This brochure is intended to provide a basic outline of the numerous steps of our
federal lawmaking process from the source of an idea for a legislative proposal
through its publication as a statute. The legislative process is a matter about
which every citizen should be well informed in order to understand and appreciate
the work of Congress.
It is hoped that this guide will enable every citizen to gain a greater understanding
of the federal legislative process and its role as one of the foundations of our
representative system. One of the most practical safeguards of the American democratic
way of life is this legislative process with its emphasis on the protection of the
minority, allowing ample opportunity to all sides to be heard and make their views
known. The fact that a proposal cannot become a law without consideration
and approval by both Houses of Congress is an outstanding virtue of our bicameral
legislative system. The open and full discussion provided under the Constitution
often results in the notable improvement of a bill by amendment before it becomes
law or in the eventual defeat of an inadvisable proposal.
As the majority of laws originate in the House of Representatives, this discussion
will focus principally on the procedure in that body.
Article I, Section 1 of the United States Constitution provides that:
All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United
States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
The Senate is composed of 100 Members-two from each state, regardless of population
or area-elected by the people in accordance with the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.
The 17th Amendment changed the former constitutional method under which Senators
were chosen by the respective state legislatures. A Senator must be at least 30
years of age, have been a citizen of the United States for nine years, and, when
elected, be a resident of the state for which the Senator is chosen. The term of
office is six years and one-third of the total membership of the Senate is elected
every second year. The terms of both Senators from a particular state are arranged
so that they do not terminate at the same time. Of the two Senators from a state
serving at the same time the one who was elected first-or if both were elected at
the same time, the one elected for a full term-is referred to as the "senior"
Senator from that state. The other is referred to as the "junior" Senator.
If a Senator dies or resigns during the term, the governor of the state must call
a special election unless the state legislature has authorized the governor to appoint
a successor until the next election, at which time a successor is elected for the
balance of the term. Most of the state legislatures have granted their governors
the power of appointment.
Each Senator has one vote.
As constituted in the 105th Congress, the House of Representatives is composed of
435 Members elected every two years from among the 50 states, apportioned to their
total populations. The permanent number of 435 was established by federal law following
the Thirteenth Decennial Census in 1910, in accordance with Article I, Section 2,
of the Constitution. This number was increased temporarily to 437 for the 87th Congress
to provide for one Representative each for Alaska and Hawaii. The Constitution limits
the number of Representatives to not more than one for every 30,000 of population.
Under a former apportionment in one state, a particular Representative represented
more than 900,000 constituents, while another in the same state was elected from
a district having a population of only 175,000. The Supreme Court has since held
unconstitutional a Missouri statute permitting a maximum population variance of
3.1 percent from mathematical equality. The Court ruled in Kirkpatrick v. Preisler,
394 U.S. 526 (1969), that the variances among the districts were not unavoidable
and, therefore, were invalid. That decision was an interpretation of the Court's
earlier ruling in Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964), that the Constitution
requires that "as nearly as is practicable one man's vote in a congressional
election is to be worth as much as another's."
A law enacted in 1967 abolished all "at-large" elections except in those
less populous states entitled to only one Representative. An "at-large"
election is one in which a Representative is elected by the voters of the entire
state rather than by the voters in a congressional district within the state.
A Representative must be at least 25 years of age, have been a citizen of the United
States for seven years, and, when elected, be a resident of the state in which the
Representative is chosen. If a Representative dies or resigns during the term, the
governor of the state must call a special election pursuant to state law for the
choosing of a successor to serve for the unexpired portion of the term.
Each Representative has one vote.
In addition to the Representatives from each of the States, a Resident Commissioner
from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and Delegates from the District of Columbia,
American Samoa, Guam, and the Virgin Islands are elected pursuant to federal law.
The Resident Commissioner and the Delegates have most of the prerogatives of Representatives
including the right to vote in committees to which they are elected. However, the
Resident Commissioner and the Delegates do not have the right to vote on matters
before the House.
Under the provisions of Section 2 of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, Congress
must assemble at least once every year, at noon on the 3rd day of January, unless
by law they appoint a different day.
A Congress lasts for two years, commencing in January of the year following the
biennial election of Members. A Congress is divided into two sessions.
The Constitution authorizes each House to determine the rules of its proceedings.
Pursuant to that authority, the House of Representatives adopts its rules on the
opening day of each Congress. The Senate considers itself a continuing body and
operates under continuous standing rules that it amends from time to time.
Unlike some other parliamentary bodies, both the Senate and the House of Representatives
have equal legislative functions and powers with certain exceptions. For example,
the Constitution provides that only the House of Representatives originate revenue
bills. By tradition, the House also originates appropriation bills. As both bodies
have equal legislative powers, the designation of one as the "upper" House
and the other as the "lower" House is not appropriate.
The chief function of Congress is the making of laws. In addition, the Senate has
the function of advising and consenting to treaties and to certain nominations by
the President. While under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, both Houses confirm
the President's nomination for Vice-President when there is a vacancy in that office.
In the matter of impeachments, the House of Representatives presents the charges-a
function similar to that of a grand jury-and the Senate sits as a court to try the
impeachment. No impeached person may be removed without a two-thirds vote of the
Senate. The Congress also plays a role in presidential elections. Both Houses meet
in joint session on the sixth day of January, following a presidential election,
unless by law they appoint a different day, to count the electoral votes. If no
candidate receives a majority of the total electoral votes, the House of Representatives,
each state delegation having one vote, chooses the President from among the three
candidates having the largest number of electoral votes and the Senate chooses the
Vice President from the two candidates having the largest number of votes for that
SOURCES OF LEGISLATION
Sources of ideas for legislation are unlimited and proposed drafts of bills originate
in many diverse quarters. Primary among these is the idea and draft conceived by
a Member or Delegate. This may emanate from the election campaign during which the
Member had promised, if elected, to introduce legislation on a particular subject.
The Member may have also become aware after taking office of the need for amendment
to or repeal of an existing law or the enactment of a statute in an entirely new
In addition, the Member's constituents, either as individuals or through citizen
groups may avail themselves of the right to petition and transmit their proposals
to the Member. The right to petition is guaranteed by the First Amendment
to the Constitution. Many excellent laws have originated in this way, as some organizations,
because of their vital concern with various areas of legislation, have considerable
knowledge regarding the laws affecting their interests and have the services of
legislative draftspersons at their disposal for this purpose. Similarly, state legislatures
may "memorialize" Congress to enact specified federal laws by passing
resolutions to be transmitted to the House and Senate as memorials. If favorably
impressed by the idea, the Member may introduce the proposal in the form in which
it has been submitted or may redraft it. In any event, the Member may consult with
the Legislative Counsel of the House or the Senate to frame the ideas in suitable
legislative language and form.
In modern times, the "executive communication" has become a prolific source
of legislative proposals. This is usually in the form of a message or letter from
a member of the President's Cabinet or the head of an independent agency-or even
from the President- transmitting a draft of a proposed bill to the Speaker of the
House of Representatives and the President of the Senate. Despite the structure
of separation of powers, Article II, Section 3, of the Constitution imposes an obligation
on the President to report to Congress from time to time on the "State of the
Union" and to recommend for consideration such measures as the President considers
necessary and expedient. Many of these executive communications follow on the President's
message to Congress on the state of the Union. The communication is then referred
to the standing committee or committees having jurisdiction of the subject matter
of the proposal. The chairman or the ranking minority member of the relevant committee
usually introduces the bill promptly either in the form in which it was received
or with desired changes. This practice is usually followed even when the majority
of the House and the President are not of the same political party, although there
is no constitutional or statutory requirement that a bill be introduced to effectuate
the recommendations. The committee or one of its subcommittees may also decide to
examine the communication to determine whether a bill should be introduced. The
most important of the regular executive communications is the annual message from
the President transmitting the proposed budget to Congress. The President's budget
proposal, together with testimony by officials of the various branches of the government
before the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate, is the basis of the
several appropriation bills that are drafted by the Committee on Appropriations
of the House.
Many of the executive departments and independent agencies employ legislative counsels
who are charged with the drafting of bills. These legislative proposals are forwarded
to Congress with a request for their enactment.
The drafting of statutes is an art that requires great skill, knowledge, and experience.
In some instances, a draft is the result of a study covering a period of a year
or more by a commission or committee designated by the President or a member of
the cabinet. The Administrative Procedure Act and the Uniform Code of Military Justice
are two examples of enactments resulting from such studies. In addition, congressional
committees sometimes draft bills after studies and hearings covering periods of
a year or more.
FORMS OF CONGRESSIONAL ACTION
The work of Congress is initiated by the introduction of a proposal in one of four
forms: the bill, the joint resolution, the concurrent resolution, and the simple
resolution. The most customary form used in both Houses is the bill. During the
105th Congress (1997-1998), 7,529 bills and 200 joint resolutions were introduced
in both Houses. Of the total number introduced, 4,874 bills and 140 joint resolutions
originated in the House of Representatives.
For the purpose of simplicity, this discussion will be confined generally to the
procedure on a House of Representatives bill, with brief comment on each of the
A bill is the form used for most legislation, whether permanent or temporary, general
or special, public or private.
The form of a House bill is as follows:
For the establishment, etc. [as the title may be].
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of
America in Congress assembled, That, etc.
The enacting clause was prescribed by law in 1871 and is identical in all bills,
whether they originate in the House of Representatives or in the Senate.
Bills may originate in either the House of Representatives or the Senate with one
notable exception provided in the Constitution. Article I, Section 7, of the Constitution
provides that all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives
but that the Senate may propose or concur with amendments. By tradition, general
appropriation bills also originate in the House of Representatives.
There are two types of bills-public and private. A public bill is one that affects
the public generally. A bill that affects a specified individual or a private entity
rather than the population at large is called a private bill. A typical private
bill is used for relief in matters such as immigration and naturalization and claims
against the United States.
A bill originating in the House of Representatives is designated by the letters
"H.R." followed by a number that it retains throughout all its parliamentary
stages. The letters signify "House of Representatives" and not, as is
sometimes incorrectly assumed, "House Resolution." A Senate bill is designated
by the letter "S." followed by its number. The term "companion bill"
is used to describe a bill introduced in one House of Congress that is similar or
identical to a bill introduced in the other House of Congress.
A bill that has been agreed to in identical form by both bodies becomes the law
of the land only after-
(1) Presidential approval; or (2) failure by the President to return it with
objections to the House in which it originated within 10 days while Congress is
in session; or (3) the overriding of a presidential veto by a two-thirds vote
in each House.
It does not become law without the President's signature if Congress by their final
adjournment prevent its return with objections. This is known as a "pocket
veto." For a discussion of presidential action on legislation, see Part XVIII.
Joint resolutions may originate either in the House of Representatives or in the
Senate-not, as is sometimes incorrectly assumed, jointly in both Houses. There is
little practical difference between a bill and a joint resolution and the two forms
are often used interchangeably. One difference in form is that a joint resolution
may include a preamble preceding the resolving clause. Statutes that have been initiated
as bills have later been amended by a joint resolution and vice versa. Both
are subject to the same procedure except for a joint resolution proposing an amendment
to the Constitution. When a joint resolution amending the Constitution is approved
by two-thirds of both Houses, it is not presented to the President for approval.
Following congressional approval, a joint resolution to amend the Constitution is
sent directly to the Archivist of the United States for submission to the several
states where ratification by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states within
the period of time prescribed in the joint resolution is necessary for the amendment
to become part of the Constitution.
The form of a House joint resolution is as follows:
Authorizing, etc. [as the title may be].
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America
in Congress assembled, That all, etc.
The resolving clause is identical in both House and Senate joint resolutions as
prescribed by statute in 1871. It is frequently preceded by a preamble consisting
of one or more "whereas" clauses indicating the necessity for or the desirability
of the joint resolution.
A joint resolution originating in the House of Representatives is designated "H.J.
Res." followed by its individual number which it retains throughout all its
parliamentary stages. One originating in the Senate is designated "S.J. Res."
followed by its number.
Joint resolutions, with the exception of proposed amendments to the Constitution,
become law in the same manner as bills.
Matters affecting the operations of both Houses are usually initiated by means of
concurrent resolutions. In modern practice, and as determined by the Supreme Court
in INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983), concurrent and simple resolutions normally
are not legislative in character since not "presented" to the President
for approval, but are used merely for expressing facts, principles, opinions, and
purposes of the two Houses. A concurrent resolution is not equivalent to a bill
and its use is narrowly limited within these bounds.
The term "concurrent," like "joint," does not signify simultaneous
introduction and consideration in both Houses.
A concurrent resolution originating in the House of Representatives is designated
"H. Con. Res." followed by its individual number, while a Senate concurrent
resolution is designated "S. Con. Res." together with its number. On approval
by both Houses, they are signed by the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the
Senate and transmitted to the Archivist of the United States for publication in
a special part of the Statutes at Large volume covering that session of Congress.
A matter concerning the rules, the operation, or the opinion of either House alone
is initiated by a simple resolution. A resolution affecting the House of Representatives
is designated "H. Res." followed by its number, while a Senate resolution
is designated "S. Res." together with its number. Simple resolutions are
considered only by the body in which they were introduced. Upon adoption, simple
resolutions are attested to by the Clerk of the House of Representatives or the
Secretary of the Senate and are published in the Congressional Record.
INTRODUCTION AND REFERENCE TO COMMITTEE
Any Member, the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico, or the Delegates in the
House of Representatives may introduce a bill at any time while the House is in
session by simply placing it in the "hopper," a wooden box provided for
that purpose located on the side of the rostrum in the House Chamber. Permission
is not required to introduce the measure. Printed blank forms for an original bill
are available through the Clerk's office. The Member introducing the bill is known
as the sponsor. An unlimited number of Members may co-sponsor a bill. To prevent
the possibility that a bill might be introduced in the House on behalf of a Member
without that Member's prior approval, the sponsor's signature must appear on the
bill before it is accepted for introduction. Members who co-sponsor a bill upon
its date of introduction are original co-sponsors. Members who co-sponsor a bill
after its introduction are additional co-sponsors. Co-sponsors are not required
to sign the bill. A Member may not be added or deleted as a co-sponsor after the
bill has been reported by the last committee authorized to consider it, but in no
event shall the Speaker entertain a request to delete the name of the sponsor. In
the Senate, unlimited multiple sponsorship of a bill is permitted. Occasionally,
a Member may insert the words "by request" after the Member's name to
indicate that the introduction of the measure is at the suggestion of some other
person or group.
In the Senate, a Senator usually introduces a bill or resolution by presenting it
to one of the clerks at the Presiding Officer's desk, without commenting on it from
the floor of the Senate. However, a Senator may use a more formal procedure by rising
and introducing the bill or resolution from the floor. A Senator usually makes a
statement about the measure when introducing it on the floor. Frequently, Senators
obtain consent to have the bill or resolution printed in the body of the Congressional
Record following their formal statement.
If any Senator objects to the introduction of a bill or resolution, the introduction
of the bill or resolution is postponed until the next day. If there is no objection,
the bill is read by title and referred to the appropriate committee.
In the House of Representatives, it is no longer the custom to read bills-even by
title-at the time of introduction. The title is entered in the Journal and printed
in the Congressional Record, thus preserving the purpose of the custom. The bill
is assigned its legislative number by the Clerk. The bill is then referred as required
by the rules of the House to the appropriate committees by the Speaker, the Member
elected by the Members to be the Presiding Officer of the House, with the assistance
of the Parliamentarian. The bill number and committee referral appear in the next
issue of the Congressional Record. It is then sent to the Government Printing Office
where it is printed in its introduced form and printed copies are made available
in the document rooms of both Houses. Printed and electronic versions of the bill
are also made available to the public.
Copies of the bill are sent to the office of the chairman of the committee to which
it has been referred. The clerk of the committee enters it on the committee's Legislative
Perhaps the most important phase of the legislative process is the action by committees.
The committees provide the most intensive consideration to a proposed measure as
well as the forum where the public is given their opportunity to be heard. A tremendous
volume of work, often overlooked by the public, is done by the Members in this phase.
There are, at present, 19 standing committees in the House and 16 in the Senate
as well as several select committees. In addition, there are four standing joint
committees of the two Houses, that have oversight responsibilities but no legislative
jurisdiction. The House may also create select committees or task forces to study
specific issues and report on them to the House. A task force may be established
formally through a resolution passed by the House or informally through an organization
of interested Members and committees by the House leadership.
Each committee's jurisdiction is divided into certain subject matters under the
rules of each House and all measures affecting a particular area of the law are
referred to the committee with jurisdiction over the particular subject matter.
For example, the Committee on the Judiciary in the House has jurisdiction over measures
relating to judicial proceedings generally, and 17 other categories, including constitutional
amendments, immigration and naturalization, bankruptcy, patents, copyrights, and
trademarks. In total, the rules of the House and of the Senate each provide for
over 200 different classifications of measures to be referred to committees. Until
1975, the Speaker of the House could refer a bill to only one committee. In
modern practice, the Speaker may refer an introduced bill to multiple committees
for consideration of those provisions of the bill within the jurisdiction of each
committee concerned. The Speaker must designate a primary committee of jurisdiction
on bills referred to multiple committees. The Speaker may place time limits on the
consideration of bills by all committees, but usually time limits are placed only
on additional committees. Additional committees are committees other than
the primary committee to which a bill has been referred, either initially on its
introduction or sequentially following the report of the primary committee. A time
limit would be placed on an additional committee only when the primary committee
has reported its version to the House.
Membership on the various committees is divided between the two major political
parties. The proportion of the Members of the minority party to the Members of the
majority party is determined by the majority party, except that half of the members
on the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct are from the majority party and
half from the minority party. The respective party caucuses nominate Members of
the caucus to be elected to each standing committee at the beginning of each Congress.
Membership on a standing committee during the course of a Congress is contingent
on continuing membership in the party caucus that nominated the Member for election
to the committee. If the Member ceases to be a Member of the party caucus,
the Member automatically ceases to be a member of the standing committee.
Members of the House may serve on only two committees and four subcommittees with
certain exceptions. However, the rules of the caucus of the majority party in the
House provide that a Member may be chairman of only one subcommittee of a committee
or select committee with legislative jurisdiction, except for certain committees
performing housekeeping functions and joint committees.
A Member usually seeks election to the committee that has jurisdiction over a field
in which the Member is most qualified and interested. For example, the Committee
on the Judiciary traditionally is composed almost entirely of lawyers. Many Members
are nationally recognized experts in the specialty of their particular committee
Members rank in seniority in accordance with the order of their appointment to the
full committee and the ranking majority member with the most continuous service
is usually elected chairman. The rules of the House require that committee chairmen
be elected from nominations submitted by the majority party caucus at the commencement
of each Congress. No Member of the House may serve as chairman of the same standing
committee or of the same subcommittee thereof for more than three consecutive Congresses.
The rules of the House prohibit a committee that maintains a subcommittee on oversight
from having more than six subcommittees with the exception of the Committee on Appropriations
and the Committee on Government Reform.
Each committee is provided with a professional staff to assist it in the innumerable
administrative details and problems involved in the consideration of bills and conduct
of oversight. For standing committees, the professional staff is limited to
30 persons appointed by a vote of the committee. Two-thirds of the committee staff
are selected by a majority vote of the majority committee members and one-third
of the committee staff are selected by a majority vote of minority committee members.
All staff appointments are made without regard to race, creed, sex, or age. The
minority staff provisions do not apply to the Committee on Standards of Official
Conduct because of its bipartisan nature. The Committee on Appropriations has special
authority under the rules of the House for appointment of staff for the minority.
CONSIDERATION BY COMMITTEE
One of the first actions taken by a committee is the transmittal of copies of the
bill to the relevant departments and agencies. Frequently, the bill is also submitted
to the General Accounting Office with a request for an official report of views
on the necessity or desirability of enacting the bill into law. Normally,
ample time is given for the submission of the reports and they are accorded serious
consideration. These reports are not binding on the committee in determining whether
or not to act favorably on the bill. Reports of the departments and agencies in
the executive branch are submitted first to the Office of Management and Budget
to determine whether they are consistent with the program of the President. Many
committees adopt rules requiring referral of measures to the appropriate subcommittee
unless the full committee votes to retain the measure at the full committee.
Standing committees are required to have regular meeting days at least once a month.
The chairman of the committee may also call and convene additional meetings. Three
or more members of a standing committee may file with the committee a written request
that the chairman call a special meeting. The request must specify the measure or
matter to be considered. If the chairman fails to call the requested special meeting
within three calendar days after the filing of the request, to be held within seven
calendar days after the filing of the request, a majority of the members of the
committee may call the special meeting by filing with the committee written notice
specifying the time and date of the meeting and the measure or matter to be considered.
In the Senate, the Chair may still control the agenda of the special meeting through
the power of recognition. Committee meetings may be held for various purposes
including the "markup" of legislation, authorizing subpoenas, or internal
budget and personnel matters.
All meetings for the transaction of business of standing committees or subcommittees,
except the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, must be open to the public,
except when the committee or subcommittee, in open session with a majority present,
determines by record vote that all or part of the remainder of the meeting on that
day shall be closed to the public. This requirement does not apply to any meeting
that relates solely to internal budget or personnel matters. Members of the committee
may authorize congressional staff and departmental representatives to be present
at any meeting that has been closed to the public. Open committee meetings may be
covered by the media. Permission to cover hearings and meetings is granted under
detailed conditions as provided in the rules of the House.
The rules of the House provide that House committees may not meet during a joint
session of the House and Senate or during a recess when a joint meeting of the House
and Senate is in progress. Committees may meet at other times during an adjournment
or recess up to the expiration of the constitutional term.
If the bill is of sufficient importance, the committee may set a date for public
hearings. Each committee, except for the Committee on Rules, is required to make
public announcement of the date, place, and subject matter of any hearing to be
conducted by the committee on any measure or matter at least one week before the
commencement of that hearing, unless the committee chairman with the concurrence
of the ranking minority member or the committee by majority vote determines that
there is good cause to begin the hearing at an earlier date. If the committee makes
that determination, it must make a public announcement to that effect at the earliest
possible date. Public announcements are published in the Daily Digest portion
of the Congressional Record as soon as possible after the announcement is made by
the committee and are often noted by the media. Personal notice of the hearing,
usually in the form of a letter, is sometimes sent to relevant individuals, organizations,
and government departments and agencies.
Each hearing by a committee and subcommittee, except the Committee on Standards
of Official Conduct, is required to be open to the public except when the committee
or subcommittee, in open session and with a majority present, determines by record
vote that all or part of the remainder of the hearing on that day shall be closed
to the public because disclosure of testimony, evidence, or other matters to be
considered would endanger the national security, would compromise sensitive law
enforcement information, or would violate a law or a rule of the House. The committee
or subcommittee by the same procedure may vote to close one subsequent day of hearing,
except that the Committees on Appropriations, Armed Services, and the Permanent
Select Committee on Intelligence, and subcommittees thereof, may vote to close up
to five additional consecutive days of hearings. When a quorum for taking testimony
is present, a majority of the members present may close a hearing to discuss whether
the evidence or testimony to be received would endanger national security or would
tend to defame, degrade, or incriminate any person. Open committee hearings may
be covered by the media. Permission to cover hearings and meetings is granted under
detailed conditions as provided in the rules of the House.
Hearings on the budget are required to be held by the Committee on Appropriations
in open session within 30 days after its transmittal to Congress, except when the
committee, in open session and with a quorum present, determines by record vote
that the testimony to be taken at that hearing on that day may be related to a matter
of national security. The committee may by the same procedure close one subsequent
day of hearing.
On the day set for the public hearing in a committee or subcommittee, an official
reporter is present to record the testimony on the bill or relevant subject matter.
After a brief introductory statement by the chairman and often by the ranking minority
member or other committee member, the first witness is called. Members or Senators
who wish to be heard sometimes testify first out of courtesy and due to the limitations
on their time. Cabinet officers and high-ranking civil and military officials of
the government, as well as interested private individuals, testify either voluntarily
or by subpoena voted on by the committee or subcommittee.
So far as practicable, committees require that witnesses who appear before it file
a written statement of their proposed testimony in advance of their appearance and
limit their oral presentations to a brief summary of their arguments. In the case
of a witness appearing in a nongovernmental capacity, a written statement of proposed
testimony shall include a curriculum vitae and a disclosure of certain federal grants
Minority party members of the committee are entitled to call witnesses of their
own to testify on a measure during at least one day of the hearing.
All committee rules in the House must provide that each member shall have only five
minutes in the interrogation of each witness until each member of the committee
who desires to question a witness has had an opportunity to do so. In addition,
a committee may adopt a rule or motion to permit majority and minority party members
to question a witness for a specified period not longer than one hour. Committee
staff may also be permitted to question a witness for a specified period not longer
than one hour.
A transcript of the testimony taken at a public hearing is made available for inspection
in the office of the clerk of the committee. Frequently, the complete transcript
is printed and distributed widely by the committee.
After hearings are completed, the subcommittee usually will consider the bill in
a session that is popularly known as the "markup" session. The views of
both sides are studied in detail and at the conclusion of deliberation a vote is
taken to determine the action of the subcommittee. It may decide to report the bill
favorably to the full committee, with or without amendment, or unfavorably, or without
recommendation. The subcommittee may also suggest that the committee "table"
it or postpone action indefinitely. Each member of the subcommittee, regardless
of party affiliation, has one vote. Proxy voting is no longer permitted in House
FINAL COMMITTEE ACTION
At full committee meetings, reports on bills may be made by subcommittees. Bills
are read for amendment in committees and subcommittees by section and members may
offer germane amendments. Committee amendments are only proposals to change the
bill as introduced and are subject to acceptance or rejection by the House itself.
A vote of committee members is taken to determine whether the full committee will
report favorably or table the bill. If the committee votes to report the bill favorably
to the House, it may report the bill with or without amendments or report a "clean
bill." If the committee has approved extensive amendments, the committee may
decide to report the original bill with one "amendment in the nature of a substitute"
consisting of all the amendments previously adopted, or may report a new bill incorporating
those amendments, commonly known as a clean bill. The new bill is introduced (usually
by the chairman of the committee), and, after referral back to the committee, is
reported favorably to the House by the committee. A committee may table a
bill or not take action on it and thereby prevent further action on a bill, making
adverse reports to the House by the full committee unusual. On rare occasions, a
committee may report a bill without recommendation or unfavorably.
Generally, a majority of the committee or subcommittee constitutes a quorum. A quorum
is the number of members who must be present in order for the committee to report.
This ensures participation by both sides in the action taken. However, a committee
may vary the number of members necessary for a quorum for certain actions. For example,
a committee may fix the number of its members, but not less than two, necessary
for a quorum for taking testimony and receiving evidence. Except for the Committees
on Appropriations, on the Budget, and on Ways and Means, a committee may fix the
number of its members, but not less than one-third, necessary for a quorum for taking
certain other actions. The absence of a quorum is subject to a point of order, an
objection that the proceedings are in violation of a rule of the committee or of
the House, because the required number of members are not present.
POINTS OF ORDER WITH RESPECT TO COMMITTEE HEARING PROCEDURE
A point of order in the House does not lie with respect to a measure reported by
a committee on the ground that hearings on the measure were not conducted in accordance
with required committee procedure. However, certain points of order may be made
by a member of the committee that reported the measure if, in the committee hearing
on that measure, that point of order was (1) timely made and (2) improperly overruled
or not properly considered.
If the committee votes to report the bill favorably to the House, one of the committee
staff in the name of a committee member writes the committee report. The report
describes the purpose and scope of the bill and the reasons for its recommended
approval. Generally, a section-by-section analysis is set forth explaining precisely
what each section is intended to accomplish. All changes in existing law must
be indicated in the report and the text of laws being repealed must be set out.
This requirement is known as the "Ramseyer" rule. A similar rule in the
Senate is known as the "Cordon" rule. Committee amendments also must be
set out at the beginning of the report and explanations of them are included. Executive
communications regarding the bill may be referenced in the report.
If at the time of approval of a bill by a committee, except the Committee on Rules,
a member of the committee gives notice of an intention to file supplemental, minority,
or additional views, that member is entitled to not less than two additional calendar
days after the day of such notice (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays
unless the House is in session on those days) in which to file those views with
the clerk of the committee. Those views that are timely filed must be included
in the report on the bill. Committee reports, with certain exceptions, must be filed
while the House is in session unless unanimous consent is obtained from the House
to file at a later time or unless the committee is awaiting additional views.
The report is assigned a report number upon its filing and is sent to the Government
Printing Office for printing. House reports are given a prefix-designator that indicates
the number of the Congress. For example, the first House report in the 106th Congress
was numbered 106-1.
In the printed report, committee amendments are indicated by showing new matter
in italics and deleted matter in line-through type. The report number is printed
on the bill and the calendar number is shown on both the first and back pages of
the bill. However, in the case of a bill that was referred to two or more
committees for consideration in sequence, the calendar number is printed only on
the bill as reported by the last committee to consider it. For a discussion of House
calendars, see Part IX.
Committee reports are perhaps the most valuable single element of the legislative
history of a law. They are used by courts, executive departments, and the public
generally as a source of information regarding the purpose and meaning of the law.
CONTENTS OF REPORTS
The report of a committee on a measure that has been approved by the committee must
include (1) the committee's oversight findings and recommendations, (2) a statement
required by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, if the measure provides new budget
authority (other than continuing appropriations) or an increase or decrease in revenues
or tax expenditures, (3) a cost estimate and comparison prepared by the Director
of the Congressional Budget Office whenever the Director has submitted that estimate
and comparison to the committee prior to the filing of the report, and (4) a summary
of the oversight findings and recommendations made by the Committee on Government
Reform whenever they have been submitted to the legislative committee in a timely
fashion to allow an opportunity to consider the findings and recommendations during
the committee's deliberations on the measure. Each report accompanying a bill or
joint resolution relating to employment or access to public services or accommodations
must describe the manner in which the provisions apply to the legislative branch.
Each of these items are set out separately and clearly identified in the report.
With respect to each record vote by a committee, the total number of votes cast
for, and the total number of votes cast against any public measure or matter or
amendment thereto and the names of those voting for and against, must be included
in the committee report.
In addition, each report of a committee on a public bill or public joint resolution
must contain a statement citing the specific powers granted to Congress in the Constitution
to enact the law proposed by the bill or joint resolution. Committee reports that
accompany bills or resolutions that contain federal unfunded mandates are also required
to include an estimate prepared by the Congressional Budget Office on the cost of
the mandates on state, local, and tribal governments. If an estimate is not available
at the time a report is filed, committees are required to publish the estimate in
the Congressional Record. Each report also must contain an estimate, made
by the committee, of the costs which would be incurred in carrying out that bill
or joint resolution in the fiscal year reported and in each of the five fiscal years
thereafter or for the duration of the program authorized if less than five years.
In the case of a measure involving revenues, the report need contain only an estimate
of the gain or loss in revenues for a one-year period. The report must include a
comparison of the estimates of those costs with the estimate made by any Government
agency and submitted to that committee. The Committees on Appropriations, on House
Administration, on Rules, and on Standards of Official Conduct are not required
to include cost estimates in their reports. In addition, the committee's own cost
estimates are not required to be included in reports when a cost estimate and comparison
prepared by the Director of the Congressional Budget Office has been submitted prior
to the filing of the report and included in the report.
FILING OF REPORTS
Measures approved by a committee must be reported promptly after approval. A majority
of the members of the committee may file a written request with the clerk of the
committee for the reporting of the measure. When the request is filed, the clerk
must immediately notify the chairman of the committee of the filing of the request,
and the report on the measure must be filed within seven days (excluding days on
which the House is not in session) after the day on which the request is filed.
This does not apply to a report of the Committee on Rules with respect to the rules,
joint rules, or order of business of the House or to the reporting of a resolution
of inquiry addressed to the head of an executive department.
AVAILABILITY OF REPORTS AND HEARINGS
A measure or matter reported by a committee (except the Committee on Rules in the
case of a resolution providing a rule, joint rule, or other order of business) may
not be considered in the House until the third calendar day (excluding Saturdays,
Sundays, and legal holidays unless the House is in session on those days) on which
the report of that committee on that measure has been available to the Members of
the House. This rule is subject to certain exceptions including resolutions providing
for certain privileged matters, measures declaring war or other national emergency,
and government agency decisions, determinations, and actions that are effective
unless disapproved or otherwise invalidated by one or both Houses of Congress.
However, it is always in order to consider a report from the Committee on Rules
specifically providing for the consideration of a reported measure or matter notwithstanding
this restriction. If hearings were held on a measure or matter so reported,
the committee is required to make every reasonable effort to have those hearings
printed and available for distribution to the Members of the House prior to the
consideration of the measure in the House. Committees are also required, to the
maximum extent feasible, to make their publications available in electronic form.
General appropriation bills may not be considered until printed committee hearings
and a committee report thereon have been available to the Members of the House for
at least three calendar days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays unless
the House is in session on those days).
LEGISLATIVE OVERSIGHT BY STANDING COMMITTEES
Each standing committee, other than the Committees on Appropriations and on the
Budget, is required to review and study, on a continuing basis, the application,
administration, execution, and effectiveness of the laws dealing with the subject
matter over which the committee has jurisdiction and the organization and operation
of federal agencies and entities having responsibility for the administration and
evaluation of those laws.
The purpose of the review and study is to determine whether laws and the programs
created by Congress are being implemented and carried out in accordance with the
intent of Congress and whether those programs should be continued, curtailed, or
eliminated. In addition, each committee having oversight responsibility is required
to review and study any conditions or circumstances that may indicate the necessity
or desirability of enacting new or additional legislation within the jurisdiction
of that committee, and must undertake, on a continuing basis, future research and
forecasting on matters within the jurisdiction of that committee. Each standing
committee also has the function of reviewing and studying, on a continuing basis,
the impact or probable impact of tax policies on subjects within its jurisdiction.
The rules of the House provide for special treatment of an investigative or oversight
report of a committee. Committees are allowed to file joint investigative reports
and to file investigative and activities reports after the House has completed its
final session of a Congress. In addition, several of the standing committees have
special oversight responsibilities. The details of those responsibilities are set
forth in the rules of the House.
The House of Representatives has five calendars of business: the Union Calendar,
the House Calendar, the Private Calendar, the Corrections Calendar, and the Calendar
of Motions to Discharge Committees. The calendars are compiled in one publication
printed each day the House is in session. This publication also contains a history
of Senate-passed bills, House bills reported out of committee, bills on which the
House has acted, as well as other useful information.
When a public bill is favorably reported by all committees to which referred, it
is assigned a calendar number on either the Union Calendar or the House Calendar,
the two principal calendars of business. The calendar number is printed on the first
page of the bill and, in certain instances, is printed also on the back page. In
the case of a bill that was referred to multiple committees for consideration in
sequence, the calendar number is printed only on the bill as reported by the last
committee to consider it.
The rules of the House provide that there shall be:
First. A Calendar of the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union,
to which shall be referred bills raising revenue, general appropriation bills, and
bills of a public character directly or indirectly appropriating money or property.
The large majority of public bills and resolutions reported to the House are placed
on the Union Calendar. For a discussion of the Committee of the Whole House, see
The rules further provide that there shall be:
Second. A House Calendar, to which shall be referred all bills of a public character
not raising revenue nor directly or indirectly appropriating money or property.
The public bills and resolutions that are not placed on the Union Calendar are referred
to the House Calendar.
The rules also provide that there shall be:
Third. A Calendar of the Committee of the Whole House, to which shall be referred
all bills of a private character.
All private bills reported to the House are placed on the Private Calendar. The
Private Calendar is called on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. If objection
is made by two or more Members to the consideration of any measure called, it is
recommitted to the committee that reported it. There are six official objectors,
three on the majority side and three on the minority side, who make a careful study
of each bill or resolution on the Private Calendar. The official objectors' role
is to object to a measure that does not conform to the requirements for that calendar
and prevent the passage without debate of nonmeritorious bills and resolutions.
Private bills that have been reported from committee are only considered under the
calendar procedure. Alternative procedures reserved for public bills are not applicable
for reported private bills.
If a measure pending on either the House or Union Calendar is of a noncontroversial
nature, it may be placed on the Corrections Calendar. The Corrections Calendar was
created to address specific problems with federal rules, regulations, or court decisions
that bipartisan and narrowly targeted bills could expeditiously correct. After a
bill has been favorably reported and is on either the House or Union Calendar, the
Speaker may, after consultation with the Minority Leader, file with the Clerk a
notice requesting that such bill also be placed upon a special calendar known as
the Corrections Calendar. On the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, the Speaker
directs the Clerk to call any bill that has been on the Corrections Calendar for
three legislative days. A three-fifths vote of the Members voting is required to
pass any bill called from the Corrections Calendar. A failure to adopt a bill
from the Corrections Calendar does not necessarily mean the final defeat of the
bill because it may then be brought up for consideration in the same way as any
other bill on the House or Union Calendar.
CALENDAR OF MOTIONS TO DISCHARGE COMMITTEES
When a majority of the Members of the House sign a motion to discharge a committee
from consideration of a public bill or resolution, that motion is referred to the
Calendar of Motions to Discharge Committees. For a discussion of motions to discharge,
see Part X.
OBTAINING CONSIDERATION OF MEASURES
Certain measures pending on the House and Union Calendars are more important and
urgent than others and a system permitting their consideration ahead of those that
do not require immediate action is necessary. If the calendar numbers alone were
the determining factor, the bill reported most recently would be the last to be
taken up as all measures are placed on the House and Union Calendars in the order
The House occasionally employs the practice of allowing measures to be considered
by the unanimous agreement of all Members in the House Chamber. The power to recognize
Members for a unanimous consent request is ultimately in the discretion of the Chair
but recent Speakers have issued strict guidelines on when such a request is to be
entertained. Most unanimous consent requests for consideration of measures may only
be entertained by the Chair when assured that the majority and minority floor and
committee leaderships have no objection.
SPECIAL RESOLUTION OR "RULE"
To avoid delays and to allow selectivity in the consideration of public measures,
it is possible to have them taken up out of their order on their respective calendar
by obtaining from the Committee on Rules a special resolution or "rule"
for their consideration. The Committee on Rules, which is composed of majority and
minority members but with a larger proportion of majority members than other committees,
is specifically granted jurisdiction over resolutions relating to the order of business
of the House. Typically, the chairman of the committee that has favorably reported
the bill requests the Committee on Rules to originate a resolution that will provide
for its immediate or subsequent consideration. Under unusual circumstances, the
Committee on Rules may originate a resolution providing for a measure that has not
been reported by the legislative committee(s) of jurisdiction. If the Committee
on Rules has determined that the measure should be taken up, it may report a resolution
reading substantially as follows with respect to a bill on the Union Calendar or
an unreported bill:
Resolved, That upon the adoption of this resolution the Speaker declares pursuant
to rule XVIII that the House resolve itself into the Committee of the Whole House
on the State of the Union for the consideration of the bill (H.R.__) entitled, etc.,
and the first reading of the bill shall be dispensed with. After general debate,
which shall be confined to the bill and shall continue not to exceed __ hours, to
be equally divided and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of
the Committee on __, the bill shall be read for amendment under the five-minute
rule. At the conclusion of the consideration of the bill for amendment, the Committee
shall rise and report the bill to the House with such amendments as may have been
adopted, and the previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill and
amendments thereto to final passage without intervening motion except one motion
to recommit with or without instructions.
If the measure is on the House Calendar or the recommendation is to avoid consideration
in the Committee of the Whole, the resolution reads substantially as follows:
Resolved, That upon the adoption of this resolution it shall be in order to consider
the bill (H.R. __) entitled, etc., in the House.
The resolution may waive points of order against the bill. A point of order
is an objection that a pending matter or proceeding is in violation of a rule of
the House. The bill may be susceptible to various points of order that may be made
against its consideration, including an assertion that the bill carries a retroactive
federal income tax increase, contains a federal unfunded mandate, or has not been
reported from committee properly. When a special resolution limits or prevents floor
amendments, it is popularly known as a "closed rule" or "modified
closed rule." However, a special resolution may not deny the minority party
the right to offer a motion to recommit the bill with amendatory or general instructions.
For a discussion of the motion to recommit, see Part XI.
CONSIDERATION OF MEASURES MADE IN ORDER BY RULE REPORTED
FROM THE COMMITTEE ON RULES
When a rule has been reported to the House and is not considered immediately, it
is referred to the calendar and, if not called up for consideration by the Member
making the report within seven legislative days thereafter, any member of the Committee
on Rules may call it up as a privileged matter, after having given one calendar
day notice of the Member's intention to do so. The Speaker will recognize any member
of the committee seeking recognition for that purpose.
If, within seven calendar days after a measure has, by resolution adopted by the
House, been made in order for consideration, a motion has not been offered for its
consideration, the Speaker may recognize a member of the committee that reported
the measure to offer a motion that the House consider it, if the Member has been
duly authorized by that committee to offer the motion.
There are several other methods of obtaining consideration of bills that either
have not been reported by a committee or, if reported, for which a rule has not
been granted. Two of those methods, a motion to discharge a committee and a motion
to suspend the rules, are discussed below.
MOTION TO DISCHARGE COMMITTEE
A Member may present to the Clerk a motion in writing to discharge a committee from
the consideration of a public bill or resolution that has been referred to it 30
days prior thereto. A Member also may file a motion to discharge the Committee on
Rules from further consideration of a resolution providing a special rule for the
consideration of a public bill or resolution reported by a standing committee, or
a special rule for the consideration of a public bill or resolution that has remained
in a standing committee 30 legislative days or more without action. This motion
to discharge the Committee on Rules may be made only when the resolution has been
referred to that committee at least seven legislative days prior to the filing of
the motion to discharge. The motion may not permit consideration of nongermane amendments.
The motion is placed in the custody of the Journal Clerk, where Members may sign
it at the House rostrum only when the House is in session. The names of Members
who have signed a discharge motion are published in the Congressional Record on
a weekly basis. When a majority of the total membership of the House have signed
the motion, it is entered in the Journal, printed with all the signatures thereto
in the Congressional Record, and referred to the Calendar of Motions to Discharge
On the second and fourth Mondays of each month, except during the last six days
of a session, a Member who has signed a motion to discharge that has been on the
calendar at least seven legislative days may seek recognition and be recognized
for the purpose of calling up the motion. The motion to discharge is debated for
20 minutes, one-half in favor of the proposition and one-half in opposition.
If the motion to discharge the Committee on Rules from a resolution pending before
that committee prevails, the House shall immediately consider such resolution. If
the resolution is adopted, the House proceeds to its execution. This is the modern
practice for utilization of the discharge rule.
If the motion to discharge one of the standing committees of the House from a public
bill or resolution pending before the committee prevails, a Member who signed the
motion may move that the House proceed to the immediate consideration of the bill
or resolution. If the motion is agreed to, the bill or resolution is considered
immediately under the general rules of the House. If the House votes against
the motion for immediate consideration, the bill or resolution is referred to its
proper calendar with the same rights and privileges it would have had if reported
favorably by a standing committee.
MOTION TO SUSPEND THE RULES
On Monday and Tuesday of each week and during the last six days of a session, the
Speaker may entertain a motion to suspend the rules of the House and pass a public
bill or resolution. Members need to make arrangements in advance with the
Speaker to be recognized to offer such a motion. The motion to suspend the rules
and pass the bill is debatable for 40 minutes, one-half of the time in favor of
the proposition and one-half in opposition. The motion may not be separately
amended but may be amended in the form of a manager's amendment included in the
motion when it is offered. Because the rules may be suspended and the bill passed
only by affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Members voting, a quorum being present,
this procedure is usually used only for expedited consideration of relatively noncontroversial
The Speaker may postpone all recorded and yea-nay votes on certain questions before
the House, including a motion to suspend the rules and the passage of bills and
resolutions, until a specified time on that legislative day or the next two legislative
days. At that time, the House disposes of the postponed votes consecutively without
further debate. After the first postponed fifteen minute vote is taken, the Speaker
may reduce to not less than five minutes the time period for subsequent votes. If
the House adjourns before completing action on postponed votes, the postponed votes
must be the first order of business on the next legislative day. Eliminating intermittent
recorded votes on suspensions reduces interruptions of committee activity and allows
more efficient scheduling of voting.
On Wednesday of each week, unless dispensed with by unanimous consent or by affirmative
vote of two-thirds of the Members voting, a quorum being present, the standing committees
are called in alphabetical order. A committee when named may call up for consideration
any bill reported by it on a previous day and pending on either the House or Union
Calendar. The bill's report must have been available for three days in accordance
with House rules and must not be the subject of a special order of business providing
for its consideration. General debate is limited to two hours on any Calendar Wednesday
measure and must be confined to the subject matter of the measure, the time being
equally divided between those for and those against it. The affirmative vote of
a simple majority of the Members present is sufficient to pass the measure. The
general purpose of this procedure is to provide an alternative method of consideration
when the Committee on Rules has not reported a rule for a specific bill.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA BUSINESS
On the second and fourth Mondays of each month, after the disposition of motions
to discharge committees and after the disposal of business on the Speaker's table
requiring only referral to committee, the Committee on Government Reform may call
up for consideration any District of Columbia business.
QUESTIONS OF PRIVILEGE
House rules provide special privilege to questions of privilege. Questions
of privilege are classified as those questions 1) affecting the rights of the House
collectively, its safety, dignity, and the integrity of its proceedings, and 2)
affecting the rights, reputations, and conduct of Members, individually, in their
representative capacity. A question of privilege has been held to take precedence
over all questions except the motion to adjourn. Questions of the privileges of
the House, those concerning the rights of the House collectively, take the form
of a resolution which may be called up by any Member after proper notice. A question
of personal privilege, affecting the rights, reputation, and conduct of individual
Members, may be raised from the floor without formal notice. Debate on a question
of privilege proceeds under the hour rule, with debate on a question of the privileges
of the House divided between the proponent and the leader of the opposing party
or a designee.
Under the rules of the House, certain matters are regarded as privileged matters
and may interrupt the order of business. Conference reports, veto messages
from the President, and certain amendments to measures by the Senate after the stage
of disagreement between the two Houses are examples of privileged matters. Certain
reports from House committees are also privileged, including reports from the Committee
on Rules, reports from the Committee on Appropriations on the general appropriation
bills, printing and committee funding resolutions reported from the Committee on
House Administration, and reports on Member's conduct from the Committee on Standards
of Official Conduct. Bills, joint resolutions, and motions may also take on privileged
status as a result of special procedures written into statute. The Member in charge
of such a matter may call it up at practically any time for immediate consideration.
Usually, this is done after consultation with both the majority and minority floor
leaders so that the Members of both parties will have advance notice.
At any time after the reading of the Journal, a Member, by direction of the Committee
on Appropriations, may move that the House resolve itself into the Committee of
the Whole House on the State of the Union for the purpose of considering general
appropriation bills. General appropriation bills may not be considered in the House
until three calendar days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays unless
the House is in session on those days) after printed committee reports and hearings
on them have been available to the Members. The limit on general debate on such
a bill is generally fixed by a rule reported from the Committee on Rules.
CONSIDERATION AND DEBATE
Our democratic tradition demands that bills be given consideration by the entire
membership usually with adequate opportunity for debate and the proposing of amendments.
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE
In order to expedite the consideration of bills and resolutions, the rules of the
House provide for a parliamentary mechanism, known as the Committee of the Whole,
that enables the House to act with a quorum of less than the requisite majority
of 218. A quorum in the Committee of the Whole is 100 members. All measures on the
Union Calendar-those involving a tax, making appropriations, authorizing payments
out of appropriations already made, or disposing of property-must be first considered
in the Committee of the Whole.
The Committee on Rules reports a rule allowing for immediate consideration of a
measure by the Committee of the Whole. After adoption of the rule by the House,
the Speaker may declare the House resolved into the Committee of the Whole. When
the House resolves into the Committee of the Whole, the Speaker leaves the chair
after appointing a Chairman to preside.
The rule referred to in the preceding paragraph also fixes the length of the debate
in the Committee of the Whole. This may vary according to the importance and controversial
nature of the measure. As provided in the rule, the control of the time is divided
equally between the chairman and the ranking minority member of the committee(s)
that reported the measure. Members seeking to speak for or against the measure may
arrange in advance with the Member in control of the time on their respective side
to be allowed a certain amount of time in the debate. Members may also ask the Member
speaking at the time to yield to them for a question or a brief statement. A transcript
of the proceedings in the House and the Senate is printed daily in the Congressional
Record. Frequently, permission is granted a Member by unanimous consent to revise
and extend his remarks in the Congressional Record if sufficient time to make a
lengthy oral statement is not available during actual debate. These revisions and
extensions are printed in a distinctive type and cannot substantively alter the
The conduct of the debate is governed principally by the rules of the House that
are adopted at the opening of each Congress. Jefferson's Manual, prepared by Thomas
Jefferson for his own guidance as President of the Senate from 1797 to 1801, is
another recognized authority. The House has a long-standing rule that provides that
the provisions of Jefferson's Manual should govern the House in all applicable cases
and where they are not inconsistent with the rules of the House. The House also
relies on an 11-volume compilation of parliamentary precedents, entitled Hinds'
Precedents and Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives, dating from
the earliest days of Congress to 1935, to guide its action. A later compilation,
Deschler-Brown Precedents of the House of Representatives, spans 15 volumes and
covers 1936 to date. In addition, a summary of the House precedents prior to 1959
can be found in a single volume entitled Cannon's Procedure in the House of Representatives.
Procedure in the U.S. House of Representatives, fourth edition, as supplemented,
and House Practice, published in 1996, are recent compilations of the precedents
of the House, in summary form, together with other useful related material. Also,
various rulings of the Chair are set out as notes in the current House Rules and
Manual. Most parliamentary questions arising during the course of debate are responded
to by a ruling based on a precedent of action in a similar situation. The Parliamentarian
of the House is present in the House Chamber in order to assist the Speaker or the
Chairman in making a correct ruling on parliamentary questions.
During general debate on a bill, an accurate account is kept of the time used on
both sides and the Chairman terminates the debate when all the time allowed under
the rule has been consumed. After general debate, the second reading of the bill
begins. The second reading is a section-by-section reading during which time germane
amendments may be offered to a section when it is read. Under some special "modified
closed" rules adopted by the House, certain bills are considered as read and
open only to prescribed amendments under limited time allocations. Under the normal
"open" amendment process, a Member is permitted five minutes to explain
the proposed amendment, after which the Member who is first recognized by the Chair
is allowed to speak for five minutes in opposition to it. There is no further debate
on that amendment, thereby effectively preventing filibuster-like tactics. This
is known as the "five-minute rule." However, Members may offer a pro forma
amendment—"to strike out the last word"—which does not change
the language of the amendment but allows the Member five minutes for debate. Each
substantive amendment and amendment thereto is put to the Committee of the Whole
for adoption unless the House has adopted a special rule "self-executing"
the adoption of certain amendments in the Committee of the Whole.
At any time after debate has begun on proposed amendments to a section or paragraph
of a bill under the five-minute rule, the Committee of the Whole may by majority
vote of the Members present close debate on the section or paragraph. However, if
debate is closed on a section or paragraph before there has been debate on any amendment
that a Member has caused to be printed in the Congressional Record after the reporting
of the bill by the committee but at least one day prior to floor consideration of
the amendment, the Member who caused the amendment to be printed in the Record is
given five minutes in which to explain the amendment. Five minutes is also given
to speak in opposition to the amendment and no further debate on the amendment is
allowed. Amendments placed in the Congressional Record must be signed by the
Member offering the amendment, must indicate the full text of the proposed amendment,
the number of the bill to which it will be offered and the point in the bill or
amendment thereto where the amendment is intended to be offered. These amendments
appear in the portion of the Record designated for that purpose.
AMENDMENTS AND THE GERMANENESS RULE
The rules of the House prohibit amendments of a subject matter different from the
text under consideration. This rule, commonly known as the germaneness rule, is
considered the single most important rule of the House of Representatives because
of the obvious need to keep the focus of a body the size of the House on a predictable
subject matter. The germaneness rule applies to the proceedings in the House, the
Committee of the Whole, and the standing committees. There are hundreds of prior
rulings or "precedents" on issues of germaneness available to guide the
THE COMMITTEE "RISES"
At the conclusion of the consideration of a bill for amendment, the Committee of
the Whole "rises" and reports the bill to the House with the amendments
that have been adopted. In rising, the Committee of the Whole reverts back to the
House and the Chairman of the Committee is replaced in the chair by the Speaker
of the House. The House then acts on the bill and any amendments adopted by the
Committee of the Whole.
Debate on a bill in the House is cut off by moving and ordering "the previous
question." All debate is cut off on the bill if this motion is carried by a
majority of the Members voting, a quorum being present, or by a special rule ordering
the previous question upon the rising of the Committee of the Whole. The Speaker
then puts the question: "Shall the bill be engrossed and read a third time?"
If this question is decided in the affirmative, the bill is read a third time by
title only and voted on for passage.
If the previous question has been ordered by the terms of the rule on a bill reported
by the Committee of the Whole, the House immediately votes on whatever amendments
have been reported by the Committee in the order in which they appear in the bill
unless voted on en bloc. After completion of voting on the amendments, the House
immediately votes on the passage of the bill with the amendments it has adopted.
However, a motion to recommit, as described in the next section, may be offered
and voted on prior to the vote on passage.
The Speaker may postpone a recorded vote on final passage of a bill or resolution
or agreement to a conference report for up to two legislative days.
Measures that do not have to be considered in the Committee of the Whole are considered
in the House in accordance with the terms of the rule limiting debate on the measure
or under the "hour rule." The hour rule limits the amount of time that
a Member may occupy in debate on a pending question to 60 minutes. Generally,
the opportunity for debate may also be curtailed when the Speaker makes the rare
determination that a motion is dilatory.
After passage or rejection of the bill by the House, a pro forma motion to reconsider
it is automatically made and laid on the table. The motion to reconsider is tabled
to prohibit this motion from being made at a later date because the vote of the
House on a proposition is not final and conclusive on the House until there has
been an opportunity to reconsider it.
MOTION TO RECOMMIT
After the previous question has been ordered on the passage of a bill or joint resolution,
it is in order to offer one motion to recommit the bill or joint resolution to a
committee and the Speaker is required to give preference in recognition for that
purpose to a minority party Member who is opposed to the bill or joint resolution.
This motion is normally not subject to debate. However, a motion to recommit
with instructions offered after the previous question has been ordered is debatable
for 10 minutes, except that the majority floor manager may demand that the debate
be extended to one hour. Whatever time is allotted for debate is divided equally
between the proponents and opponents of the motion. Instructions in the motion to
recommit normally take the form of germane amendments proposed by the minority to
immediately change the final form of the bill prior to passage. Instructions may
also be "general," directing the committee to take specified actions such
as to review the bill with a particular political viewpoint or to hold further hearings.
QUORUM CALLS AND ROLLCALLS
Article 1, Section 5, of the Constitution provides that a majority of each House
constitutes a quorum to do business and authorizes a smaller number than a quorum
to compel the attendance of absent Members. In order to fulfill this constitutional
responsibility, the rules of the House provide alternative procedures for quorum
calls in the House and the Committee of the Whole.
The rules of the House provide special authority for the Speaker to recognize a
Member of the Speaker's choice to move a call of the House at any time. This motion
for the call of the House is in order notwithstanding the rule that a point of order
of no quorum may be made in the House only when the Speaker has put the pending
question to a vote and not during periods of debate.
In the absence of a quorum, 15 Members may initiate a call of the House to compel
the attendance of absent Members. Such a call of the House must be ordered by a
majority vote. A call of the House is then ordered and the call is taken by electronic
device or by response to the alphabetical call of the roll of Members. Absent Members
have a minimum of 15 minutes from the ordering of the call of the House by electronic
device to have their presence recorded. If sufficient excuse is not offered for
their absence, they may be sent for by the Sergeant-at-Arms and their attendance
secured and retained. The House then determines the conditions on which they may
be discharged. Members who voluntarily appear are, unless the House otherwise directs,
immediately admitted to the Hall of the House and must report their names to the
Clerk to be entered in the Journal as present. Compulsory attendance or arrest
of Members has been rare in modern practice.
When a question is put to a vote by the Speaker and a quorum fails to vote on such
question, if a quorum is not present and objection is made for that reason, there
is a call of the House unless the House adjourns. The call is taken by electronic
device and the Sergeant-at-Arms may bring in absent Members. The yeas and nays on
the pending question are at the same time considered as ordered and an "automatic"
recorded vote is taken. The Clerk utilizes the electronic system or if inoperative,
calls the roll and each Member who is present may vote on the pending question as
the Member answers the roll. If those voting on the question and those who are present
and decline to vote together make a majority of the House, the Speaker declares
that a quorum is constituted, and the pending question is decided according to the
will of the majority of those voting.
The rules prohibit points of order of no quorum (1) before or during the daily prayer,
(2) during administration of the oath of office to the Speaker or any Member, (3)
during the reception of messages from the President or the Senate, and (4) in connection
with motions incidental to a call of the House. If the presence of a quorum has
been established at least once on any day, further points of no quorum are prohibited
(1) during the reading of the Journal, (2) between the time a Committee of the Whole
rises and its Chairman reports, and (3) during the period on any legislative day
when Members are addressing the House under special orders. The language prohibiting
quorum calls "during any period" when Members are speaking under special
orders includes the time between addresses delivered during this period as well
as the addresses themselves. Furthermore, a quorum call is not in order when no
business has intervened since the previous call. For the purposes of this provision,
all the situations described above are not to be considered as "business."
The rules of the House also prohibit points of order of no quorum when a motion
or proposition is being debated in the House unless the Speaker has put the motion
or proposition to a vote.
The rules for quorum calls are different in some respects in the Committee of the
Whole. The first time the Committee of the Whole finds itself without a quorum during
any day the Chairman is required to order the roll to be called by electronic device,
unless the Chairman orders a call of the Committee. However, the Chairman may refuse
to entertain a point of order of no quorum during general debate. If on a call,
a quorum (100 Members) appears, the Committee continues its business. If a quorum
does not appear, the Committee rises and the Chairman reports the names of the absentees
to the House. The rules provide for the expeditious conduct of quorum calls in the
Committee of the Whole. The Chairman may suspend a quorum call after 100 Members
have recorded their presence. Under such a short quorum call, the Committee will
not rise and present or absent Members' names will not be published. In that case,
a recorded vote, if ordered immediately following the termination of the short quorum
call, is a minimum of 15 minutes. In the alternative, the Chair may choose to permit
a full 15 minute quorum call, wherein all Members names are recorded as present
or absent, to be followed by a five-minute record vote on the pending question.
Once a quorum of the Committee of the Whole has been established for the day, quorum
calls in the Committee are only in order when the Committee is operating under the
five-minute rule and the Chairman has put the pending motion or proposition to a
vote. The rules prohibit a point of order of no quorum against a vote in which
the Committee of the Whole agrees to rise. However, an appropriate point of no quorum
would be permitted against a vote defeating a motion to rise.
There are three methods of voting in the Committee of the Whole that are also employed
in the House. These are the voice vote, the division, and the recorded vote. The
yea-and-nay vote is an additional method used only in the House, which may be automatic
if a Member objects to the vote on the ground that a quorum is not present.
To conduct a voice vote the Chair puts the question: "As many as are in favor
(as the question may be) say `Aye'. As many as are opposed, say `No'." The
Chair determines the result on a comparison of the volume of ayes and noes. This
is the form in which the vote is ordinarily taken in the first instance.
If it is difficult to determine the result of a voice vote, a division may be demanded
by a Member or initiated by the Chair. The Chair then states: "As many
as are in favor will rise and stand until counted." After counting those in
favor he calls on those opposed to stand and be counted, thereby determining the
number in favor of and those opposed to the question.
If any Member requests a recorded vote and that request is supported by at least
one-fifth of a quorum of the House, or 25 Members in the Committee of the Whole,
the vote is taken by electronic device. After the recorded vote is concluded, the
names of those voting and those not voting are entered in the Journal. Members have
a minimum of 15 minutes to be counted from the time the record vote is ordered.
The Speaker may reduce the period for voting to five minutes on subsequent votes
in certain situations where there has been no intervening debate or business. The
Speaker is not required to vote unless the Speaker's vote would be decisive.
In the House, if the yeas and nays are demanded, the Speaker directs those in favor
of taking the vote by that method to stand and be counted. The support of one-fifth
of the Members present is necessary for ordering the yeas and nays. When the yeas
and nays are ordered or a point of order is made that a quorum is not present, the
Speaker states: "As many as are in favor of the proposition will vote "Aye."
"As many as are opposed will vote "No." The Clerk activates the electronic
system or calls the roll and reports the result to the Speaker, who announces it
to the House.
The rules of the House require a three-fifths vote to pass a bill, joint resolution,
amendment, or conference report that contains a specified type of federal income
tax rate increase.
The rules prohibit a Member from (1) casting another Member's vote or recording
another Member's presence in the House or the Committee of the Whole or (2) authorizing
another individual to cast a vote or record the Member's presence in the House or
the Committee of the Whole.
Recorded votes are usually taken by electronic device, except when the Speaker orders
the vote to be recorded by other methods prescribed by the rules of the House, or
in the failure of the electronic device to function. In addition, quorum calls are
generally taken by electronic device. Essentially the system works as follows: A
number of vote stations are attached to selected chairs in the Chamber. Each station
is equipped with a vote card slot and four indicators, marked "yea," "nay,"
"present," and "open" that are lit when a vote is in progress
and the system is ready to accept votes. Each Member is provided with a personalized
Vote-ID Card. A Member votes by inserting the voting card into any one of the vote
stations and depressing the appropriate button to indicate the Member's choice.
If a Member is without a Vote-ID Card or wishes to change his vote during the last
five minutes of a vote, the Member may be recorded by handing a paper ballot to
the Tally Clerk, who then records the vote electronically according to the indicated
preference of the Member. The paper ballots are green for "yea," red for
"nay," and amber for "present." The voting machine records the
votes and reports the result when the vote is completed.
PAIRING OF MEMBERS
The former system of pairing of Members, where a Member could arrange in advance
to be recorded as being either in favor of or opposed to the question by being "paired"
with another absent Member who holds contrary views on the question, has largely
been eliminated. The rules still allow for "live pairs." A live
pair is where a Member votes as if not paired, subsequently withdraws that vote,
and then asks to be marked "present" to protect the other Member. The
most common practice is for absent Members to submit statements for the Record stating
how they would have voted if present on specific votes.
SYSTEM OF LIGHTS AND BELLS
Due to the diverse nature of daily tasks that they have to perform, it is not practicable
for Members to be present in the House or Senate Chamber at every minute that the
body is in session. Furthermore, many of the routine matters do not require the
personal attendance of all the Members. A legislative call system consisting of
electric lights and bells or buzzers located in various parts of the Capitol Building
and House and Senate Office Buildings alerts Members to certain occurrences in the
House and Senate Chambers.
In the House, the Speaker has ordered that the bells and lights comprising the system
be utilized as follows:
- 1 long ring followed by a pause and then 3 rings and 3 lights on the left-Start
or continuation of a notice or short quorum call in the Committee of the Whole that
will be vacated if and when 100 Members appear on the floor. Bells are repeated
every five minutes unless the call is vacated or the call is converted into a regular
- 1 long ring and extinguishing of 3 lights on the left-Short or notice quorum call
- 2 rings and 2 lights on the left-15 minute recorded vote, yea-and-nay vote or
automatic rollcall vote by electronic device. The bells are repeated five minutes
after the first ring.
- 2 rings and 2 lights on the left followed by a pause and then 2 more rings-Automatic
rollcall vote or yea-and-nay vote taken by a call of the roll in the House. The
bells are repeated when the Clerk reaches the R's in the first call of the roll.
- 2 rings followed by a pause and then 5 rings-First vote under Suspension of the
Rules or on clustered votes. Two bells are repeated five minutes after the first
ring. The first vote will take 15 minutes with successive votes at intervals of
not less than five minutes. Each successive vote is signaled by five rings.
- 3 rings and 3 lights on the left-15 minute quorum call in either the House or
in the Committee of the Whole by electronic device. The bells are repeated five
minutes after the first ring.
- 3 rings followed by a pause and then 3 more rings-15 minute quorum call by a call
of the roll. The bells are repeated when the Clerk reaches the R's in the first
call of the roll.
- 3 rings followed by a pause and then 5 more rings-Quorum call in the Committee
of the Whole that may be followed immediately by a five-minute recorded vote.
- 4 rings and 4 lights on the left-Adjournment of the House.
- 5 rings and 5 lights on the left-Any five-minute vote.
- 6 rings and 6 lights on the left-Recess of the House.
- 12 rings at 2-second intervals with 6 lights on the left-Civil Defense Warning.
- The 7th light indicates that the House is in session.
The House may by vote authorize the Speaker to declare a recess under the rules
of the House. The Speaker also has the authority to declare the House in recess
for a short time when no question is pending before the House.
LIVE COVERAGE OF FLOOR PROCEEDINGS
The rules of the House provide for unedited radio and television broadcasting and
recording of proceedings on the floor of the House. However, the rules prohibit
the use of these broadcasts and recordings for any political purpose or in any commercial
advertisement. The rules of the Senate also provide for broadcasting and recording
of proceedings in the Senate Chamber with similar restrictions.
CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET PROCESS
The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 as amended provides
Congress with a procedure establishing appropriate spending and revenue levels for
each year. The congressional budget process, as set out in the 1974 Budget Act,
is designed to coordinate decisions on sources and levels of revenues and on objects
and levels of expenditures. Its basic method is to prescribe the overall size of
the fiscal pie and the particular sizes of its various pieces. Each year the Congress
adopts a concurrent resolution imposing overall constraints on revenues and spending
and distributing the overall constraint on spending among groups of programs and
Congress aims to complete action on a concurrent resolution on the budget for the
next fiscal year by April 15. Congress may adopt a later budget resolution that
revises the most recently adopted budget resolution. One of the mechanisms Congress
uses to implement the constraints on revenue and spending is called the reconciliation
process. Reconciliation is a two-step process designed to bring existing law in
conformity with the most recently adopted concurrent resolution on the budget. The
first step in the reconciliation process is the language found in a concurrent resolution
on the budget instructing House and Senate committees to determine and recommend
changes in laws or bills that will achieve the constraints established in the concurrent
resolution on the budget. The instructions to a committee specify the amount of
spending reductions or revenue changes a committee must attain and leave to the
discretion of the committee the specific changes to laws or bills that must be made.
The second step involves the combination of the various instructed committees' recommendations
into an omnibus reconciliation bill which is reported by the Committee on the Budget
or by the one committee instructed, if only one committee has been instructed, and
considered by the whole House.
The Budget Act maintains that reconciliation provisions must be related to reconciling
the budget. This principle is codified in section 313 of the Budget Act, the so-called
Byrd Rule, named after Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia. Section 313 provides
a point of order in the Senate against extraneous matter in reconciliation bills.
Determining what is extraneous is a difficult task for the Senate's Presiding Officer.
The Byrd Rule may only be waived in the Senate by a three-fifths vote and sixty
votes are required to overturn the presiding officer's ruling.
Congress aims to complete action on a reconciliation bill or resolution by June
15 of each year. After Congress has completed action on a concurrent resolution
on the budget for a fiscal year, it is generally not in order to consider legislation
that does not conform to the constraints on spending and revenue set out in the
Congress has enacted legislation under which breaches are remedied by "sequestration,"
that is, automatic cancellations of spending authority. Sequestration results when
the statutory parameters for the deficit, discretionary spending, or the "Paygo"
requirement have been exceeded. Paygo requires that tax reductions or increases
in entitlements must be offset by tax increases or reductions in entitlements.
The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995, through an amendment to the Congressional
Budget Act, established requirements on committees with respect to measures containing
unfunded intergovernmental mandates. An unfunded intergovernmental mandate is the
imposition of a substantial financial requirement or obligation on a state, local
or tribal government. The Act also established a unique point of order to enforce
the requirements of the Act with respect to intergovernmental mandates in excess
of fifty million dollars. In the House, an unfunded mandate point of order
is not disposed of by a ruling of the Chair but by the Chair putting the question
of consideration to the body. The House or the Committee of the Whole then decides
by vote whether or not to proceed with the measure with the alleged mandate contained
ENGROSSMENT AND MESSAGE TO SENATE
The preparation of a copy of the bill in the form in which it has passed the House
can be a detailed and complicated process because of the large number and complexity
of amendments to some bills adopted by the House. Frequently, these amendments are
offered during a spirited debate with little or no prior formal preparation. The
amendment may be for the purpose of inserting new language, substituting different
words for those set out in the bill, or deleting portions of the bill. It is not
unusual to have more than 100 amendments adopted, including those proposed by the
committee at the time the bill is reported and those offered from the floor during
the consideration of the bill in the Chamber. In some cases, amendments offered
from the floor are written in longhand. Each amendment must be inserted in precisely
the proper place in the bill, with the spelling and punctuation exactly as it was
adopted by the House. It is extremely important that the Senate receive a copy of
the bill in the precise form in which it has passed the House. The preparation of
such a copy is the function of the enrolling clerk.
In the House, the enrolling clerk is under the Clerk of the House. In the Senate,
the enrolling clerk is under the Secretary of the Senate. The enrolling clerk receives
all the papers relating to the bill, including the official Clerk's copy of the
bill as reported by the standing committee and each amendment adopted by the House.
From this material, the enrolling clerk prepares the engrossed copy of the bill
as passed, containing all the amendments agreed to by the House. At this point,
the measure ceases technically to be called a bill and is termed "an act"
signifying that it is the act of one body of the Congress, although it is still
popularly referred to as a bill. The engrossed bill is printed on blue paper and
is signed by the Clerk of the House.
The Parliamentarian, in the name of the Vice President, as the President of the
Senate, refers the engrossed bill to the appropriate standing committee of the Senate
in conformity with the rules of the Senate. The bill is reprinted immediately and
copies are made available in the document rooms of both Houses. This printing
is known as the "Act print" or the "Senate referred print."
Senate committees give the bill the same detailed consideration as it received in
the House and may report it with or without amendment. A committee member who wishes
to express an individual view or a group of Members who wish to file a minority
report may do so by giving notice, at the time of the approval of a report on the
measure, of an intention to file supplemental, minority, or additional views. These
views may be filed within three days with the clerk of the committee and become
a part of the report. When a committee reports a bill, it is reprinted with the
committee amendments indicated by showing new matter in italics and deleted matter
in line-through type. The calendar number and report number are indicated
on the first and back pages, together with the name of the Senator making the report.
The committee report and any minority or individual views accompanying the bill
also are printed at the same time.
All committee meetings, including those to conduct hearings, must be open to the
public. However, a majority of the members of a committee or subcommittee may, after
discussion in closed session, vote in open session to close a meeting or series
of meetings on the same subject for no longer than 14 days if it is determined that
the matters to be discussed or testimony to be taken will disclose matters necessary
to be kept secret in the interests of national defense or the confidential conduct
of the foreign relations of the United States; will relate solely to internal committee
staff management or procedure; will tend to charge an individual with a crime or
misconduct, to disgrace or injure the professional standing of an individual, or
otherwise to expose an individual to public contempt, or will represent a clearly
unwarranted invasion of the privacy of an individual; will disclose law enforcement
information that is required to be kept secret; will disclose certain information
regarding certain trade secrets; or may disclose matters required to be kept confidential
under other provisions of law or government regulation.
The rules of procedure in the Senate differ to a large extent from those in the
House. The Senate relies heavily on the practice of obtaining unanimous consent
for actions to be taken. For example, at the time that a bill is reported,
the Majority Leader may ask unanimous consent for the immediate consideration of
the bill. If the bill is of a noncontroversial nature and there is no objection,
the Senate may pass the bill with little or no debate and with only a brief explanation
of its purpose and effect. Even in this instance, the bill is subject to amendment
by any Senator. A simple majority vote is necessary to carry an amendment as well
as to pass the bill. If there is any objection, the report must lie over one legislative
day and the bill is placed on the calendar.
Measures reported by standing committees of the Senate may not be considered unless
the report of that committee has been available to Senate Members for at least two
days (excluding Sundays and legal holidays) prior to consideration of the measure
in the Senate. This requirement, however, may be waived by agreement of the Majority
and Minority leaders and does not apply in certain emergency situations.
In the Senate, measures are brought up for consideration by a simple unanimous consent
request, by a complex unanimous consent agreement, or by a motion to proceed to
the consideration of a measure on the calendar. A unanimous consent agreement, sometimes
referred to as a "time agreement," makes the consideration of a measure
in order and often limits the amount of debate that will take place on the measure
and lists the amendments that will be considered. The offering of a unanimous consent
request to consider a measure or the offering of a motion to proceed to the consideration
of a measure is reserved, by tradition, to the Majority Leader.
Usually a motion to consider a measure on the calendar is made only when unanimous
consent to consider the measure cannot be obtained. There are two calendars in the
Senate, the Calendar of Business and the Executive Calendar. All legislation is
placed on the Calendar of Business and treaties and nominations are placed on the
Executive Calendar. Unlike the House, there is no differentiation on the Calendar
of Business between the treatment of (1) bills raising revenue, general appropriation
bills, and bills of a public character appropriating money or property, and (2)
other bills of a public character not appropriating money or property.
The rules of the Senate provide that at the conclusion of the morning business for
each "legislative day" the Senate proceeds to the consideration of the
calendar. In the Senate, the term "legislative day" means the period of
time from when the Senate adjourns until the next time the Senate adjourns. Because
the Senate often "recesses" rather than "adjourns" at the end
of a daily session, the legislative day usually does not correspond to the 24-hour
period comprising a calendar day. Thus, a legislative day may cover a long period
of time-from days to weeks, or even months. Because of this and the modern practice
of waiving the call of the calendar by unanimous consent at the start of a new legislative
day, it is rare to have a call of the calendar. When the calendar is called, bills
that are not objected to are taken up in their order, and each Senator is entitled
to speak once and for five minutes only on any question. Objection may be
interposed at any stage of the proceedings, but on motion the Senate may continue
consideration after the call of the calendar is completed, and the limitations on
debate then do not apply.
On any day (other than a Monday that begins a new legislative day), following the
announcement of the close of morning business, any Senator, usually the Majority
Leader, obtaining recognition may move to take up any bill out of its regular order
on the calendar. The five-minute limitation on debate does not apply to the consideration
of a bill taken up in this manner, and debate may continue until the hour when the
Presiding Officer of the Senate "lays down" the unfinished business of
the day. At that point consideration of the bill is discontinued and the measure
reverts back to the Calendar of Business and may again be called up at another time
under the same conditions.
When a bill has been objected to and passed over on the call of the calendar it
is not necessarily lost. The Majority Leader, after consulting the Minority Leader,
determines the time at which the bill will be considered. At that time, a motion
is made to consider the bill. The motion is debatable if made after the morning
Once a Senator is recognized by the Presiding Officer, the Senator may speak for
as long as the Senator wishes and loses the floor only when the Senator yields it
or takes certain parliamentary actions that forfeit the Senator's right to the floor.
However, a Senator may not speak more than twice on any one question in debate on
the same legislative day without leave of the Senate. Debate ends when a Senator
yields the floor and no other Senator seeks recognition, or when a unanimous consent
agreement limiting the time of debate is operating.
On occasion, Senators opposed to a measure may extend debate by making lengthy speeches
intended to prevent or defeat action on the measure. This is the tactic known as
"filibustering." Debate, however, may be closed if 16 Senators sign
a motion to that effect and the motion is carried by three-fifths of the Senators
duly chosen and sworn. Such a motion is voted on one hour after the Senate convenes,
following a quorum call on the next day after a day of session has intervened. This
procedure is called "invoking cloture." In 1986, the Senate amended its
rules to limit "post-cloture" consideration to 30 hours. A Senator may
speak for not more than one hour and may yield all or a part of that time to the
majority or minority floor managers of the bill under consideration or to the Majority
or Minority leader. The Senate may increase the time for "post-cloture"
debate by a vote of three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn. After the
time for debate has expired, the Senate may consider only amendments actually pending
before voting on the bill.
While a measure is being considered it is subject to amendment and each amendment,
including those proposed by the committee that reported the bill, is considered
separately. Generally, there is no requirement that proposed amendments be
germane to the subject matter of the bill except in the case of general appropriation
bills or where "cloture" has been invoked. Under the rules, a "rider,"
an amendment proposing substantive legislation to an appropriation bill, is prohibited.
However, this prohibition may be suspended by two-thirds vote on a motion to permit
consideration of such an amendment on one day's notice in writing. Debate must be
germane during the first three hours after business is laid down unless determined
to the contrary by unanimous consent or on motion without debate. After final action
on the amendments the bill is ready for engrossment and the third reading, which
is by title only. The Presiding Officer then puts the question on the passage and
a voice vote is usually taken although a yea-and-nay vote is in order if demanded
by one-fifth of the Senators present. A simple majority is necessary for passage.
Before an amended measure is cleared for its return to the House of Representatives,
or an unamended measure is cleared for enrollment, a Senator who voted with the
prevailing side, or who abstained from voting, may make a motion within the next
two days to reconsider the action. If the measure was passed without a recorded
vote, any Senator may make the motion to reconsider. That motion is usually tabled
and its tabling constitutes a final determination. If, however, the motion is granted,
the Senate, by majority vote, may either affirm its action, which then becomes final,
or reverse it.
The original engrossed House bill, together with the engrossed Senate amendments,
if any, is then returned to the House with a message stating the action taken by
the Senate. Where amendments have been made by the Senate, the message requests
that the House concur in them.
For a more detailed discussion of Senate procedure, see Enactment of a Law, by Robert
B. Dove, Parliamentarian of the Senate, Senate Doc. No. 97-20.
XV. FINAL ACTION ON AMENDED BILL
On their return to the House, the official papers relating to the amended measure
are placed on the Speaker's table to await House action on the Senate amendments.
Although rarely exercised, the Speaker has the authority to refer Senate amendments
to the appropriate committee(s) with or without time limits on their consideration
of such amendments. If the amendments are of a minor or noncontroversial nature,
the chairman of the committee that originally reported the bill-or any Member-may,
at the direction of the committee, ask unanimous consent to take the bill with the
amendments from the Speaker's table and agree to the Senate amendments. At this
point, the Clerk reads the title of the bill and the Senate amendments. If there
is no objection, the amendments are then declared to be agreed to, and the bill
is ready to be enrolled for presentation to the President. If unanimous consent
is not obtainable, the few bills that do not require consideration in the Committee
of the Whole are privileged and may be called up from the Speaker's table by motion
for immediate consideration of the amendments. A simple majority is necessary to
carry the motion and thereby complete floor action on the measure. A Senate amendment
to a House bill is subject to a point of order that it must first be considered
in the Committee of the Whole, if, originating in the House, it would be subject
to that point of order. Most Senate amendments require consideration in the Committee
of the Whole and this procedure by privileged motion is seldom utilized.
REQUEST FOR A CONFERENCE
If, however, the amendments are substantial or controversial, a Member, usually
the chairman of the committee of jurisdiction, may request unanimous consent to
take the House bill with the Senate amendments from the Speaker's table, disagree
to the amendments and request or agree to a conference with the Senate to resolve
the disagreeing votes of the two Houses. In the case of a Senate bill with House
amendments, the House may insist on the House amendments and request a conference.
For a discussion of bills originating in the Senate, see Part XVI. If there is objection,
the Speaker may recognize a Member for a motion, authorized by the committee(s)
having jurisdiction over the subject matter of the bill, to (1) disagree to the
Senate amendments and ask for or agree to a conference or (2) insist on the House
amendments to a Senate bill and request or agree to a conference. This may also
be accomplished by a motion to suspend the rules with a two-thirds vote or by a
rule from the Committee on Rules. If there is no objection to the request, or if
the motion is carried, a motion to instruct the managers of the conference would
be in order. This initial motion to instruct is the prerogative of the minority
party. The instructions to conferees usually urge the managers to accept or reject
a particular Senate or House provision or to take a more generally described political
position to the extent possible within the scope of the conference. However, such
instructions are not binding on House or Senate conferees. After the motion to instruct
is dispensed with, the Speaker then appoints the managers, as the conferees are
called, on the part of the House and a message is sent to the Senate advising it
of the House action. A majority of the Members appointed to be managers must have
been supporters of the House position, as determined by the Speaker. The Speaker
must appoint Members primarily responsible for the legislation and must include,
to the fullest extent feasible, the principal proponents of the major provisions
of the bill as it passed the House. The Speaker usually follows the suggestions
of the chairman of the committee in charge of the bill in designating the managers
on the part of the House from among the members of the committee or committee with
jurisdiction over the House or Senate provisions. Occasionally, the Speaker appoints
conferees from more than one committee and may specify the portions of the House
and Senate versions to which they are assigned. The number is fixed by the Speaker
and majority party representation generally reflects the ratio for the full House
committee, but may be greater on important bills. The Speaker also has the authority
to name substitute conferees on specific provisions and add or remove conferees
after his original appointment. Representation of both major parties is an important
attribute of all our parliamentary procedures but, in the case of conference committees,
it is important that the views of the House on the House measure be fully represented.
If the Senate agrees to the request for a conference, a similar committee is appointed
by unanimous consent by the Presiding Officer of the Senate. Both political parties
may be represented on the Senate conference committee. The Senate and House committees
need not be the same size but each House has one vote in conference as determined
by a majority within each set or subset of managers.
The request for a conference can be made only by the body in possession of the official
papers. Occasionally, the Senate, anticipating that the House will not concur in
its amendments, votes to insist on its amendments and requests a conference on passage
of the bill prior to returning the bill to the House. This practice serves
to expedite the matter because time may be saved by the designation of the Senate
conferees before returning the bill to the House. The matter of which body requests
the conference is not without significance because the body asking for the conference
normally acts last on the report to be submitted by the conferees and a motion to
recommit the conference report is not available to the body that acts last.
AUTHORITY OF CONFEREES
The conference committee is sometimes popularly referred to as the "Third House
of Congress." Although the managers on the part of each House meet together
as one committee they are in effect two separate committees, each of which votes
separately and acts by a majority vote. For this reason, the number of managers
from each House is largely immaterial.
The conferees are strictly limited in their consideration to matters in disagreement
between the two Houses. Consequently, they may not strike out or amend any portion
of the bill that was not amended by the Senate. Furthermore, they may not insert
new matter that is not germane to or that is beyond the scope of the differences
between the two Houses. Where the Senate amendment revises a figure or an amount
contained in the bill, the conferees are limited to the difference between the two
numbers and may neither increase the greater nor decrease the smaller figure. Neither
House may alone, by instructions, empower its managers to make a change in the text
to which both Houses have agreed, but the managers for both bodies may be given
that authority by a concurrent resolution adopted by a majority of each House.
When a disagreement to an amendment in the nature of a substitute is committed to
a conference committee, managers on the part of the House may propose a substitute
consisting of a germane modification of the matter in disagreement, but the introduction
of language in that substitute presenting a specific additional topic, question,
issue, or proposition not committed to the conference committee by either House
is not in order. Moreover, their report may not include matter not committed
to the conference committee by either House. The report may not include a modification
of any specific topic, question, issue, or proposition committed to the conference
committee by either or both Houses if that modification is beyond the scope of that
specific topic, question, issue, or proposition as committed to the conference committee.
The managers on the part of the House are under specific guidelines when in conference
on general appropriation bills. An amendment by the Senate to a general appropriation
bill which would be in violation of the rules of the House, if such amendment had
originated in the House, including an amendment changing existing law, providing
appropriations not authorized by law, or providing reappropriations of unexpired
balances, or an amendment by the Senate providing for an appropriation on a bill
other than a general appropriation bill, may not be agreed to by the managers on
the part of the House. However, the House may grant specific authority to agree
to such an amendment by a separate vote on each specific amendment.
MEETINGS AND ACTION OF CONFEREES
The rules of the House require that one conference meeting be open, unless the House,
in open session, determines by a record vote that a meeting will be closed to the
public. When the report of the conference committee is read in the House, a point
of order may be made that the conferees failed to comply with the House rule requiring
an open conference meeting. If the point of order is sustained, the conference report
is considered rejected by the House and a new conference is deemed to have been
There are generally four forms of recommendations available to the conferees when
reporting back to their bodies:
(1) The Senate recede from all (or certain of) its amendments.
(2) The House recede from its disagreement to all (or certain of) the Senate amendments
and agree thereto.
(3) The House recede from its disagreement to all (or certain of) the Senate amendments
and agree thereto with amendments.
(4) The House recede from all (or certain of) its amendments to the Senate amendments
or its amendments to Senate bill.
In many instances, the result of the conference is a compromise growing out of the
third type of recommendation available to the conferees. The complete report may
be composed of any one or more of these recommendations with respect to the various
amendments. Occasionally, on general appropriation bills with numbered Senate amendments,
because of the special rules preventing House conferees from agreeing to Senate
amendments changing existing law or appropriations not authorized by law, the conferees
find themselves, under the rules or in fact, unable to reach an agreement with respect
to one or more amendments and report back a statement of their inability to agree
on those particular amendments. These amendments may then be acted upon separately.
This partial disagreement is not practicable where one House strikes out all after
the enacting clause and substitutes its own bill that must be considered as a single
If they are unable to reach any agreement whatsoever, the conferees report that
fact to their respective bodies and the amendments are in the position they were
before the conference was requested. New conferees may be appointed in either or
both Houses. In addition, the Houses may provide a new nonbinding instruction to
the conferees as to the position they are to take.
After House conferees on any bill or resolution in conference between the two bodies
have been appointed for 20 calendar days and have failed to make a report, the rules
of the House provide for a privileged motion to instruct the House conferees or
discharge them and appoint new conferees. The motion can be made only after the
Member announces his intention to offer the motion and only at a time designated
by the Speaker in the legislative schedule of the following day. In addition, during
the last six days of a session, it is a privileged motion to move to discharge,
appoint, or instruct House conferees after House conferees have been appointed 36
hours without having made a report.
When the conferees, by majority vote of each group, have reached complete agreement
or find that they are able to agree with respect to some but not all separately
numbered amendments, they make their recommendations in a report made in duplicate
that must be signed by a majority of the conferees appointed by each body on each
provision to which they are appointed. The minority portion of the managers have
no authority to file a statement of minority views in connection with the conference
report. The report is required to be printed in both Houses and must be accompanied
by an explanatory statement prepared jointly by the conferees on the part of the
House and the conferees on the part of the Senate. The statement must be sufficiently
detailed and explicit to inform Congress as to the effect that the amendments or
propositions contained in the report will have on the measure to which those amendments
or propositions relate. The engrossed bill and amendments and one copy of
the report are delivered to the body that is to act first on the report, usually,
the body that had agreed to the conference requested by the other.
In the Senate, the presentation of a conference report always is in order except
when the Journal is being read, a point of order or motion to adjourn is pending,
or while the Senate is voting or ascertaining the presence of a quorum. When the
report is received, the question of proceeding to the consideration of the report,
if raised, is immediately voted on without debate. The report is not subject
to amendment in either body and must be accepted or rejected as an entirety. If
the time for debate on the adoption of the report is limited, the time allotted
must be equally divided between the majority and minority party. The Senate, acting
first, prior to voting on agreeing to the report may by majority vote order it recommitted
to the conferees. When the Senate agrees to the report, its managers are thereby
discharged and it then delivers the original papers to the House with a message
advising that body of its action.
A report that contains any recommendations which extend beyond the scope of differences
between the two Houses is subject to a point of order in its entirety unless that
point of order is waived in the House by unanimous consent, adoption of a rule reported
from the Committee on Rules, or the suspension of the rules by a two-thirds vote.
The presentation of a conference report in the House always is in order, except
when the Journal is being read, while the roll is being called, or the House is
dividing on any proposition. The report is considered in the House and may not be
sent to the Committee of the Whole on the suggestion that it contains matters ordinarily
requiring consideration in that Committee. The report may not be received by the
House if the required statement does not accompany it.
However, it is not in order to consider either (1) a conference report or (2) an
amendment (including an amendment in the nature of a substitute) proposed by the
Senate to a measure reported in disagreement between the two Houses, by a conference
report, that the conferees have been unable to agree, until the third calendar day
(excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays unless the House is in session
on those days) after the report and accompanying statement have been filed in the
House. Consideration is then in order only if the report and accompanying
statement have been printed in the Congressional Record for the day on which the
report and statement have been filed. However, these provisions do not apply during
the last six days of the session. It is also not in order to consider a conference
report or such an amendment unless copies of the report and accompanying statement,
together with the text of the amendment, have been available to Members for at least
two hours before their consideration. By contrast, it is always in order to call
up for consideration a report from the Committee on Rules on the same day reported
only making in order the consideration of a conference report or such an amendment
notwithstanding the requirement that the report and text of the amendment be available
for at least two hours before the beginning of consideration. The time allotted
for debate on a conference report or such an amendment is one hour, equally divided
between the majority party and the minority party. However, if the majority and
minority floor managers both are supporters of the conference report, one-third
of the debate time must be allotted to a Member who is opposed to the conference
report. If the House does not agree to a conference report that the Senate has already
agreed to, the report may not be recommitted to conference. In that situation, the
Senate conferees are discharged when the Senate agrees to the report. The House
may then request a new conference with the Senate and conferees must be reappointed.
When a conference report is called up before the House containing matter which would
be in violation of the rules of the House with respect to germaneness if the matter
had been offered as an amendment in the House, and which is contained either (1)
in the Senate bill or Senate amendment to the House measure (including a Senate
amendment in the nature of a substitute for the text of that measure as passed by
the House) and accepted by the House conferees or agreed to by the conference committee
with modification or (2) in a substitute amendment agreed to by the conference committee,
a point of order may be made at the beginning of consideration that nongermane matter
is contained in the report. If the point of order is sustained, it is in order for
the Chair to entertain a motion of high privilege that the House reject the nongermane
matter covered by the point of order. The motion is debatable for 40 minutes,
one-half of the time to be given to debate in favor of, and one-half in opposition
to, the motion. Notwithstanding the final disposition of a point of order made with
respect to the report, or of a motion to reject nongermane matter, further points
of order may be made with respect to the report, and further motions may be made
to reject other nongermane matter in the conference report not covered by any previous
point of order which has been sustained. If a motion to reject has been adopted,
after final disposition of all points of order and motions to reject, the conference
report is considered rejected and the question then pending before the House is
whether (1) to recede and concur with an amendment that consists of that portion
of the conference report not rejected or (2) to insist on the House amendment. If
all motions to reject are defeated and the House thereby decides to permit the inclusion
of the nongermane Senate matter in the conference report, then, after the allocation
of time for debate on the conference report, it is in order to move the previous
question on the adoption of the conference report.
Similar procedures are available in the House when the Senate proposes an amendment
to a measure that would be in violation of the rule against nongermane amendments,
and thereafter it is (1) reported in disagreement by a committee of conference or
(2) before the House and the stage of disagreement is reached.
The numbered amendments of the Senate reported from conference in disagreement may
be voted on separately and may be adopted by a majority vote after the adoption
of the conference report itself as though no conference had been had with respect
to those amendments. The Senate may recede from all amendments, or from certain
of its amendments, insisting on the others with or without a request for a further
conference with respect to them. If the House does not accept the amendments insisted
on by the Senate, the entire conference process may begin again with respect to
them. One House may also further amend an amendment of the other House until the
third degree stage of amendment within that House is reached.
CUSTODY OF PAPERS
The custody of the original official papers is important in conference procedure
because either body may act on a conference report only when in possession of the
papers. The papers are transmitted to the body agreeing to the conference and from
that body to the managers of the House that asked for the conference. The
latter in turn carry the papers with them to the conference and at its conclusion
turn them over to the managers of the House that agreed to the conference. The managers
of the House that agreed to the conference deliver them to their own House, that
acts first on the report, and then delivers the papers to the other House for final
action on the report. However, if the managers on the part of the House agreeing
to the conference surrender the papers to the House asking for the conference, the
report may be acted on first by the House asking for the conference.
At the conclusion of the conference, each group of conferees retains one copy of
the report that has been made in duplicate and signed by a majority of the managers
of each body. The House copy is signed first by the House managers and the Senate
copy is signed first by its managers.
A bill cannot become a law of the land until it has been approved in identical form
by both Houses of Congress. When the bill has finally been approved by both Houses,
all the original papers are transmitted to the enrolling clerk of the body in which
the bill originated.
BILL ORIGINATING IN SENATE
The preceding discussion has described the legislative process for bills originating
in the House. When a bill originates in the Senate, this process is reversed. When
the Senate passes a bill that originated in the Senate, it is sent to the House
for consideration. The bill is referred to the appropriate House committee for consideration
or held at the Speaker's desk for possible amendment following action on a companion
House bill. If the committee reports the bill to the full House and if the bill
is passed by the House without amendment, it is ready for enrollment. If the House
passes an amended version of the Senate bill, the bill is returned to the Senate
for action on the House amendments. The Senate may agree to the amendments or request
a conference to resolve the disagreement over the House amendments. In accordance
with the Constitution, the Senate cannot originate revenue measures. If the Senate
does originate a revenue measure, it can be returned to the Senate by a vote of
the House as an infringement of the constitutional prerogative of the House.
When the bill has been agreed to in identical form by both bodies-either without
amendment by the Senate, or by House concurrence in the Senate amendments, or by
agreement in both bodies to the conference report-a copy of the bill is enrolled
for presentation to the President.
The preparation of the enrolled bill is a painstaking and important task because
it must reflect precisely the effect of all amendments, either by way of deletion,
substitution, or addition, agreed to by both bodies. The enrolling clerk of the
House, with respect to bills originating in the House, receives the original engrossed
bill, the engrossed Senate amendments, the signed conference report, the several
messages from the Senate, and a notation of the final action by the House, for the
purpose of preparing the enrolled copy. From these the enrolling clerk must prepare
meticulously the final form of the bill, as it was agreed to by both Houses, for
presentation to the President. On occasion, as many as 500 amendments have been
adopted, each of which must be set out in the enrollment exactly as agreed to, and
all punctuation must be in accord with the action taken.
The enrolled bill is printed on parchment paper and certified by the Clerk of the
House stating that the bill originated in the House of Representatives. A bill originating
in the Senate is examined and certified by the Secretary of the Senate. A House
bill is then examined for accuracy by the Committee on House Administration. When
the committee is satisfied with the accuracy of the bill, the chairman of the committee
attaches a slip stating that it finds the bill truly enrolled and sends it to the
Speaker of the House for signature. All bills, regardless of the body in which
they originated, are signed first by the Speaker and then by the Vice President
of the United States, who, under the Constitution, serves as the President of the
Senate. The President pro tempore of the Senate may also sign enrolled bills. The
Speaker of the House may sign enrolled bills whether or not the House is in session.
The President of the Senate may sign bills only while the Senate is actually sitting
but advance permission is normally granted to sign during a recess or after adjournment.
If the Speaker or the President of the Senate is unable to sign the bill, it may
be signed by an authorized Member of the respective House. After both signatures
are affixed, a House bill is returned to the Committee on House Administration for
presentation to the President for action under the Constitution. A Senate bill is
presented to the President by the Secretary of the Senate.
Article I, Section 7, of the Constitution provides in part that-
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate,
shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States.
In actual practice, a clerk of the Committee on House Administration, or the Secretary
of the Senate when the bill originated in that body, delivers the original enrolled
bill to a clerk at the White House and obtains a receipt. The fact of the delivery
is then reported to the House by the chairman of the committee. Delivery to a White
House clerk has customarily been regarded as presentation to the President and as
commencing the 10-day constitutional period for presidential action.
Copies of the enrolled bill usually are transmitted by the White House to the various
departments interested in the subject matter so that they may advise the President
on the issues surrounding the bill.
If the President approves the bill, he signs it and usually writes the word "approved"
and the date. However, the Constitution requires only that the President sign it.
The bill may become law without the President's signature by virtue of the constitutional
provision that if the President does not return a bill with objections within 10
days (excluding Sundays) after it has been presented to the President, it becomes
law as if the President had signed it. However, if Congress by their adjournment
prevent its return, it does not become law. The latter event is known as a
"pocket veto;" that is, the bill does not become law even though the President
has not sent his objections to the Congress. The Congress has interpreted the President's
ability to pocket veto a bill to be limited to final adjournment "sine die"
of a Congress where Congress has finally prevented return by the originating House
and not to interim adjournments or first session adjournments where the originating
House of Congress through its agents is able to receive a veto message for subsequent
reconsideration by that Congress when it reconvenes. The extent of pocket veto authority
has not been definitively decided by the courts.
Notice of the signing of a bill by the President is sent by message to the House
in which it originated and that House informs the other, although this action is
not necessary for the act to be valid. The action is also noted in the Congressional
A bill becomes law on the date of approval or passage over the President's veto,
unless it expressly provides a different effective date.
By the terms of the Constitution, if the President does not approve the bill "he
shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated,
who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider
it." A bill returned with the President's objections, need not be voted on
at once when laid before the House since the vetoed bill can be postponed, referred
back to committee, or tabled before the question on passage is pending. A vetoed
bill is always privileged until directly voted upon, and a motion to take it from
the table or from committee is in order at any time.
Once the relevant Member moves the previous question on the question of override,
the question is then put by the Speaker as follows: "Will the House on reconsideration
agree to pass the bill, the objections of the President to the contrary notwithstanding?"
Under the Constitution, a vote by the yeas and nays is required to pass a bill over
the President's veto. The Clerk activates the electronic system or calls the
roll with those in favor of passing the bill answering "Aye," and those
opposed "No." If fewer than two-thirds of the Members present vote in
the affirmative, a quorum being present, the bill is rejected, and a message is
sent to the Senate advising that body of the House action. However, if two-thirds
vote in the affirmative, the bill is sent with the President's objections to the
Senate, unless that body has acted first, together with a message advising it of
the action in the House.
The procedure in the Senate is the same as a two-thirds affirmative vote is also
necessary to pass the bill over the President's objections. If the Senate joins
the House and votes two-thirds in the affirmative to pass the bill, the measure
becomes the law of the land notwithstanding the objections of the President, and
it is ready for publication as a binding statute.
LINE ITEM VETO
From 1997 until it was declared unconstitutional in 1998, the Line Item Veto Act
provided the President authority to cancel certain individual items contained in
a bill or joint resolution that he had signed into law. The law allowed the President
to cancel only three types of fiscal items: a dollar amount of discretionary budget
authority, an item of new direct spending, and a tax change benefiting a class of
100 or fewer. The cancellations had to be received by the House and Senate within
five calendar days of the enactment of such a law and were effective unless disapproved.
The President had to submit a single message to both Houses containing all the cancellations
per law. The Act also provided special expedited procedures by which the House and
Senate could consider a bill or joint resolution disapproving a President's cancellation.
Such a "disapproval bill" was subject to a majority vote in the House
and Senate and was presented to the President for his signature or veto under the
Constitution. If the disapproval bill were vetoed by the President, the House and
Senate could override the veto by a two-thirds vote in each House in which case
the President's cancellations would be null and void. While the Act has not been
repealed, the Supreme Court in Clinton v. City of New York, 118 S. Ct. 2091, (1998)
struck down the Line Item Veto Act as unconstitutional.
One of the important steps in the enactment of a valid law is the requirement that
it shall be made known to the people who are to be bound by it. There would be no
justice if the state were to hold its people responsible for their conduct before
it made known to them the unlawfulness of such behavior. In practice, our laws are
published immediately upon their enactment so that the public will be aware of them.
If the President approves a bill, or allows it to become law without signing it,
the original enrolled bill is sent from the White House to the Archivist of the
United States for publication. If a bill is passed by both Houses over the objections
of the President, the body that last overrides the veto transmits it. It is then
assigned a public law number, and paginated for the Statutes at Large volume covering
that session of Congress. The public and private law numbers run in sequence starting
anew at the beginning of each Congress and since 1957 are prefixed for ready identification
by the number of the Congress. For example, the first public law of the 106th Congress
is designated Public Law 106-1 and the first private law of the 106th Congress is
designated Private Law 106-1. Subsequent laws of this Congress also will contain
the same prefix designator.
The first official publication of the statute is in the form generally known as
the "slip law." In this form, each law is published separately as an unbound
pamphlet. The heading indicates the public or private law number, the date of approval,
and the bill number. The heading of a slip law for a public law also indicates the
United States Statutes at Large citation. If the statute has been passed over the
veto of the President, or has become law without the President's signature because
he did not return it with objections, an appropriate statement is inserted instead
of the usual notation of approval.
The Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration
prepares the slip laws and provides marginal editorial notes giving the citations
to laws mentioned in the text and other explanatory details. The marginal notes
also give the United States Code classifications, enabling the reader immediately
to determine where the statute will appear in the Code. Each slip law also includes
an informative guide to the legislative history of the law consisting of the committee
report number, the name of the committee in each House, as well as the date of consideration
and passage in each House, with a reference to the Congressional Record by volume,
year, and date. A reference to presidential statements relating to the approval
of a bill or the veto of a bill when the veto was overridden and the bill becomes
law is included in the legislative history as a citation to the Weekly Compilation
of Presidential Documents.
Copies of the slip laws are delivered to the document rooms of both Houses where
they are available to officials and the public. They may also be obtained by annual
subscription or individual purchase from the Government Printing Office and are
available in electronic form for computer access. Section 113 of title 1 of the
United States Code provides that slip laws are competent evidence in all the federal
and state courts, tribunals, and public offices.
STATUTES AT LARGE
The United States Statutes at Large, prepared by the Office of the Federal Register,
National Archives and Records Administration, provide a permanent collection of
the laws of each session of Congress in bound volumes. The latest volume containing
the laws of the first session of the 105th Congress is number 111 in the series.
Each volume contains a complete index and a table of contents. From 1956 through
1976, each volume contained a table of earlier laws affected. These tables were
cumulated for 1956-1970 and supplemented for 1971-1975 in pamphlet form and discontinued
in 1976. From 1963 through 1974, each volume also contained a most useful table
showing the legislative history of each law in the volume. This latter table was
not included in subsequent volumes because the legislative histories have appeared
at the end of each law since 1975. There are also extensive marginal notes referring
to laws in earlier volumes and to earlier and later matters in the same volume.
Under the provisions of a statute originally enacted in 1895, these volumes are
legal evidence of the laws contained in them and will be accepted as proof of those
laws in any court in the United States.
The Statutes at Large are a chronological arrangement of the laws exactly as they
have been enacted. There is no attempt to arrange the laws according to their subject
matter or to show the present status of an earlier law that has been amended on
one or more occasions. The code of laws serves that purpose.
UNITED STATES CODE
The United States Code contains a consolidation and codification of the general
and permanent laws of the United States arranged according to subject matter under
50 title headings, in alphabetical order to a large degree. It sets out the current
status of the laws, as amended, without repeating all the language of the amendatory
acts except where necessary for that purpose. The Code is declared to be prima facie
evidence of those laws. Its purpose is to present the laws in a concise and usable
form without requiring recourse to the many volumes of the Statutes at Large containing
the individual amendments.
The Code is prepared by the Law Revision Counsel of the House of Representatives.
New editions are published every six years and cumulative supplements are published
after the conclusion of each regular session of the Congress. The Code is also available
in electronic form for computer access.
Twenty-three of the 50 titles have been revised and enacted into positive law, and
two have been eliminated by consolidation with other titles. Titles that have been
revised and enacted into positive law are legal evidence of the law and the courts
will receive them as proof of those laws. Eventually all the titles will be revised
and enacted into positive law. At that point, they will be updated by direct amendment.
SELECT LIST OF GOVERNMENT PUBLICATIONS
Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, with
annotations of cases decided by the Supreme Court of the United States to June 29,
1992; prepared by Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Johnny H.
Killian, George A. Costello, co-editors: Senate Document 103-6 (1996).
House Rules and Manual: Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and Rules of the House
of Representatives of the United States, prepared by Charles W. Johnson, Parliamentarian
of the House, House Document 104-272 (1997). New editions are published each Congress.
Senate Manual: Containing the rules, orders, laws, and resolutions affecting the
business of the United States Senate; Jefferson's Manual, Declaration of Independence,
Articles of Confederation, Constitution of the United States, etc., prepared under
the direction of Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. New editions are
published each Congress.
Hinds' and Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives: Including references
to provisions of the Constitution, laws, and decisions of the Senate, by Asher C.
Hinds. Vols. 1-5 (1907).
Vols. 6-8 (1935), as compiled by Clarence Cannon, are supplementary to vols. 1-5
and cover the 28-year period from 1907 to 1935, revised up to and including the
73d Congress. Vols. 9-11 (1941) are index-digest to vols. 1-8.
Deschler-Brown Precedents of the United States House of Representatives: Including
references to provisions of the Constitution and laws, and to decisions of the courts,
covering the period from 1928 to date, by Lewis Deschler, J.D., D.J., M.P.L., LL.D.,
Parliamentarian of the House (1928-1974), Wm. Holmes Brown, Parliamentarian of the
House (1974-1994). Vols. 1-15 have been published, additional volumes in preparation.
Cannon's Procedure in the House of Representatives: By Clarence Cannon, A.M.,
LL.B., LL.D., Member of Congress, sometime Parliamentarian of the House, Speaker
pro tempore, Chairman of the Committee of the Whole, Chairman of the Committee on
House Practice, A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House:
By Wm. Holmes Brown, Parliamentarian of the House (1974-1994)
Procedure in the U.S. House of Representatives, Fourth Edition (1982) (1987 Supp.):
By Lewis Deschler, J.D., D.J., M.P.L., LL.D., Parliamentarian of the House (1928-1974),
and Wm. Holmes Brown, Parliamentarian of the House (1974-1994).
Senate Procedure: By Floyd M. Riddick, Parliamentarian Emeritus of the Senate,
Alan S. Frumin, Parliamentarian of the Senate: Senate Document No. 101-28
Calendars of the House of Representatives and History of Legislation: Published
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