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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

House Committee Chairs: Considerations, Decisions, and Actions as One Congress Ends and a New Congress Begins

Judy Schneider
Specialist on the Congress

Michael L. Koempel
Senior Specialist in American National Government

A committee chair serves as the leader of a committee, with responsibility for setting the course and direction of the panel for committee members and the House and for managing a large professional and paraprofessional staff. The senior committee staff should ensure the chair’s goals are carried out effectively.

Once a committee chair is selected during the post-election transition period, he or she, often in consultation with others, makes a series of decisions and takes a series of actions. Some actions complete a committee’s duties in the Congress just ending, while other actions are taken in anticipation of the new Congress and then in the new Congress. Some decisions are related to the committee’s policy calendar; others to the committee’s administrative functions; others to the chair’s responsibilities during committee sessions; others to the role of committee members; others to the relationship with the committee’s ranking minority member, other chairs, and party leaders; and still others related to subcommittee leaders. Many decisions are made with a deadline imposed by House rules.

Specifically, a committee chair controls the selection of committee staff, authorizes expenditures from the committee budget, establishes operational and ethics policies, determines committee travel allocations, decides the content of the committee website, and is responsible for administration of the committee’s rooms, paperwork, and other operations. Most committees entrust the drafting of the budget to the committee chair, although a committee’s minority party members seek to ensure that they receive an appropriate allocation of resources. Before the chair introduces a funding resolution, the committee approves the chair’s draft budget.

The House requires its committees to adopt committee rules in an open session and to publish those rules in the Congressional Record and in electronic form not later than 30 days after the committee chair is elected. A chair normally proposes adopting, with amendments the chair offers, the rules under which the committee operated in the previous Congress, and also proposes the number of subcommittees for the committee.

A committee chair establishes the committee agenda, calls hearings, selects witnesses and determines the order of their testimony, presides over hearings and markups, chooses any markup vehicle and pursues an amendment strategy, prepares the committee report accompanying legislation, and discusses, or might negotiate, any of these matters with the ranking minority member. The chair maintains order and decorum during committee meetings, and takes various steps to protect the committee’s jurisdiction in the referral of legislation and other matters. When a measure is reported by a committee, it is the responsibility of the committee chair to consult the party leadership to determine floor scheduling for the measure.

This report covers the period from the House’s early organization meetings through the spring district work period, which normally occurs in March or April. The report will be updated after the 113th Congress convenes if House rules or practices affecting chair decisions and actions discussed here change substantively.

Date of Report: October 25, 2012
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: RL34679
Price: $29.95

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