Committee Action

The committee chair decides where the bill goes next, if he of she feels it requires further action. The political agenda of the majority party and the committee chair, as well as the committee's rules, all come into play at this point. The committee chair can refer the bill to one or more subcommittees based on their jurisdictions as listed in the committee rules, or the chair can hold the bill at the full committee level and not refer it to a subcommittee. Holding the bill at full committee level means one of two things: either the bill will be acted on quickly or it is being suppressed and will die from neglect.

Tip: This is one of the stages where things can get tricky. A committee isn't required to act on measures referred to it; neither is a subcommittee. It only takes one subcommittee or committee to trip up a bill's progress, and it can happen without any visible activity. For example, if the leadership decides the bill does not fit within its overall agenda, a decision not to act will "kill" the bill just as effectively as a vote against it. The only way for a member to get the bill out of the committee should this happen is to use a discharge petition.


One of the standard activities that committees undertake with legislation is to hold a hearing on the proposed legislation. If the chair decides to schedule a hearing on a bill, it can be held by either the subcommittee or the full committee. If a subcommittee holds a hearing on a bill, the full committee generally does not repeat the process. If the leadership of a subcommittee or the full committee decides to ignore the bill by not holding hearings, the bill is effectively killed.

The chair invites witnesses to appear at hearings to testify on the subject, but only at investigative hearings do witnesses testify under oath. Testimony at a legislative hearing or at an oversight hearing is not sworn testimony and often consists of political posturing. The Administration almost always is invited to send witnesses (usually high-ranking officials from the agency that would be responsible for implementing the bill). The bill's sponsor or most important co-sponsor(s) are expected to appear to defend their proposed legislation. Other invited witnesses can include lobbyists from industry, public interest groups, or local governments that might be affected by the proposal. Private citizens interested in or knowledgeable about an issue also may be invited to appear at the hearing. Those not asked to appear before the committee can submit written statements that will be included in the hearing record.

Tip: Material submitted for the hearing record frequently appears in an appendix at the end of the official transcript printed by the GPO and is available in the CIS microfiche collection and the Congressional Hearings Digital Collection. Often not specifically discussed during the hearing itself, material contained in the appendix can contain useful information.

Witnesses' prepared statements, as well as the verbal portion of the hearing (including the question-and-answer session), are recorded and transcribed by several commercial services and are available on LexisNexis® Congressional within a few days of the hearing. The official transcript is printed and made available by the Government Printing Office several months to years after the hearing occurs; these also can be found in the CIS microfiche collection.

Tip: Unless the hearing was held as part of an investigation, any testimony by witnesses is not considered sworn testimony as it would be in a court case. Remember to take witness bias into account when looking at legislative or oversight hearing transcripts.

Occasionally, a committee will request an investigation of an issue or a recompilation of information about a problem. These studies on a particular issue may be done by a committee's staff or are requested from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) of the Library of Congress and are frequently issued as committee prints. Committee prints are distributed by the GPO and can be found in the CIS microfiche collection and in LexisNexis Congressional.


Once past the hearings stage, the bill faces its markup. A markup session is when a subcommittee or committee considers the bill, possibly amending it, and then either accepts or rejects it. If accepted, either with or without amendments, the bill proceeds to the next stage of the process. If rejected, it expires.

Both the subcommittee and the full committee consider and mark up the bill. The only difference between the two sessions is that a subcommittee markup generally does not result in either an official bill print or a report. If approved by the subcommittee, the bill is "forwarded" (not to be confused with "reported") to the full committee, usually without further explanation, and the bill is not officially printed. If the bill is approved in markup by the full committee, the committee orders the bill reported, the committee explains its decisions in a written report that accompanies the bill text, and the bill and the report are filed in the Chamber.

Since the bill is not officially "reported" from a subcommittee, there is no "report" and there will not be an official (Government Printing Office-printed) version of the text of the bill as marked up/modified/amended by the subcommittee. However, if the bill was amended or changed substantially by the subcommittee, the subcommittee chairperson and/or the ranking member may introduce the modified text as a clean bill, which is given a new number in sequence with all the other newly introduced bills.

Tip: If the bill you were following suddenly seems to stop moving soon after a positive subcommittee or committee action, check for a bill on the same topic introduced by the chair within a few days of that action. Chances are that this is the bill you were following as amended by the subcommittee or committee. Check also for statements about the bill topic in the Congressional Record for the few days immediately after action was scheduled to occur that might confirm the existence of this "new" bill.