American Government Congress Is Structured

Every year, several thousand actions are referred to committees. Only a small percentage is selected for consideration, and those not addressed often receive no further action. Committees determine the fate of most proposed laws. According to some experts the committee system is the natural form of division of labor in such a large and complex body as the Congress (Overview: The Committee System in the U.S. Congress, 2009).

Presently there are about 19 standing committees in the House, and 16 in the Senate. Standing committees work with specific bills, and most operate with subcommittees that handle a committees work in certain areas. Select and joint committees are used for in between categories and housekeeping tasks. There are several joint committees which are made up of members of both houses of Congress. Each committee deals with specific issues. There are committees in the House that deal with education, science, national security, and commerce to name just a few. There are the committees in the Senate that deal with the environment, finance, banking, and agriculture, among others. Sometimes the topics even overlap between the chambers of the Congress (Overview: The Committee System in the U.S. Congress, 2009).

Each committee has a Chairman who is usually the ranking majority member. This means that they are the member of the majority party in that chamber who has been on the committee for the longest period of time. The Chairman duties include overseeing a professional staff assigned to the everyday business of the committee. One third of the staff is chosen by the minority party members of the committee, while the other two thirds are chosen by the majority party members.

Because of this each time the Senate or the House goes from a majority of Democrats to a majority of Republicans, or vice versa, committees need to choose a new Chairman and a new staff (Overview: The Committee System in the U.S. Congress, 2009).

After the committees hold hearings, they then meet to finish the bill through amendments. When the bill is finally agreed upon, the committee sends the measure back to the chamber, usually along with a written report describing the findings of the hearings and investigations. The power of committees over measures extends until their enactment into law. The committee that considers a measure will manage the full chambers deliberation on it. Its members will be appointed to any conference committee created to reconcile the two chambers differing versions of a measure (Overview: The Committee System in the U.S. Congress, 2009).

The power within Congress is divided first by party lines and then broken down into leadership and committees. This might seem like a very complicated process but it is one that is necessary in order to balance the power that is in Congress thus trying to keep things fair for all.


Congress. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2009, from Web site:

Overview: The Committee System in the U.S. Congress. (2009). Retrieved November 13, 2009,

from PBS Web site:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *