What is a Senate Committee?

  1. What is a Senate committee?
    • A Senate committee is a sub-organization of the U.S. Senate that handles a specific duty or oversees a specific area of the U.S. federal government. Due to the high volume and complexity of its work, the Senate divides its tasks among 20 standing committees. Each committee has a chairman from the majority party and ranking member from the minority party who are responsible for working together to coordinate the legislative direction of the committee. Committees review bills, conduct oversight, issue reports, and hold hearings on issues of interest to the committee and under its jurisdiction. Throughout the course of a Congress, the committee may convene three types of hearings: legislative hearings, oversight hearings and confirmations hearings. For more information on committees, or to view a list of current committees, click here.
  2. What is a subcommittee?
    • Subcommittees are formed to share specific tasks within the jurisdiction of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Subcommittees are responsive to the full committee and must work within the rules and guidelines established by the full committee. Subcommittees each have chairman and ranking member who are responsible for calling hearings and introducing legislation that fall within the jurisdiction of the subcommittee. Click here for a list of subcommittees under the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
  3. How is legislation brought to the committee?
    • When a Senator introduces a bill, the Senate Parliamentarian is responsible for assigning that legislation to a committee or committees whose jurisdiction covers the issues in the new law. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has broad jurisdiction that covers issues ranging from oversight of our homeland security efforts to the operation and management of the federal government. 
  4. What role does the committee play in reviewing legislation?
    • After a bill is referred to the committee, the Chairman decides whether or not to hold one or more hearings in order to examine the proposed legislation’s provisions and potential impact. Expert witnesses from government and the private and not-for profit sectors are usually invited by the committee to testify on the merits of the proposal.  After due consideration, the committee will schedule a business meeting (see below) to give committee members the opportunity to make changes and add amendments to the proposed legislation. Once the markup process is complete, the committee members will vote on the revised bill. If the bill receives a majority vote, the committee will report the bill to the full Senate for its consideration.
  5. What is a business meeting?
    • A business meeting is the process by which congressional committees and subcommittees consider nominations and debate, amend and rewrite proposed legislation. This provides committee members the opportunity to make changes and add amendments to the proposed legislation before the bill is presented to the full Senate for consideration. The chairman of the committee will call a vote on any amendments that are offered during the business meeting. At the conclusion of the business meeting, the chairman may call the bill, and all of its amendments, to a vote which, if successful, would report the legislation to the full Senate for more debate and a vote.  This process is sometimes called a "markup."