Standing Committee: Definition & Example

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  • 0:02 What Are Standing Committees?
  • 0:49 Bills and Duties
  • 1:52 Types of Standing Committees
  • 2:31 Careers in Congress
  • 2:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mark Pearcy
How does a bill become law, when there are thousands of proposed bills? The answer, in the U.S. Congress, is the committee system, and in particular the standing committees, the permanent feature of the legislative process where most of the actual lawmaking goes on.

What Are Standing Committees?

There are 435 members of the House of Representatives, drawn from every state in the Union. There are 100 members of the Senate, two from each state. There are around 320 million people in the United States of America. It doesn't take a mathematician to realize that there's a problem there. How on Earth could such a comparatively small legislative body deal with the gigantic number of issues that are generated by a nation so large?

The committee system exists to handle the massive flow of bills, and there are thousands of these in each congressional session. There are basically four types of committees: select committees, joint committees, conference committees, and standing committees. The rest of this lesson will focus on standing committees, the permanent committees that do most of the debating, legislating, and actual work of Congress.

Bills and Duties

Passing a Bill

To understand what standing committees do and why they're important, you have to revisit the life of a bill. The process works something like this: a member of Congress (it can start in either House) gets an idea for a law. In the Senate, the proposed law goes to the presiding officer; in the House of Representatives, the bill is given to the clerk of the House. Then the bill is off to committee.

Standing committees hold hearings, call experts on the bill's topic, send it down to a subcommittee (a smaller group of representatives in the same committee, who dig even deeper into what the bill is about and its possible consequences), and finally vote on whether or not to send it out to the whole House of Representatives or Senate for a vote. Even if the bill survives all that, it still has to go to the other House for another go-around.

Duties

Standing committees are the only committees that can actually recommend a bill (in Congressional language, that's called being reported out of committee). They're also the ones that set funding levels, called authorizations, and they keep an eye on federal agencies and the work they do, a duty called oversight.

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