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What does the Ways and Means Committee do?

By Kathy Heydasch
Updated May 23, 2024
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The chief committee in Congress that deals with revenue and taxation is the House Ways and Means Committee. It writes the rules that govern taxation, tariffs, child support, Social Security, and Medicare, among other programs. The US Constitution requires that all bills that deal with revenue start in the House of Representatives, and they begin in this committee.

The jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee is broad. According to its own website, the Committee’s jurisdiction consists of four major areas, and is further broken down into six subcommittees: Trade, Oversight, Health, Social Security, Income Security and Family Support, and Select Revenue Measures.

The first area under the purview of the committee is the general raising of revenue, including “all individual and corporate income taxes, excise taxes, estate taxes, gift taxes, and other miscellaneous taxes.” The second area is the US’s bonded debt, which includes the authority to borrow money. The committee also oversees national social security programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, child support enforcement, child welfare, foster care and adoption assistance, unemployment compensation programs, and social services determined by each state. The last area is trade and tariff legislation, including NAFTA.

The purpose of the committee is to create and modify legislation to achieve its directives. Basically, it writes the tax codes that influence the lives of every US citizen. Due to this broad array of interests represented by the Ways and Means Committee, holding a post is sometimes a powerful job. Many political careers have been made or lost while serving. Former committee members include eight vice presidents, eight presidents, four justices of the Supreme Court and 21 speakers of the House. Members are prevented from serving on any other committees.

Article I, Section VII of the US Constitution states, “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.” This statement encompasses a very wide array of duties in modern society. The Ways and Means Committee was permanently established in 1802 by an adopted resolution of the House members. It was then a committee of seven members. From 1802 to 1865, the committee, also called the Committee on Ways and Means, had jurisdiction over revenue, appropriations, and banking. It has since kept jurisdiction over revenue only. In 1865, some of its jurisdiction was taken away and given to the newly-created Committee on Appropriations and Committee on Banking and Currency.

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