Lesson Objectives:- The power of committees
- Types of congressional committees
- Leadership in the House
- Leadership in the Senate
"Little Legislatures" is sometimes used to refer to the committees in both the House and the Senate that are put together to handle a specific duty or act on a certain piece of legislation. They have the final say on matters under their jurisdiction.
They can kill proposed legislation if they do not act on it, which means they do not send it on to the main body to be voted on. In the House, representatives can pry a bill out of a committee's hands through the use of a discharge petition.
A Discharge Petition is a procedure by which a bill in the House of Representatives may be forced (discharged) out of a committee that has refused to report it for consideration by the House. Discharge petitions are very rarely successful, so the reality is that each committee has great autonomy in carrying out its own agenda.
There are several types of committees. The first kind is known as a Standing Committee, a permanent committee in the House or Senate that considers bills within a certain subject area.
The most popular standing committees are ones that deal with spending, because members can benefit their constituents by making those decisions.
Another kind of committee is the Select Committee, a temporary legislative committee established for a limited time period and for a special purpose.
A Joint Committee is a legislative committee composed of members from both chambers of Congress.
A very specific type of committee is the Conference Committee, which is a special joint committee appointed to reconcile differences when bills pass the two chambers of Congress in different forms.
A particularly powerful committee is the House Rules Committee. It has the power over legislation that reaches the floor. The House Rules Committee sets the debate time limits and determines amendment requirements. In addition, it can meet while the House is in session, push its own resolutions to the top of the list, and even initiate its own legislation.
How committees are chosen is through the Seniority System, a custom followed in both chambers of Congress specifying that the member of the majority party with the longest term of continuous service will be given preference when a committee chairperson (or a holder of some other significant post) is selected.
The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer in the House of Representatives. The Speaker is chosen by the majority party and is the most powerful and influential member of the House.
Another influential leader in the House is the Majority Leader of the House. The majority leader is elected by members of the majority party to foster cohesion and to act as a spokesperson for the majority party.
The Minority Leader of the House is another influential position, being the party leader elected by members of the minority party in the House.
The majority and minority leaders have their assistants in the form of Whips. A whip is a member of Congress who aids the majority or minority leader of the House or the Senate.
Being a fourth of the size of the House, the Senate does not need as much formal organization as the House. One interesting detail is that the Vice President is also the president of the Senate.
However, the Vice President only votes if there is a tie and he rarely attends Senate meetings. Instead, the Senate elects a President Pro Tempore -- a senator who presides over the Senate in the absence of the vice president. It is mainly a ceremonial position. The real power in the Senate is in the hands of the Majority and Minority Leaders.
The Senate Majority Leader is the chief spokesperson of the majority party in the Senate, who directs the legislative program and party strategy. Likewise, the Senate Minority Leader is the party officer in the Senate who commands the minority party's opposition to the policies of the majority party and directs the legislative program and strategy of his or her party.