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Conference Committee: Definition & Examples

Conference Committee: Definition & Examples
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Benz

Stephen has taught history, journalism, sociology, and political science courses at multiple levels, including the middle school, high school and college levels.

A conference committee is where the two houses of Congress come to an agreement on different versions of the same law that they have passed. We look at its processes and some examples.

Definition of a Conference Committee

Have you ever gone out with a large group of friends, only for everyone to stand around waiting a long time until everyone can agree on what you want to do? If you have any experience with large groups you know that coming to a decision on something simple - like which restaurant to go to - can be a long and time-consuming endeavor.

This is no different for Congress. According to the United States Constitution, for a law to be passed, both the House of Representatives and the Senate must pass the same exact legislative bill in order for it to be sent to the president for final approval. But just as it is hard for your large group of friends to agree on anything, so too do the two houses of Congress have a hard time passing the same law. Since the two houses have different procedures and organization, they almost never pass the same exact law.

To overcome this, Congress sets up a conference committee to make sure that both houses of Congress pass the same bill. A conference committee is a meeting between senior leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives intended to hash out the differences in bills between the two houses so that both houses can eventually pass the same exact bill.

Conference committees hash out the differences between legislative bills in the Senate and House of Representatives.
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Conference Committee Formation and Report

Usually the committee is composed of Representatives and Senators who specialize in the area that the bill focuses on. For example, if the bill has to do with the environment, the committee would probably be composed of members of the House's subcommittee on environment and the Senate's committee on environment and public works because those members were probably most involved in the drafting of the bill in both houses. However, there isn't a formal limit on the number of conference members from the House and Senate.

The final product produced by the conference committee is called the conference report, which must be signed by the majority of conference members. In this report, the conference committee explains the changes that are made to both legislative bills from the House and the Senate in order for the bills to agree. These reports are important because they indicate the intent of legislators when composing the final bill. Therefore, if there ever was a dispute about what the statute was intended to do, judges can go back to the conference committee report to infer the intent of legislators.

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