The United States Senate proves to undertake many responsibilities at the legislative level. Therefore, in order to provide for a more functional operation of the Senate, it divides its legislative functions to certain Senate committees. Currently, the Senate has twenty standing committees, sixty-eight subcommittees, and four joint committees.
The Senate committee system shares many qualities similar to those implemented by the House of Representatives, but it does provide for its own specific guidelines and regulations so as to provide for differentiation between the committees of both chambers. The committees themselves are separated in three general types. Standing committees are generally delegated with most legislative jurisdiction. Subcommittees are in charge of specific areas of the committees work. Select and joint committees usually handle oversight responsibilities.
Committees are set up in the similar fashion in which the Senate is constructed. There is a chair for each committee, and the majority of committee members will reflect the majority party in the Senate. The chair of a committee will typically control the overall agenda of their committee. Committee membership is comprised by the respective parties assigning members to each committee, and each committee will then distribute those members in subcommittees. However, there is a number limit placed the committee positions a Senator may hold at any given time.
Committees can have quite a good amount of influence regarding the bills that get introduced on the Senate floor, as well as their actual passing into law. The bills that committees will consider can help set the overall agenda of the Senate as whole. There are four general actions that committees and subcommittees will undertake. Firstly, a committee will refer to certain executive agencies regarding for comments and explanations on a particular bill. Then it will hold hearings to gather further information from experts in the matter that are not members to any Senate committee.
The bill is then subject to amendments and revisions to be made by the committee to ensure that the committee agenda coincides with the provisions of the bill. Finally, the bill will be presented in its revised form to the Senate, along with a report that describing its overall purpose and provisions contain within.
As mentioned, standing committees prove to have the most legislative jurisdiction among the three types of Senate committees. They have various responsibilities delegated to them, among them including overseeing departments of the Executive Branch, the power to subpoena witnesses and evidence within their jurisdiction, and the power to block nominees and bills from reaching the consideration of the Senate. Examples of standing committees include the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate Banking Committee, the Senate Transportation Committee, and the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is in charge of conducting hearings regarding the appointment of federal judges that are nominated by the President. The Senate Judiciary will conduct the hearings prior to the Senate body conducting a vote on the nominations. Furthermore, the Senate Judiciary Committee has quite a wide jurisdiction in matters pertaining to criminal law.
The Senate Banking Committee has quite a variety of responsibilities charged to it. Formally, the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, deals with jurisdiction in matters relating to banks and banking to financial aid to commerce and industry. The Senate Banking Committee also deals with mass transit, housing matters, and urban development.
Special Senate Committees are considered to be non-standing, and are implemented on a temporary basis. Once their overall purposed is completed, or their goal is met, the committees are dissolved. An example of a special committee would the Senate Water Gate Committee, which was created to investigate the Watergate Scandal involving the Nixon Administration. Other special committees include the Impeachment Trial Committee and the Select Committee on Ethics.
Joint Committees involve Congress members as a whole, appointing delegates from both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Joint Committees have varying tasks and responsibilities, but the main difference from other committees is that bills and nominations are not referred to these kind of committees. Some joint committees are in charge of overseeing other bodies government, such as the Library of Congress being overseen by the Joint Committee on the Library. In other situations, joint committees create reports advising for certain measures to be taken.