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Unlike the House of Representatives where its "rules package" expires at the end of each Congress, the Senate continues to operate on an existing organizing resolution from previous Congresses. This is due to the fact that the Senate is a "continuing body". From this CRS report:

Because the Senate is a “continuing body,” its standing rules remain in force from Congress to Congress unless changed.

Apparently, the fact that the Senate's standing rules have remained unchanged from the previous Congress directly resulted in committees still being chaired by Republicans, despite Democrats controlling the floor.

CNN notes that Republicans remain as committee chairmans because "the GOP was in the majority" in the last Congress.

The Senate is operating on the organizing resolution from the last Congress, when the GOP was in the majority. Because of that, for instance, confirmation hearings for President Joe Biden's Cabinet picks this week are being chaired by Republicans.

Former Senate majority and minority leaders Tom Daschle and Trent Lott noted in their joint Washington Post op-ed that the Senate "needs an organizing resolution at the beginning of each new Congress". This appears to be at odds1 with the idea that the Senate, being a "continuing body", can continue to operate on an existing organizing resolution from a previous Congress, as noted in my first paragraph above.

First and foremost, the Senate needs an organizing resolution at the beginning of each new Congress. The body cannot operate without one. Especially when the membership divide between the two parties is narrow, the two leaders, along with their committee chairs and ranking members, must carefully determine the makeup and leadership of committees. In a sense, it’s akin to agreeing on ground rules before the start of a competition.

As such, the explanations given by CNN and in WaPo above explaining why the makeup of committees remains unchanged from the previous Congress due to a lack of a new organizing resolution seem to be incomplete to me. This is because the latest organizing resolution was passed on Nov 4, 2013 during the 113th Congress. The Democrats held the majority during that Congress which lasted until Jan 2015. When the Republicans took control of the Senate in the next Congress (114th Congress), no new organizing resolution was passed and committee chairmanships appear to transition seamlessly from Democrats to Republicans.

Roll Call somewhat pinpoints the problem:

But the usual discussions about committee ratios may have to wait. Until majority control is determined, the Senate will continue to operate on its current organizing resolution. That is in contrast to the House, where the rules package expires at the end of each session and must be re-upped at the beginning of each new one.


My questions

As such, I'm aware that the problem with the existing organizing resolution is likely caused by the unusual 50–50 Senate majority. So, my questions are:

  • Exactly which part of the existing Senate organizing resolution is holding up the appointment of new committee chairmen in the new Congress.
  • In other words, why can't the Senate just stick with the existing organizing resolution (passed during the 113th Congress)?
  • Or am I entirely wrong and the Senate actually passes a new organizing resolution at the start of every Congress?

1I'm aware that the definition of an "organizing resolution" in Daschle and Lott's op-ed may differ from what I assumed it to be. My idea of an "organizing resolution" is the "Standing Rules of the Senate", which was last passed on Nov 4, 2013 during the 113th Congress and is apparently still in force.

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    My question turned out longer than expected. I'd hoped to provide some background regarding an "organizing resolution". Anyway, it's fine to skip everything and simply read the last paragraph for the questions. Thanks to everyone who's reading this now. – Panda Jan 23 at 13:13
  • "This appears to directly contradict the idea that the Senate is a continuing body": it might or might not, depending on the definition of "continuing body," which is not covered in this question. My guess is that it doesn't; otherwise people wouldn't be saying the things they're saying. – phoog Jan 23 at 13:39
  • @phoog It occurs to me now that the definition of "organizing resolution" is the variable here. – Panda Jan 23 at 14:00
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Why does the 50–50 Senate need a new organizing resolution before Democrats can take control of committee chairmanships?

RULE XXIV
APPOINTMENT OF COMMITTEES

  1. In the appointment of the standing committees, or to fill vacancies thereon, the Senate, unless otherwise ordered, shall by resolution appoint the chairman of each such committee and the other members thereof. On demand of any Senator, a separate vote shall be had on the appointment of the chairman of any such committee and on the appointment of the other members thereof. Each such resolution shall be subject to amendment and to division of the question.

The resolutions for the 116th Congress were —

S.Res.12 - A resolution to constitute the majority party's membership on certain committees for the One Hundred Sixteenth Congress, or until their successors are chosen.

S.Res.13 - A resolution to constitute the minority party's membership on certain committees for the One Hundred Sixteenth Congress, or until their successors are chosen.

Those resolutions were "introduced" and "agreed to" on January 9, 2019; or six days after the start of the Congress.

The resolutions for the 117th Congress are necessarily delayed due to the 50-50 split and change in leadership; thus had to wait until after January 20, 2021. I suspect the resolutions will be "introduced" and "agreed to" very soon, probably next week.


For the 107th Congress — the most recent "split Senate" with change in leadership — the appointments were delayed, but an agreement was reached for a 50-50 split on all committees. This was done on January 5, 2001.

S.Res.8 - A resolution relative to Senate procedure in the 107th Congress.

Mr. Daschle (for himself and Mr. Lott) submitted the following resolution; which was considered and agreed to

...

... the committees of the Senate, including Joint and Special Committees, for the 107th Congress shall be composed equally of members of both parties, to be appointed at a later time by the two Leaders; ...

For the 117th Congress, the uncertainty regarding the Georgia senatorial elections prohibited any similar early agreement.

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