What’s the Senate Commerce Committee?

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The Senate Commerce Committee regulates commerce and has jurisdiction over 19 areas related to commerce, science, and technology. Its work includes reviewing federal department operations and budgets, holding hearings on nominees, and introducing new issues. Political considerations and lobbyists also influence its activities.

The Senate Commerce Committee is one of 20 standing and select committees of the United States Senate. It is one of the most important committees in the Senate, and its chairman is one of the most powerful senators, because much of Congress’s work is tied to its constitutional mandate to regulate commerce. According to the Permanent Rules of the Senate, the members of the various commissions are elected by the entire Senate; in practice, the majority leadership makes the assignments and the Senate ratifies them.

Also in accordance with Senate rules, the Senate Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over all Senate matters in 19 areas related to commerce, science, and technology. For example, interstate commerce is a major area of ​​the committee’s jurisdiction, as is the regulation of consumer products. Shipping, both inland and oceanic, are also primary areas of the committee’s jurisdiction, as is the management of the nation’s fisheries. The committee’s jurisdiction also extends to science and technology, transportation and highway safety, and sports. Most of these issues are governed directly by executive branch departments, such as the Departments of Commerce and Transportation, the Coast Guard, and the Merchant Marine. The committee regularly reviews the operations and budgets of these departments and periodically reviews and revises the legislation authorizing them.

First organized as the Senate Committee on Commerce and Manufacturing in 1816, the Senate Commerce Committee has undergone several name and jurisdiction changes as, reflecting the nation’s growth, its adaptation to new technologies and the growing complexity of national and global economies. Its current name, the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, was adopted by the Senate in 1977, reflecting the joint jurisdictions of the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences and the Commerce Committee. This marked the first time jurisdiction had been assigned to the consumer products regulatory board as well as non-military transportation matters arising from aviation and space policy.

While the Senate Commerce Committee is one of the busiest and most essential committees in Congress, its work is not as exciting or shocking as some of the other committees, such as those working on treaty ratifications, Supreme Court nominations, and the presidential impeachment. In a regular session of Congress, the Senate Commerce Committee will review the operations and budgets of the various federal departments it oversees. It will hold hearings on candidates nominated by the President to fill senior vacancies in those departments and, from time to time, will review existing legislation within its jurisdiction both as a routine housekeeping measure and to introduce new issues. He will consider new matters put to him by the entire Senate, usually referring them to the appropriate subcommittee for action. For all aspects of its work, it will issue reports and recommendations to the full Senate.

The influence of political considerations on the deliberations and activities of the Senate Commerce Committee cannot be overestimated. Although the committee’s agenda and meetings are firmly under the control of the majority party, the structure and rules of the Senate make it almost impossible for it to act without the cooperation of the minority. Thus, informal committee activities often involve political settlements, including earmarking, which is the practice of dedicating a portion of the funds that have been allocated to a particular department or agency for a specific project, often in the home state of the senator. . For example, within a billion-dollar Department of Transportation budget, as much as US$25 million may go towards a particular project, such as the construction of an interchange on an interstate highway. This appropriation would provide jobs for Senator voters, potentially generating political support for re-election.

Lobbyists – registered representatives of organizations, businesses and governments, both domestic and overseas – also work very hard to influence the deliberations of committee members for the benefit of the organizations they represent. They will sometimes provide significant technical assistance to the committee in the form of scientific studies and research, in addition to which they will sometimes make large financial contributions to the re-election campaigns of senators whose votes support their interests. State and local governments, as well as the White House, also work regularly with committee members on particular issues. Committee members can also be entertained by grassroots lobbyists, who are essentially private citizens working individually or collectively to influence committee votes.

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