consider and report bills. They may assign their subcommittees such specific tasks as the initial consideration of measures and oversight of laws and programs in the subcommittees’ areas.[1] Service on subcommittees enables members to develop expertise in specialized fields. Subcommittees diffuse the legislative process. For the most part, they are independent, autonomous units with written jurisdictions, and, pursuant to longstanding practice, most bills are referred by a full committee to them.[2]

General requirements for establishing subcommittees are established in House or Senate rules, but specifics with respect to subcommittee assignments and their jurisdiction are left up to the parent committees.[3] Committees have wide latitude to increase or decrease the number of subcommittees from one congress to the next, including renaming or reassigning jurisdiction among previous subcommittees. Some committees, like the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, often retain a predictable subcommittee structure from year to year, due to the set duties of each subcommittee in drafting annual spending bills. However, even these committees are not immune to organizational changes. New subcommittees on Homeland Security were created in 2003 to handle funding for the Department of Homeland Security, and underwent a joint reorganization during the 110th Congress to better coordinate annual appropriations between the House and Senate.[4]

The respective party conferences in both the House and Senate also provide their own rules, traditions, and precedents with respect to the subcommittee assignments, chairmanship of subcommittees, and even the number of subcommittees members can serve on.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Congressional Committees: Crash Course Government and Politics #7
  • Congress: The Committee System
  • Congress Committees


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.

House subcommittees

House Rule XI states: the "Rules of the House are the rules of its committees and subcommittees so far as applicable...." According to clause 1(a)(2) of the same rule, "each subcommittee of a committee is a part of that committee, and is subject to the authority and direction of that committee and to its rules, so far as applicable."[2]

Subcommittee sizes and party ratios are determined by the full committee, usually in concert with the party leadership. Although negotiations are often held with the minority, these prerogatives remain with the majority. Generally, subcommittee ratios reflect the same ratio as that of a full committee, which in turn reflects the ratio of majority to minority members in the full House. Discussions on subcommittee sizes and ratios traditionally begin soon after the November election, and often are completed by the convening of the early organization meetings, usually held in November or December. Final decisions are made after committee assignments are ratified on the House floor. Seat changes within a Congress can necessitate adjusting subcommittee sizes and ratios.[5]

House Rule X, which provides for the creation of standing committees, limits committees to five subcommittees each, though committees that also have an oversight subcommittee are permitted six subcommittees. Several committees are allowed to exceed this limit, due to the detailed nature of their jurisdiction. The Armed Services and Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Government Reform committees each have seven subcommittees, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is allowed six subcommittees, without also requiring an oversight subcommittee, and the Appropriations Committee has twelve subcommittees plus a select oversight panel on intelligence.[6] House rules also prohibit any full committee from establishing subunits that last longer than six months. If they do, then the new subunit counts against the subcommittee limit.[2]

Subcommittee jurisdictions are not enumerated in the House rules, and are determined by each committee. Several committees establish specific subcommittee jurisdictions in committee rules. Pursuant to the jurisdiction of the full committee, most legislation is referred by the committee to a subcommittee prior to consideration by the full committee. However, some committees retain specific legislation at the full-committee level. For example, the Ways and Means Committee keeps legislation amending the income tax sections of the Internal Revenue Code at full committee, and the Natural Resources Committee retains matters relating to Native Americans for the full committee.

House Rules further require that every full committee with more than 20 members must establish a subcommittee on oversight, though this requirement does not limit the ability of the full committee or its other subcommittees to exercise oversight over programs and agencies under their jurisdiction.

Service on subcommittees

House rules are silent on how members are assigned to subcommittees, as this practice is traditionally governed by party rules and practices.[2]

House Rule X generally restricts members of Congress to service on no more than two standing committees and no more than four subcommittees within each of those committees, with some exceptions. For example, the chairman and ranking member of the full committee are allowed to serve ex officio on their subcommittees without that service being subject to the limitation. Also, service on any temporary investigative subcommittees established by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct does not count. Finally, representatives can request waivers from their respective party caucus or conference to serve on additional committees or subcommittees

House Democratic Caucus

Democratic Caucus Rule 26, which addresses subcommittees “when the Democratic party is the majority,” states that no subcommittee can be more than 60% of the size of a full committee. It further states that the resident commissioner and delegates should not be counted in determining subcommittee (or committee) size.

House Democrats allow each committee member to bid, in order of seniority, for available subcommittee leadership slots. For all committees, except Appropriations, this is done by full-committee seniority; for Appropriations, it is done by subcommittee seniority. Caucus rules generally limit Members to chair only one full committee or one subcommittee with legislative jurisdiction. Subcommittee leaders selected for the Appropriations Committee, Energy and Commerce Committee, and Ways and Means Committee require Democratic Steering and Policy Committee approval.[5]

House Republican Conference

Republican Conference rules are silent on subcommittee size and ratio issues.[5] Each committee chair determines and provides to other Republican members of the committee the method for selecting subcommittee chairs. However, a majority of the Republican Members of the full committee can disapprove the selection procedure. Republican Conference rules changes for the 108th Congress required subcommittee chairs of the Appropriations Committee to receive full conference approval. Under House rules, subcommittee chairs are limited to six years of service. Republicans also limit members to a single committee or subcommittee chairmanship; the chairmanships of the Standards of Official Conduct Committee and the House Administration Committee are exempt, thereby allowing a Member to chair either of these panels and an additional panel. Finally, Republican Conference rules prohibit a full-committee chair from leading a subcommittee of the committee they head. Republicans generally leave assignment decisions to the committee leader to determine, although most employ a bidding approach that allows members to select subcommittee slots.[2] Chairmen are limited to six years as the ranking member on a committee, with time spent as chairman and as ranking minority member counting towards the limit. Since the rule has come into force in 1995, waivers have been granted, though very rarely.[7][8]

Senate subcommittees

Given the smaller size of the senate, there are fewer members competing for committee and subcommittee assignments. The Standing Rules of the Senate do not establish any limits on the number of subcommittees a standing or select committee may establish, and gives more latitude to the committees in determining their subcommittee organization and membership. The Senate prohibits committees from creating any subunit other than a subcommittee, unless authorized by specific resolution approved by the full Senate.

Service on subcommittees

Senate rules do place some limits on subcommittees. The Senate classifies its committees into three categories, known as A, B, or C committees. Senate Rule 25 restricts all senators to service on no more than three committees, two A committees and one B or C Committee. Party rules further restrict assignments to no more than one among the so-called Super A Committees of Appropriations, Armed Services, Finance, and Foreign Relations.[9]

Senators are limited to service on no more than three subcommittees on each of the A Committees they serve on, and no more than two subcommittees from B or C Committees. The chairman and ranking member of full committees are permitted to serve ex officio on any of their committee's subcommittees.

Senators are further restricted by Rule 25 to chair no more than one subcommittee on each of the full committees they are a member of. There are additional restrictions for a chairman of an A Committee. The chairmen is limited to chair only one subcommittee on each A Committee they serve on. This restriction even extends to committees they don't chair.

Chairmen of Class B or C committees are prohibited from serving as chair of any subcommittee of any committee they chair, and are similarly restricted to serving as chair of only one Class A subcommittee.[10]

Senate Democratic Caucus

Senate Democratic Caucus rules are not publicly available, so it is hard to determine how those rules apply to subcommittee assignments. However, unlike their Republican counterparts, Democratic chairmen and ranking members are not limited to six-year terms nor are chairmen of full committees prohibited from serving as chairmen of their own committee's subcommittees.[9]

Senate Republican Conference

Republican Conference rules place additional restrictions on senators, including term limits of 6 years as a committee chairman plus 6 years as ranking member.[11]

  • A chair/ranking member of an A committee may not serve as chair/ranking member of any subcommittees. Appropriations subcommittee chairmanships are exempt.
  • A chair/ranking member of a non-A committee, excluding Ethics, may not serve as chair/ranking member of more than one subcommittee. Appropriations subcommittee chairmanships are not exempt.
  • The chair/vice chair of the Ethics Committee may serve on no more than two standing subcommittees.
  • A Senator may not serve as chair/ranking member of more than two subcommittees.
  • A Senator shall not serve more than 6 years as chair of any standing committee, effective January 1997, plus 6 years as ranking member of a committee. Once a Senator served 6 years chairing a committee, the term would be over. However, if a Senator served 6 years as a ranking minority member, the Senator could serve as chair if the party controls the chamber.

See also


External links

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