Final Paper 11/29/2011
Final Paper: Committees
Throughout this semester we have discussed many aspects of congress. We discussed everything from its function as a whole to the lobbyists that influence the individual members. We discussed how members are elected and what their responsibilities are as a representative of our country. One topic that I found to be interesting was the idea of committees. Obviously it would be extremely difficult for congress to discuss every issue of the country as a whole group, so the committees have specific issues and topics that they deal with. I will discuss what the committees do, the different types of committees, and give some examples of the committees at work through videos from C-SPAN.
Committees are important to congress because they are essentially where the work gets done. They are subdivided groups of congress with elected members that vote on issues but these committees will focus on more specific groups of issues that they are assigned to. They have their own leaders and representatives. Committees work as sort of a mini-congress. Committees all have different levels of power and influence and this is usually determined by the behavior of the members as well as the new members that are elected. Every committee is structured differently. Some are permanent and some are standing.
The members of the different committees have relatively the same goals within the committee. One of the most important things that a member will try to do is gain influence in congress. This pushes their issue to the forefront of congress and will have a greater chance of getting laws or amendments changed in their favor. Another goal of the members is to get reelected. This is a goal in general of congressmen, and as stated earlier committees are essentially mini-congresses. Another goal is to change policy. This usually happens once the member is safe within the committee. They will then decide what they would like to change about the committee and will try to push for these changes. Institutional influence is seen with committees such as; energy and commerce and appropriations. Reelection is seen in committees such as; veterans and agriculture. Goals dealing with policy are generally seen in committees such as; foreign affairs and education and labor.
Committees can be divided into four different types. Each of these categories has differences in the number of members, how and when they are elected, and what their goals are. They also differ in how permanent they are and the limitations on the number of committees a member can be on. I would like to talk about the committees in the forms of formal classification as we discussed in class. When talking about committees by formal classification they are divided into four categories; standing committees, select committees, joint committees, and conferences.
Standing committees are the “power centers” of congress although within these committees some have more power than others. They are what one generally imagines a committee to be. They have their own members which include leaders, representatives, speakers, and voting for reelection. Standing committees are permanent and continue on throughout different congresses. They are created by public law of congress which means that the congress as a whole has to vote to create them. They have the power to hold hearings, mark-up or change legislation and chose whether or not to report on legislation. This type of committee includes; Transportation and infrastructure, education, energy and commerce, and international relations as well as many more issues.
The following video from C-SPAN is an example of a standing committee. It is a trail discussing a bill that was passed by the energy and commerce committee dealing with the ability to block or avoid unwanted telemarketing calls. In the video clip we can see a number of representatives of all levels of this committee discussing their views on the issue. We can see that this committee has quite a bit of power and deals with issues pertaining to the general public. This type of committee has power in congress as a whole and their decisions affect a good majority of the U.S population. They discuss the number of U.S citizens that use cellphones and discuss the effects of allowing telemarketers to have access to these numbers. This deal with the privacy of our citizens and it could cause people to vote a different way depending on the decision made which is why the hearing is so important. Each member of the committee who is speaking is giving quite a bit of time to make their point heard and then there will be a vote cast.
The next types of committee are select committees. Select committees are not permanent and have a limited life. They deal with specific issues. Although select committees are not always permanent they can sometimes rival standing committees. Select committees deal with specific issues but there are a few exceptions to this. Intelligence and ethics committees are two examples of standing committees that are permanent and can have hearings with permanent committees. These types of committees are often used in investigations.
The following video from C-SPAN is another hearing but it is the drug abuse committee discussing the issue of drug abuse in America. The speaker talks about his views on the issue and what he thinks the causes are. One thing that he mentions at the beginning of his speech is how we do not have enough treatment centers. They talk about what the problem is and how they intend to fix it. These types of committees deal with important issues, but issues that can be temporarily fixed. The committee can then be eliminated and if the issue comes up again they can form another committee specific to the issue at the time. This video demonstrates an issue that was important at the time of the committee.
Joint committees are not permanent but deal with permanent issues. The difference between these types of committees and standing committees is that they deal with issues within permanent issues. The examples given are; economic issues, taxation, and library issues. Most of what joint committees do is bookkeeping. They will take a more specific issue within economics and bring it to the table in congress.
The following video deals with a congressional reform mark-up. They are discussing a bill and the wording of the bill. This shows an example of how a joint committee deals with the bookkeeping in congress. They deal with the wording and rhetoric changes in bills that can change the meaning, but not the actual bill.
The final type of committee that we discussed in class is conferences. Just as they sound, they are meetings that deal with single issues. They can be very large committees and will debate and meet outside of congress. Often they will make the decision about the issue at hand outside of congress and then announce it to the rest of the group. They include both house and senate members and will deal with a single bill at a time.
In the following video from C-SPAN is an example of a conference. It is a conference between two committees who are trying to resolve a single issue. The House and Senate Budget Committees met to discuss the budget for the year. This example shows the meeting and discussion to come to a decision on the issue at hand.
To conclude on the topic at hand, we have learned many things about committees in congress. There are many issues and topics that are resolved within the committees. They essentially run the congress and without committees, not much would get done in congress. They deal with topics that are very important to the entire population, and they also deal with topics that are small and only affect small groups of people. No matter how big or how small the issue is, there is a specific committee that will effectively deal with the issues presented.
The American Congress, 7th Ed., Steven S. Smith, Jason M. Roberts, Ryan J. Vander Wielen, Cambridge, 2011
All videos found on C-SPAN.com