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About the Committee System | Committees and Senate Rules

The Senate governs committee operations through its Standing Rules XXIV-XXVIII. Senate Rule XXV establishes standing committees, determines their membership, and fixes their jurisdictions. Setting jurisdictional boundaries among committees can be difficult. While some jurisdictions apply to oversight of specific executive agencies or precisely defined functions, others are not so obviously described. As a result, a half-dozen or more committees may claim jurisdiction in such broad policy areas as the national economy or environmental protection. While Senate Rule XXV also provides for select, special, and joint committees, it does not spell out their responsibilities. These are detailed in the Senate resolutions that establish—or update—the authority of these special committees.

Senate Rule XXVI governs committee procedures. The Senate adopted a number of these rules in 1946 and in the 1970s in order to check the power of committee chairs and increase public access to committee operations. These reforms included (1) establishment of regular weekly, biweekly, or monthly meeting dates; (2) provision to allow members to call special meetings with or without the chair's approval; (3) authorization for members in the minority to select and call witnesses; (4) advance public announcement of hearings and advance filing of witness testimony; (5) public access, including radio and television coverage, to meetings and hearings unless specifically closed by a committee majority as provided in Senate rules; and (6) public access to a record of committee proceedings and votes, and a formal public report of committee activities during the previous Congress.

Committees, except Appropriations and Budget, are not allowed to meet for more than two hours beyond the Senate's daily convening time, and not beyond two o'clock in the afternoon, without the permission of both party floor leaders or their designees, though this is often accomplished through unanimous consent.

Senate Standing Rule XXVI requires each committee to adopt and publish its own procedural rules. These rules must be consistent with the Senate's Standing Rules regulating committee procedures.

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