Visitors to the Senate chamber often question why so few members may be on the Senate floor at any one time. The floor proceedings comprise only a fraction of a senator's average day. The daily schedule of a senator also includes consulting off the floor with fellow senators, administration officials, staff, constituents and other visitors, answering correspondence, and briefing the media. Generally, the largest share of a senator's time is devoted to committee work.

In the 103rd Congress there are 16 Senate standing committees, two select committees, one special committee, one other committee, and five joint committees with the House. On the average, each senator serves on three standing committees and at least one select, special, or joint committee. In addition, there are numerous subcommittees within each committee. This permits virtually every member of the majority party to serve as chair, and every member of the minority to serve as ranking (or senior) member, of a committee or subcommittee.

Under the rules of the Senate, each committee has specific jurisdiction over certain legislation. When legislation is introduced, or nominations are made, the presiding officer forwards the legislation or nomination to the proper committee. That committee, or one of its subcommittees, will schedule hearings and take testimony regarding the matter. At "mark-up" sessions, the committee may recommend amendments for the full Senate to consider when the bill is taken up on the floor. Many bills referred to committees are never reported out. In some cases, several bills of the same nature are consolidated; in other cases, the issue lacks sufficient support to be considered further.

Since far more legislation is shaped in committee than in floor debates, senators necessarily direct their attention toward their committee assignments. Although senators remain informed on the broad range of issues of importance to their states and the nation, the committees they serve on will generally determine the bills they sponsor and the issues to which they devote their greatest attention. Senators come to the Senate floor to speak on many matters about which they feel strongly, but they most frequently appear in floor debates relating to bills reported from their committees.

The daily schedule of committee meetings is published in the Congressional Record and in Washington newspapers. Most committee meetings are open to the public. Committee rooms are located in the Russell, Dirksen, and Hart Senate Office Buildings, connected to the Capitol by subways.