What Role Do Committees Play in Turning Bills Into Laws?

After a member of Congress introduces a bill, the appropriate committee studies it in detail, sometimes sends it to a subcommittee for further perusal and public hearings, and adds amendments or changes to it. Next, the committee writes and publishes a report on the bill, and then it is put on the Congressional schedule for debate and voting.

Laws are sent to the specific committees that specialize in the particular subject area of the legislation. There are 16 standing, or permanent, committees in the Senate in such areas as armed services, finance, budget, energy and natural resources, foreign relations, rules and administration and so on. This specialization allows senators to become knowledgeable in particular areas of legislation. Sometimes special or select committees are called to conduct special studies or investigations. Joint committees are special committees called up with members from both houses of Congress.

Most bills go through committees before they reach the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives for a debate and vote. About 90 percent of such bills never go further than committee. If a committee rejects a bill, it simply does not act on it, and the bill "dies in committee." Under some circumstances, a bill bypasses committee consideration and goes straight to the floor. This does not guarantee that it will be considered by the full Senate. When a bill goes through "hotlining" or "clearance," it means that it bypasses the committee process because it is not controversial, no senators object, and it is passed unanimously.