US CONGRESS and The Committee System

To understand the committee system is, in very large part, to understand Congress as a whole. Power of congress is dispersed and scattered in twenty two standing committees in the Hose, fifteen in the Senate, and seven major joint committees (on which members of both the House and Senate it), and further dispersed into a proliferating network of subcommittees (today, well over two hundred)[1]. Each major standing committee enjoys jurisdiction over a particular subject matter (these usually parallel the executive departments: justice, interior, commerce, labor, etc); a sizable professional staff to help it in its work; and a history of general deference from other congressional committees in its area of jurisdiction[2]. The basis of the committee system, then, has traditionally been found in subject matter specialization and in seniority, qualifications which, while understandable in some respects, fragment, decentralize both houses of Congress. The implications of such distribution of power were and are serious. Especially for a bill to become law, it has always been necessary to first gain the approval of powerful and strategically located chairmen scattered in various committees. A single legislative proposal, for instance, might have to clear at least three committees in its own chamber. To say nothing of the other chamber, as well as the “conference committee” to work out any disparities between versions of bills coming out of each house of Congress. The ability of congress to formulate and successfully complete legislative work on importantn pieces of national policy, whether  related energy, the environment, the economy, or foreign policy, is thus limited, but the same is not necessarily the case for legislation related to congressional “pork barrel”, in which a condition when virtually all members of Congress have something to gain[3]. As the bicameral system in US Congress in which power is divided between House and Senate, there has created a multitude of power generates the background reasion of committee establishment. Additionally, private interest-groups, and mostly representing business have been better able to penetrate and to form cozy relationships with subsections of Congress and raise the necessity of committee and subcomittee creation. Those committees are known as:

  1. Standing Committee

Permanent committees established under the standing rules of the Senate and specializing in the consideration of particular subject areas. There are currently 16 standing committees.

  1. Select Committee

A committee established by the Senate for a limited time period to perform a particular study or investigation. These committees might be given or denied authority to report legislation to the Senate.

  1. Joint Committee

Committees including membership from both houses of Congress. Joint committees are usually established with narrow jurisdictions and normally lack authority to report legislation. Chairmanship usually alternates between the House and Senate members from Congress to Congress.

  1. Subcommittee

Subunit of a committee established for the purpose of dividing the committee’s workload. Recommendations of a subcommittee must be approved by the full committee before being reported to the Senate.

  1. Conference Committee

A temporary, ad hoc panel composed of House and Senate conference which is formed for the purpose of reconciling differences in legislation that has passed both chambers. Conference committees are usually convened to resolve bicameral differences on major and controversial legislation[4].


Congress is an institution with bicameral system in which to bridge differences between senate and houses, then commitees are established based on specific roles they play.


Cipto, Bambang. 2004. Politik dan Pemerintahan Amerika.

Greenberg, Edward. 1983.  The American Political System: A Radical Approach. University of Colorado (US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation)

[1] Greenberg, Edward. 1983. The Political American System: ARadical Approach. P. 313

[2] Greenberg, Edward. 1983. The Political American System: A Radical Approach. P. 314

[3] Fiorina. Congress. P. 42



About Renny Candradewi Puspitarini

Lecturer at Panca Marga University Faculty of Social Science and Political Science Department of Public Administration

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