The Committee on Ways and Means is the oldest committee of the United States Congress, and is the chief tax-writing committee in the House of Representatives. The Committee derives a large share of its jurisdiction from Article I, Section VII of the U.S. Constitution, which declares, “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.”
First established as a select committee on July 24, 1789, it was discharged less than two months later. The committee was reappointed from the first session of the Fourth Congress in 1795, and was formally listed as a standing committee in the House Rules on January 7, 1802.
Until 1865, the jurisdiction of the committee (referred to as the Committee of Ways and Means before 1880) included the critically important areas of revenue, appropriations, and banking. Since 1865, the committee has continued to exercise jurisdiction over revenue and related issues such as tariffs, reciprocal trade agreements, and the bonded debt of the United States. Revenue-related aspects of the Social Security system, Medicare, and social services programs have come within Ways and Means’ purview in the 20th century.
The roster of committee members who have gone on to serve in higher office is impressive. Eight Presidents and eight Vice Presidents have served on Ways and Means, as have 21 Speakers of the House of Representatives, and four Justices of the Supreme Court.
Committee on Ways and Means Hearing Room Longworth House Office Building
When the second House office building, designed by Allied Architects of Washington, Inc., was completed in 1933, this “Assembly Room” provided space for a variety of functions in a manner similar to the Caucus Room in the older Cannon House Office Building. Since 1938 the room has been used almost exclusively by the Committee on Ways and Means; in 1949 and 1950 the House held its sessions here while its chamber in the Capitol was being reconstructed.
Architecture and Art
Architecturally, the room is a fine example of the Colonial Revival style, which was very popular in the 1930s. Architectural features that exemplify the Colonial Revival style are the Ionic pilaster and columns, the simple entablature with its modillion cornice, and the eared door frames topped with pediments. The plaques with swags above the corner niches were also favorite decorative devices of the Colonial Revival style. The simple materials are also typical of the Colonial Revival style. Expert craftsmanship is evident throughout the room, in the corner wall plaques, which hold intricately molded swags of foliage and ribbons; in the shell-shaped semidome of each niche enframing an elegant classic mask; and atop the entablature, where the four monumental eagles are flanked by a complex design of foliage, trophies, and cornucopia overflowing with fruits and flowers. The portraits that hang in the room are from the committee’s collection, which includes chairmen dating back to the late nineteenth century.
The goals of the redecoration of the Committee room were to return the room as closely as possible to its original color scheme, replace the carpeting and draperies, refurbish the rostrums, and update the audiovisual and safety equipment. A joint effort involving committee staff as well as offices and shops under the House of Representatives and the Architect of the Capitol, the redecoration project was completed in early 2005.
To determine the original color scheme for the room, paint analysis was performed in December 2003. Analysis of paint samples revealed that the first color scheme used in the room included shades of tan, ranging from light to medium dark; a pale peach; and creamy orange. This subtle color scheme emphasized the three-dimensional qualities of the architectural elements and drew attention to the skillfully molded eagles, swags, and decorative molding. A 1930 preliminary drawing in the records of the Architect of the Capitol indicates that the stars on the ceiling were to be gilded, although no trace of gilding has been found. Based on this original intent it was decided to gild the stars circling the ceiling and those at the tips of the sunbursts behind the four monumental eagles.
Carpet and Draperies
According to records of the Architect of the Capitol, the original curtains for the Assembly Room were gold, the carpet was a jade green color, and the chairs were covered with green leather.
The carpet created for this redecoration has a field of jade green behind a pattern of rosettes, smaller diamond shapes, and dashes comprised of lighter green, tans, and peach.
These colors were selected to coordinate with the original paint colors and the Cardiff dark green marble baseboards. The gold-patterned draperies are in much the same style and color as the original gold curtains designed by Barnet Phillips, a New York architect who also designed the furniture for members’ offices, committee rooms, and public spaces in the new office building.
The upper rostrum is made of American walnut with a central eagle, wreaths, fasces, and stars. It was repaired, cleaned, and polished in conjunction with the redecoration. The lower rostrum, which was installed later to accommodate an increase in committee membership, was refitted with a new top and gallery and was refinished to match the original rostrum. The molded stars dotting the front are replicas of those hand carved for the original rostrum. The chandelier and sconces are of two-toned cast bronze and are original to the room.
A new digital audiovisual system includes the anteroom on the north end, the library on the south end, the new audio/video rack rooms, 28 new floor boxes, and the rostrums. A cable tray system was installed in the ceiling of the offices below, conduit cable sleeves penetrate the floor, and new conduit was run in the interstitial space. Additional electrical panels were installed, as was additional heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning capability in the two rack rooms.