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The Role of Committees in the Legislative Process

Committees are an essential part of the legislative process. Senate committees monitor on-going governmental operations, identify issues suitable for legislative review, gather and evaluate information, and recommend courses of action to the Senate.


The Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate in Session.
Committee on Foreign Relations, 1871
Photo of Foreign Relations Committee in Session
Foregin Relations Committee

During each two-year Congress thousands of bills and resolutions are referred to Senate committees. To manage the volume and complexity, the Senate divides its work between standing committees, special or select committees, and joint committees. These committees are further divided into subcommittees. Of all the measures sent to committees, only a small percentage are considered. By considering and reporting on a bill, committees help to set the Senate’s agenda.

When a committee or subcommittee decides to consider a measure, it usually takes four actions.

  1. The committee requests written comments from relevant executive agencies.
  2. Hearings are held to gather additional information and views from non-committee experts.
  3. The committee works to perfect the measure by amending the bill or resolution.
  4. Once the language is agreed upon, the committee sends the measure back to the full Senate. Often it also provides a report that describes the purpose of the measure.

For additional information about the role of committees in the legislative process, read the essays "About the Senate Committee System" and "Senate Committees." Also, visit the Committees FAQ page, the Virtual Reference Desk's Committee page, or the Committee section of Senate.gov.


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Senate Historical Office

Historical information provided by the Senate Historical Office.


Senate's Institutional History

It was up to the first Senate in 1789 to organize, establish its rules, and set precedents that would govern its actions in years to come, evolving into a complex legislative body.