The Senate created a standing committee system in 1816, more than a quarter century after its first meeting in 1789. The United States Constitution did not mention or provide for committees in Congress. Prior to 1816, the Senate relied on temporary select committees, the first of which was appointed on April 7, 1789, to draw up Senate rules of procedure. That committee filed its report within a week and, by April 18, the Senate had resolved that 20 rules "be observed." In those days, the Senate spent much of its time acting as a "Committee of the Whole," a parliamentary device for facilitating the legislative process.
This improvisational system made the select committees completely responsive to the Senate as a whole. The Senate determined their jurisdiction and membership, and they invariably complied with the will of the majority that had created them in the first place. Furthermore, if the Senate was not satisfied with the progress of a particular select committee, it could at any time create another committee to handle the same matter. The system also was useful for its flexibility, as the Senate could, if it preferred, dispose of legislation and nominations without any committee referral.
For the most part, these early Senate committees consisted of three members for routine business and five members for more important issues. During the first session of the First Congress, the largest committee, containing 11 members, was created to decide the salaries of the president and vice president. Also in the first session, the entire membership of the Senate was divided into two large committees, with half the senators on the committee to prepare legislation establishing the federal judiciary and the other half on the committee to define the punishment of crimes against the United States. These committees obviously contained more members than was usual, and in the case of organizing the federal judiciary, a smaller subcommittee actually drafted the bill.
With the great number of temporary committees appointed each session, the position of committee chairman was not as influential as it would become later with the establishment of standing committees. Chairmen were often the senators who introduced the legislation, since they had the most interest in the bill's passage. But generally the chairman was the senator who received the most votes in the balloting for committee members.
The chief disadvantage of the temporary committee system was that it encouraged an unequal workload for senators. During the first session of the First Congress, for instance, one very able senator served on 22 committees; a year later, in the second session, he was elected to 36 committees, while the average member served on only about 11 committees. Several senators served on only one or two, or none at all.
The increasing business of the committees, particularly in the handling of nominations, the pressing needs of national defense during the War of 1812, and the growing institutional needs of a body that was now over a quarter-century old, all pushed the Senate toward the creation of standing committees. In 1815, at the end of the War of 1812, the stage was set for the Senate to consider establishing its own system of standing committees. Meeting in temporary quarters—because the Capitol Building itself was under repair for damage that British troops had inflicted during the war—members of the Senate were most likely concerned about the permanency, continuity, and stability of governmental processes. Perhaps struggling with the issues of the war made members realize the need for greater expertise and a more specialized review of legislation. In addition, given the frequent movement of House members to the Senate, we may assume that former representatives brought with them a preference for the standing committee assignments that had become common in that body.
During the first session of the Fourteenth Congress, meeting in December 1815, the Senate appointed a series of select committees to report on various portions of the president's annual message to the nation. Instead of allowing these temporary committees to disband after they had completed their immediate work, the Senate utilized the same committees for other business during the session.
This is a complete list of U.S. congressional committees (standing committees and select or special committees) that are currently operating in the United States Senate. Senators can be a member of more than one committee.
As of 2017[update], there are 88 subsidiary bodies of the US Senate: 16 standing committees with 67 subcommittees, and 5 non-standing committees.
|Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry||Pat Roberts (R-KS)||Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)|
|Commodities, Risk Management and Trade||John Boozman (R-AR)||Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)|
|Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources||Steve Daines (R-MT)||Michael Bennet (D-CO)|
|Livestock, Marketing and Agriculture Security||David Perdue (R-GA)||Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)|
|Rural Development and Energy||Joni Ernst (R-IA)||Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)|
|Nutrition, Specialty Crops and Agricultural Research||Vacant||Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA)|
|Appropriations||Thad Cochran (R-MS)||Patrick Leahy (D-VT)|
|Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies||John Hoeven (R-ND)||Jeff Merkley (D-OR)|
|Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies||Richard Shelby (R-AL)||Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)|
|Defense||Thad Cochran (R-MS)||Dick Durbin (D-IL)|
|Energy and Water Development||Lamar Alexander (R-TN)||Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)|
|Financial Services and General Government||Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)||Chris Coons (D-DE)|
|Homeland Security||John Boozman (R-AR)||Jon Tester (D-MT)|
|Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies||Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)||Tom Udall (D-NM)|
|Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies||Roy Blunt (R-MO)||Patty Murray (D-WA)|
|Legislative Branch||James Lankford (R-OK)||Chris Murphy (D-CT)|
|Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies||Jerry Moran (R-KS)||Brian Schatz (D-HI)|
|State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs||Lindsey Graham (R-SC)||Patrick Leahy (D-VT)|
|Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies||Susan Collins (R-ME)||Jack Reed (D-RI)|
|Armed Services||John McCain (R-AZ)||Jack Reed (D-RI)|
|Airland||Tom Cotton (R-AR)||Angus King (I-ME)|
|Cybersecurity||Mike Rounds (R-SD)||Bill Nelson (D-FL)|
|Emerging Threats and Capabilities||Joni Ernst (R-IA)||Martin Heinrich (D-NM)|
|Personnel||Thom Tillis (R-NC)||Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)|
|Readiness and Management Support||Jim Inhofe (R-OK)||Tim Kaine (D-VA)|
|Seapower||Roger Wicker (R-MS)||Mazie Hirono (D-HI)|
|Strategic Forces||Deb Fischer (R-NE)||Joe Donnelly (D-IN)|
|Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs||Mike Crapo (R-ID)||Sherrod Brown (D-OH)|
|Economic Policy||Tom Cotton (R-AR)||Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)|
|Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection||Pat Toomey (R-PA)||Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)|
|Housing, Transportation, and Community Development||Tim Scott (R-SC)||Robert Menendez (D-NJ)|
|National Security and International Trade and Finance||Ben Sasse (R-NE)||Joe Donnelly (D-IN)|
|Securities, Insurance, and Investment||Dean Heller (R-NV)||Mark Warner (D-VA)|
|Budget||Mike Enzi (R-WY)||Bernie Sanders (I-VT)|
|Commerce, Science, and Transportation||John Thune (R-SD)||Bill Nelson (D-FL)|
|Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security||Roy Blunt (R-MO)||Maria Cantwell (D-WA)|
|Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet||Roger Wicker (R-MS)||Brian Schatz (D-HI)|
|Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security||Jerry Moran (R-KS)||Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)|
|Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard||Dan Sullivan (R-AK)||Gary Peters (D-MI)|
|Space, Science and Competitiveness||Ted Cruz (R-TX)||Ed Markey (D-MA)|
|Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security||Deb Fischer (R-NE)||Cory Booker (D-NJ)|
|Energy and Natural Resources||Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)||Maria Cantwell (D-WA)|
|Energy||Cory Gardner (R-CO)||Joe Manchin (D-WV)|
|National Parks||Steve Daines (R-MT)||Mazie Hirono (D-HI)|
|Public Lands, Forests and Mining||Mike Lee (R-UT)||Ron Wyden (D-OR)|
|Water and Power||Jeff Flake (R-AZ)||Angus King (I-ME)|
|Environment and Public Works||John Barrasso (R-WY)||Tom Carper (D-DE)|
|Clean Air and Nuclear Safety||Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)||Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)|
|Fisheries, Water and Wildlife||John Boozman (R-AR)||Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)|
|Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight||Mike Rounds (R-SD)||Kamala Harris (D-CA)|
|Transportation and Infrastructure||Jim Inhofe (R-OK)||Ben Cardin (D-MD)|
|Finance||Orrin Hatch (R-UT)||Ron Wyden (D-OR)|
|Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure||Dean Heller (R-NV)||Michael Bennet (D-CO)|
|Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth||Tim Scott (R-SC)||Ron Wyden (D-OR)|
|Health Care||Pat Toomey (R-PA)||Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)|
|International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness||John Cornyn (R-TX)||Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA)|
|Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy||Bill Cassidy (R-LA)||Sherrod Brown (D-OH)|
|Taxation and IRS Oversight||Rob Portman (R-OH)||Mark Warner (D-VA)|
|Foreign Relations||Bob Corker (R-TN)||Ben Cardin (D-MD)|
|Africa and Global Health Policy||Jeff Flake (R-AZ)||Cory Booker (D-NJ)|
|East Asia, The Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy||Cory Gardner (R-CO)||Edward Markey (D-MA)|
|Europe and Regional Security Cooperation||Ron Johnson (R-WI)||Christopher Murphy (D-CT)|
|International Development, Multilateral Institutions and International Economic, Energy and Environmental Policy||Todd Young (R-IN)||Jeff Merkley (D-OR)|
|Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism||Jim Risch (R-ID)||Tim Kaine (D-VA)|
|State Department and USAID Management, International Operations and Bilateral International Development||Johnny Isakson (R-GA)||Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)|
|Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women's Issues||Marco Rubio (R-FL)||Bob Menendez (D-NJ)|
|Health, Education, Labor and Pensions||Lamar Alexander (R-TN)||Patty Murray (D-WA)|
|Subcommittee on Children and Families||Rand Paul (R-KY)||Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA)|
|Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety||Johnny Isakson (R-GA)||Vacant|
|Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security||Mike Enzi (R-WY)||Bernie Sanders (I-VT)|
|Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs||Ron Johnson (R-WI)||Claire McCaskill (D-MO)|
|Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management||Rand Paul (R-KY)||Gary Peters (D-MI)|
|Investigations (Permanent)||Rob Portman (R-OH)||Tom Carper (D-DE)|
|Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management||James Lankford (R-OK)||Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)|
|Judiciary||Chuck Grassley (R-IA)||Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)|
|Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights||Mike Lee (R-UT)||Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)|
|Border Security and Immigration||John Cornyn (R-TX)||Dick Durbin (D-IL)|
|The Constitution||Ted Cruz (R-TX)||Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)|
|Crime and Terrorism||Lindsey Graham (R-SC)||Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)|
|Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts||Ben Sasse (R-NE)||Chris Coons (D-DE)|
|Privacy, Technology and the Law||Jeff Flake (R-AZ)||Vacant|
|Rules and Administration||Richard Shelby (R-AL)||Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)|
|Small Business and Entrepreneurship||Jim Risch (R-ID)||Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)|
|Veterans' Affairs||Johnny Isakson (R-GA)||Jon Tester (D-MT)|
Special, select, and other committees of the U.S. Senate
There are five non-standing, select, or special committees, which are treated similarly to standing committees.
Senate committees are divided, according to relative importance, into three categories: Class A, Class B, and Class C. Individual Senators are in general limited to service on two Class A committees and one Class B committee. Assignment to Class C committees is made without reference to a member's service on any other panels.
Standing committees are permanent bodies with specific responsibilities spelled out in the Senate's rules. Twelve of the sixteen current standing committees are Class A panels. They are Agriculture; Appropriations; Armed Services; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Energy and Natural Resources; Environment and Public Works; Finance; Foreign Relations; Governmental Affairs; Judiciary; and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
There are four Class B standing committees: Budget; Rules and Administration; Small Business; and Veterans' Affairs. There are currently no Class C standing committees.
Other, select and special committees
Other (i.e., Indian Affairs), select and special committees are ranked as Class B or Class C committees. They are created for clearly specified purposes. There are currently two Class B committees: the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Special Committee on Aging, and two Class C committees: the Committee on Indian Affairs and the Select Committee on Ethics.
Joint Committees are used for purposes of legislative and administrative coordination. At present there are four: the Joint Economic Committee (Class B), the Joint Committee on the Library (Class C), the Joint Committee on Printing (Class C), and the Joint Committee on Taxation (Class C).
Standing committees in the Senate have their jurisdiction set by three primary sources: Senate Rules, ad hoc Senate Resolutions, and Senate Resolutions related to committee funding. To see an overview of the jurisdictions of standing committees in the Senate, see Standing Rules of the United States Senate, Rule XXV.