Behind-the-Scenes Work in the Senate
By Sen. John Thune
If you tune in to a cable news show, you’ll likely find members of Congress, pundits, and other analysts dissecting the latest stories of the day or providing their perspective on why a certain policy would be good or bad for the American people. If you flip over to C-SPAN, you might find a similar scene. While it’s certainly not primetime, edge-of-your-seat television, it does offer Americans an important glimpse into the democratic process.
Sometimes, though, rather than watching a heated debate between Republicans and Democrats, a loyal C-SPAN viewer might instead discover an empty Senate or House chamber with classical music filling the otherwise quiet airwaves. Such a scene doesn’t mean members of Congress aren’t hard at work – quite the opposite, actually. A lot of the work that’s done in Congress is accomplished behind the scenes in the various committees on which we serve.
In the Senate alone, there are 20 committees, 68 subcommittees, and four joint committees. All of them play a distinct and integral role in writing legislation and providing oversight of the executive branch. The Senate is in the personnel business, too. The committees vet and the Senate confirms the president’s nominees to posts in the executive and judicial branches of the federal government. All that to say, without committees, it would be very difficult to get our work done for the American people.
I serve on three committees in the 115th Congress: the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee; the Finance Committee; and the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, of which I serve as chairman. These committee assignments put me in a unique position to deliver positive results on the issues that matter most to South Dakotans.
Planes, trains, and automobiles – that’s a quick and easy way to describe a large portion of the issues we oversee in the Commerce Committee. In a state that depends on all forms of transportation, leading this committee gives me the chance to highlight South Dakota and all of its particular needs. With the committee’s involvement in advancing 21st Century technology, I’m hoping South Dakota can be at the forefront on issues like autonomous vehicle and 5G mobile broadband technologies.
The benefit of serving on the Agriculture Committee is an obvious one. Agriculture is the top industry in South Dakota, and it helps put food on dining room tables around the state, country, and world. With the 2018 farm bill right around the corner, the Agriculture Committee is going to be working hard to get a bill on the president’s desk next year. I’ve gotten a head start and have already introduced multiple individual farm bill proposals that would improve current programs in different titles of the bill. I’m planning to introduce additional proposals throughout this process, too.
The Finance Committee has been the epicenter for a number of the Senate’s major legislative initiatives this year, most notably the effort to pass a pro-growth tax reform bill to help middle-income South Dakota families keep more of their hard-earned paycheck. The government takes too large of a bite out of family budgets, which is why tax reform is needed now more than ever.
Every day that I serve in the Senate is a humbling one, and the opportunity to pursue opportunities like these on behalf of South Dakotans through my committee work makes my job even more fulfilling.