All Committees are part of Congress.
All Committees are part of Congress.

Congressional Committees are a key aspect of the United States' legislative system. A Committee is a subordinate group within the House or Senate which is specialized on a certain area of issues. These issues range from agriculture to foreign relations. The first committees were created in 1789 to formalize procedures and rules within the House and Senate.

Before a bill is introduced to Congress, it is often referred to a committee related to the legislation to do research and make amendments. Committees also hold hearings so that non-committee members including interest groups and lobbyists can present information to help make sure members are fully informed. Congressional committees exist both within the House and Senate, as well as within congress as a whole. There are four main types of committees that are within congress:

1. A Standing Committee is a permanent committee that continues with each new congress. It is usually the first place a bill is referred to for review and consideration.

2. A Joint Committee is also a standing committee, but it is made up of members in both houses. These are meant to conduct investigations and special studies. Joint committees recieve a lot of public attention and deal with major concerns such as scandals, taxation, and the economy.

3. A Conference Committee is created to resolve conflicts over specific bills in the House and/or Senate. Normally this committee is made up of a mix of House and Senate members from the committees that originally worked with the bill, and this is also another type of joint committee.

4. A Select (or Special) Committee is a temporary committee that is created for special situations. For example, a select committee was created to investigate the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

How Committees Function:

Committees are essentially mini-congresses. First, they receive a bill within their specialized area of expertise and debate it. Research is done by the legislators. Once the committee creates a final version of the bill, often including pork legislation, they then vote on the bill to see if it gets passed on to the entire house. A committee acts in sense as a filter for bills going on to make sure that they are relevant and substantial.
The Process of how a Law is passed. How often do committees interact with bills?

The head of a committee is the Committee Chair. Committee chairs have a lot of prestige with their ability to select sub-committee chairs, call meetings, and recommend majority members to sit on conference committees. If they desire, they can even kill a bill by refusing to schedule a hearing on it. Historically, chairs are members of the majority party. They are limited to a term of six years as committee chair.

Current Committees of Congress:

House of Representatives
  • Agriculture
  • Appropriations
  • Armed Services
  • Budget
  • Education and the Workforce
  • Energy and Commerce
  • Ethics
  • Financial Services
  • Foreign Affairs
  • Homeland Security
  • House Administration
  • Intelligence (Permanent Select)
  • Judiciary
  • Natural Resources
  • Oversight and Government Reform
  • Rules
  • Science, Space, and Technology
  • Small Business
  • Transportation and Infrastructure
  • Veterans' Affairs
  • Ways and Means
  • Whole
  • Aging (Special)
  • Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
  • Appropriations
  • Armed Services
  • Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
  • Budget
  • Commerce, Science and Transportation
  • Energy and Natural Resources
  • Ethics (Select)
  • Environment and Public Works
  • Finance
  • Foreign Relations
  • Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
  • Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
  • Indian Affairs
  • Intelligence (Select)
  • Judiciary
  • Rules and Administration
  • Small Business and Entrepreneurship
  • Veterans' Affairs
  • Conference
  • Economic
  • Library
  • Printing
  • Taxation

Specific Special Committees

Current Special Committees:

Currently in the Senate, there are Indian Affairs, Select Committee on Ethics, Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Special Committee on Aging. Special committees have the ability to become standing committees if they have been found to be useful enough. This was the case with what was originally the Ways and Means Committee. Initially, it was created in response to a debate on the creation of the Treasury Department to keep the department from gathering too much power. They have become on of the fore runners in tax-writing in The House of Representatives. Further, they have jurisdiction over Social Security, unemployment benefits, Medicare, enforcement of child support laws, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (a welfare program), and foster care and adoption programs.

U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs:

As the name suggests, this committee deals with many everyday aspects of citizens of Indian (Native American) descent. They have the power to observe how those of Native American descent act in our society and have the ability to lessen any strains on them. Specifically, this committee issues are relevant to (but not limited to), education, energy, health care and services, tribal governance, transportation, and any bill that would affect the Native American culture. It is another committee that was originally intended to be special, but eventually became a standing committee on June 6, 1984.

Select Committee on Ethics:

The Select Committee on Ethics has jurisdiction to investigate any improper conduct in the Senate that may reflect badly on their image. This includes violations of the law and violations of Senate Code of Official Conduct. Upon investigation, they can recommend disciplinary action or report the violations to the necessary federal or state authorities. They can also recommend further rules of conduct to keep the Senate in order and from besmirching the government.

Select Committee on Intelligence:

The Select Committee on Intelligence was created initially in 1976 to keep tabs on the intelligence programs being run by the United States of America. They are to report to the Senate on said programs and suggest legislation based on the programs as well as make sure that they programs are within the Constitution. This committee has access to certain articles that the general congress does not, such as the intelligence methods, programs, and budgets. This access, however, can be limited by the President under certain circumstances. The committee is composed of fifteen Senators, eight majority party and seven minority party, This proportion does not change with representation as many other committees of the Senate do.

Special Committee on Aging:

A final committee that was created as temporary in 1961 but achieved permanent status on February 1, 1977. It has existed to add further studies and facts to debate and discussion relating to elderly Americans. They played a large part in obtaining Medicare for the elderly and reviewed its performance on an annual basis. Further, they deal with pension, employment opportunities, and the administration of Social Security and the Older Americans Act.


  • Committee- a subordinate group within the House or Senate which is specialized on a certain area of issues
  • Standing Committee- a permanent committee that continues with each new congress
  • Conference Committee- created to resolve conflicts over specific bills in the House and/or Senate
  • Select (or Special)Committee- a temporary committee that is created for special situations
  • Committee Chair- the head of a congressional committee

Review Questions:

1. What is a committee?
a. The House and Senate Combined
b. A group whose votes are binding
c. A subordinate group within the House or Senate which is specialized on a certain area of issues
d. A subordinate group within the executive branch which writes laws

2. What is a committee chair?
a. A magical chair
b. the Head of a committee
c. The chair where bills are signed
d. The most senior member of a sub-committee

3. Which of the following is NOT a special committee?
a. Senate Committee on Finance
b. Senate Select Committee on Aging
c. Senate Select Committee on Ethics
d. House Select Committee on Intelligence

4. Explain how committees can shape legislation.

5. Define two types of committees and compare them.

Additional Resources: - Explore Congress and see what committees are doing! - See how senate committees deal with controversial issues and the media! - See if you can find Congress's power in the constitution to make committees! It's not as clear as you may think!