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Since 2011, Rep. Waxman has served as the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. In 2009 and 2010, Rep. Waxman served as the Committee’s Chairman.
The Energy and Commerce Committee has principal responsibility for legislation and oversight in the areas of public health, consumer protection, food and drug safety, air quality, the environment, energy, telecommunications, and interstate and foreign commerce. When Rep. Waxman chaired the Committee in the 110th Congress, a number of measures under the Committee’s jurisdiction were enacted, among them the Affordable Care Act, Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act, Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act, Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, and Local Community Radio Act.
From 2007 to 2008, Rep. Waxman served as Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the principal investigative committee in the House. As Chairman, he conducted vigorous oversight to uncover instances of waste, fraud, and abuse, improve the operations of the federal government, and examine corporate wrongdoing. From 1997 to 2006, Rep. Waxman served as Ranking Member of the Committee, conducting investigations into a wide range of matters from the high cost of prescription drugs to waste, fraud, and abuse in government contracting. He formed a Special Investigations Division that prepared hundreds of investigative reports on local and national topics for Members of Congress.
From 1979 to 1994, Rep. Waxman served as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. He served as the Subcommittee's Ranking Member in 1995 and 1996.
About the Committee System
Due to the high volume and complexity of its work, Congress divides its tasks among approximately 125 committees and subcommittees. The House and Senate each have their own committee system, which are similar. Within chamber guidelines, however, each committee adopts its own rules; thus, there is considerable variation among panels.
Standing committees generally have legislative jurisdiction and most operate with subcommittees that handle a committee’s work in specific areas. Select and joint committees are chiefly for oversight or housekeeping tasks.
The chair of each committee and a majority of its members come from the majority party. The chair primarily controls a committee’s business. Each party is predominantly responsible for assigning its members to committees, and each committee distributes its members among its subcommittees. There are limits on the number and types of panels any one Member may serve on and chair.
Committees receive varying levels of operating funds and employ varying numbers of aides. Each hires and fires its own staff. Whereas most committee staff and resources are controlled by its majority party members, a portion is shared with the minority party.
Several thousand measures are referred to committees during each Congress. Committees select a small percentage for consideration, and those not addressed often receive no further action. Determining the fate of measures and, in effect, helping to set a chamber’s agenda make committees powerful.
When a committee or subcommittee favors a measure, it usually takes four actions. First, it asks relevant executive agencies for written comments on the measure. Second, it holds hearings to gather information and views from non-committee experts. Before the committee, these witnesses summarize submitted statements, then respond to questions from Members. (Other types of hearings focus on the implementation and administration of programs [oversight] or allegations of wrongdoing [investigative].) Third, a committee meets to perfect the measure through amendments, and non-committee members sometimes attempt to influence the language. Fourth, when language is agreed upon, the committee sends the measure back to the chamber, usually along with a written report describing its purposes and provisions and the work of the committee thereon.
The influence of committees over measures extends to their enactment into law. A committee that considers a measure will manage the full chamber’s deliberation on it. Also, its members will be appointed to any conference committee created to reconcile the two chambers differing versions of a measure.