Guest Author - Tracey-Kay Caldwell
When a bill is introduced in Congress, it is assigned a number, labeled with a sponsorís name, and sent to the government printing office. Then the bill is referred by the Speaker of the House or the presiding officer in the Senate to committee. This is where the real work begins. The Daily Kos Community of bloggers has embarked on an ambitious project to monitor what goes on in these committees.
It is while a bill is in committee that it can face many changes or even be killed. Committees have been a part of Congress since its beginning in 1789, but the committee process that exists today grew out of the Legislative Reorganization act of 1946. The role of committees and sub committees is to gather information, compare and evaluate legislative alternatives, identify problems, propose solutions, markup bills and produce reports. There are three types of committees, standing, select and joint. The standing committees are permanent. Their roles are defined by the chamber rules. In addition to recommending bills for consideration, they have oversight and funding responsibilities. Select committees can be permanent or temporary and are established by the parent chamber. A select committee is established when its subject mater is beyond the scope of the standing committee, or to conduct investigations and studies. Joint committees, made up of members from both houses, tend to be permanent and conduct studies and housekeeping duties rather than consider measures.
The power within a committee is centralized within the Chair. The respective parties assign members to committees. About 2,000 aides provide professional, administrative and clerical support to the committees. Committee form subcommittees and assign specific tasks to the subcommittees. When a measure is assigned to a committee, the committee is not required to act on it and the measure may not come to the floor for a vote without some action or consideration by the committee. The selection of a measure, the modification through the amendment process, makes a position on the committee a very powerful position.
When a committee is considering a measure, it often seeks comment from the relevant executive agency. It will solicit testimony from experts and the public in the form of hearings. Following hearing the committee will frequently schedule a markup meeting to cleanup a bill and modify it to attract broader support. Following the markup meeting the committee reports the bill with any changes and recommendations. Much of the committee process occurs without public or mainstream media scrutiny.
The Daily Kos community would like to monitor the committee process and draw attention to verifiable issues that might be missed by the blogging community. To achieve this they have set up a project that would allow citizen volunteers to choose to monitor a specific committee and report on issues. Volunteers are asked to brush up on their knowledge of how the legislature functions and to learn as much about the committee or subcommittee they are monitoring. To learn the membership, history, jurisdiction, schedule, meeting places and transcript policy of the committee, to identify major sources of information on the committee. This will be an ambitious project with hundreds of volunteers monitoring the actions of the committees. Blogger Greenflex said in his Daily Kos diary that, ďA spread out, amateur press is always superior to a centralized corporate one, right? Here is our chance to put a magnifying glass right over, and I mean directly over our elected representatives.Ē This is a unique opportunity for citizens to engage directly in their civic duty to provide oversight of their elected officials.