Committee Assignment Process in the U.S. Senate: Democratic and Republican Party Procedures Page: 2 of 15
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Committee Assignment Process in the U.S. Senate:
Democratic and Republican Party Procedures
Because of the importance of committee work, Senators consider desirable
committee assignments a priority. The key to securing favorable committee slots is
often said to be targeting committee seats that match the legislator's skills, expertise,
and policy concerns.
After general elections are over, one of the first orders of business for Senate
leaders is setting the sizes and ratios of committees. Although the size of each
standing committee is set in Senate rules, changes in these sizes often result from
inter-party negotiations before each new Congress. Senate party leaders also
negotiate the party ratios on standing committees. Determinations of sizes and ratios
usually are made before the process of assigning Senators to committees.
Once sizes and ratios of standing committees are determined, a panel for each
party nominates colleagues for committee assignments. Senate Republicans
primarily use a Committee on Committees for this purpose, although the Republican
leader nominates Senators for assignment to some standing committees. Senate
Democrats use a Steering and Coordination Committee to nominate Democrats for
assignment to all standing committees. The processes these panels use are distinct.
Republicans rely on a seniority formula to make nominations, while Democrats make
nominations on a seat-by-seat basis, considering a variety of factors.
The processes also have many common features. After the general election,
each panel solicits preferences for committee assignment from party colleagues, then
matches these preferences with vacancies on standing committees. Senate rules,
along with party rules and practices, guide the work of the Committee on Committees
and the Steering and Coordination Committee. Senate rules, for instance, divide the
standing and other Senate committees into three groups, the so-called "A" "B" and
"C" categories. Senators must serve on two "A" committees and may serve on one
"B" committee, and any number of "C" committees. Exceptions to these restrictions
are sometimes approved by the Senate. Both parties place further limitations, for
example, by generally prohibiting two Senators from the same party and state from
serving on the same committee.
The nominations of each of these panels require the approval of the pertinent
full party conference and ultimately the Senate. Approval at both stages usually is
granted easily, because of the debate and decision-making earlier in the process.
Specific rules regarding Senate membership on and appointments to non-
standing committees vary from committee to committee, but party leaders usually are
included in the process.
For more information on Senate and party rules governing assignment
limitations, see CRS Report 98-912, Senate Rules and Practices on Committee,
Subcommittee, and Chairmanship Assignment Limitations, as of November 4, 2000.
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Committee Assignment Process in the U.S. Senate: Democratic and Republican Party Procedures, report, January 23, 2003; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc808693/m1/2/: accessed November 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.