In the United States, there are two houses within the legislative branch of the federal government. These two houses make up the Congress, and are called the House of Representatives and the Senate. Within the House of Representatives exists a powerful committee, the oldest one still active, called the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee has existed for over 200 years and has jurisdiction over the most important money matters in the nation.
The House Ways and Means Committee became a permanent committee in the early 1800s. It was responsible not only for taxes but for government spending as well. This was later changed when the Appropriations Committee was created to regulate spending.
The committee is responsible for legislation concerning taxes, trade, including international trade, social or “entitlement” programs, and most other issues that affect the finances of the country. All measures regarding taxation must be proposed in the House of Representatives, per the Constitution. The committee has the power to raise and cut taxes, to lay tariffs, and to generate revenue for the federal government as it sees fit, within Constitutional parameters.
Some of the programs and agencies within the purview of the House Ways and Means Committee are unemployment, Medicaid/Medicare, food stamps and other family welfare programs, collection of child support, child protection — including foster care as well as adoption — and Social Security. With many of these programs being seen as questionable in their effectiveness, as well as having the typical bureaucratic complications, the committee must continuously strive for ways to restructure and streamline programs for better efficiency.
Aside from creating laws that regulate such programs, the Ways and Means Committee is also responsible for oversight. Fraud, misappropriation, waste, and abuse can create havoc unless there is diligent oversight. The committee also carries a great deal of authority and influences the direction of federal and state policy in regard to social concerns and financial matters in areas including poverty, the availability of health insurance, and many other important issues.
The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is considered by many to be one of the most influential people in Congress. Since finances affect so many issues with regard to how the country operates, the chairman wields a great deal of power and generally garners much respect. It is a sought after position due to having such great influence over important policy questions.