Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Committees 101: Congressional Committees and Advocacy

'US Capital' photo (c) 2010, Jason Ippolito - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By Robin Stephenson 

If you’re an advocate who has worked with Bread for the World for a while, you’ve probably heard your regional organizer talk about congressional committees. Organizers stress the importance of knowing the committee assignments of your members of Congress, and the relevance those assignments hold for our campaign issues. If you’re new to advocacy, you may wonder why it matters.

During a new congressional term, each political party assigns its members to positions on committees. Committees are where the bulk of the work in shaping legislation happens. They allow members to focus on specific issues—often something relevant to an industry in a member’s home district or state. Once a member has received a committee assignment, he or she will often hire or appoint staff with specialized knowledge in that area to advise them. And not all committee seats are created equal: committee chairs and ranking members (usually the longest-serving minority party members) hold important leadership positions.  

If your member’s voice is more influential on a particular issue because of a committee assignment, that means your voice has more influence on the outcome of a bill. If the bill affects hungry and poor people, we need your voice to be as loud as possible and we will ask you to use it often.

A good example from my region is that of Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is the chair of the Senate finance committee. His committee has jurisdiction over tax increases and entitlement reforms (its counterpart committee in the  House is called ways and means). As budget negotiations heat up, the future of anti-hunger programs will depend on increased revenues, and the best way for legislators to increase revenue is through tax reform.

Congress can’t rely solely on spending cuts if it wants to balance the budget without increasing poverty. We want to encourage Baucus and his committee to draft legislation that makes refundable tax credits, such as the EITC, permanent. These credits are critical to low-income working families. In order to achieve this, not only will Baucus need to support revenue increases, he will need to convince the ranking member of the committee, Senator Orin Hatch (R-Utah), that they must do so together, as part of a bipartisan effort.

During these highly politicized budget negotiations, doing the best thing for hungry and poor people isn’t always easy. But even if it is difficult, we need our members of Congress to make the right decisions. They need to know that a balanced budget should not increase poverty, but set a framework for a future in which we can continue the work of ending hunger and increasing prosperity. And the people who can deliver that message are their voters.

Anti-hunger advocates in Montana and Utah have their work cut out for them during the next several months. We will encourage increased public dialogue through op-eds and letters to the editor. Using meetings and phone calls to let members of Congress know about hungry people in their districts and states is also critical.  

Below is a list of the key committees with jurisdiction over the programs relevant to each of our 2013 issue areas. Only the committee chairs are listed. To find out if any of your members of Congress are on a relevant committee, click the link for the full roster.

Protect Funding for SNAP:  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) is authorized through the farm bill. 

  • Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry:  Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) Full Roster
  • House Committee on Agriculture: Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla., Dist. 3) and ranking member Colin Peterson (D-Minn., Dist. 7) Full Roster

Protect Funding for PFDA:  Poverty-focused development assistance, programs that end hunger abroad, is under the jurisdiction of foreign relations.

  • Senate Committee on Foreign Relations:  Chairman VACANT, ranking member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)  Full Roster
  • House Foreign Affairs Committee: Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif., Dist. 40) and ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y., Dist. 16)  Full Roster

Protect Funding for WIC:  The Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women Infants and Children is authorized through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

  • Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry:  Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) Full Roster
  • House Education and the Workforce Committee:  Chairman John Kline (R-Minn., Dist. 2) and ranking member Thomas Petri (D-Wis., Dist. 6) Full Roster

Preserve the EITC and CTC and Raise Revenue to Support Anti-Hunger Programs:  Tax credits that help working families and tax reform are under the jurisdiction of the tax writing committees.

  • Senate Committee on Finance:  Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Orin Hatch (R-Utah)  Full Roster
  • House Committee on Ways and Means:  Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich., Dist. 4) and ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich., Dist. 9)  Full Roster

But perhaps one of the most important committees dealing with funding of these programs is appropriations.  It is essential that when they make funding choices, programs for poor and hungry people are protected.

  • Senate Committee on Appropriations:  Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) Full Roster
  • House Committee on Appropriations:  Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky., Dist. 5) and ranking member Nita Lowey (R-N.Y., Dist. 17) Full Roster

Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.


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