How Our Laws Are Made
X. Obtaining Consideration of Measures
Certain measures, either pending on the House and Union Calendars or unreported and pending in committee, 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 reported.
The House occasionally employs the practice of allowing reported or unreported 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, and 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 or to have them discharged from the committee or committees to which referred 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. 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 at any time after the adoption of this resolution the Speaker may, pursuant to rule XVIII, declare the House resolved into the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union for the consideration of the bill (H.R.___) entitled, etc. The first reading of the bill shall be dispensed with. After general debate, which shall be confined to the bill and shall 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 might read 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, etc.
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. At times, the rule may ‘‘self-execute’’ changes to the bill, that is, incorporate the changes in the bill upon adoption of the rule. The rule may also make a specified ‘‘manager’s amendment’’ in order prior to any other amendment or may make a ‘‘compromise substitute’’ amendment in order as original text to replace the version reported from committee. When a rule limits or prevents floor amendments, it is popularly known as a ‘‘closed rule’’ or ‘‘modified closed rule.’’ However, a rule may not deny the minority party the right to offer a motion to recommit the bill with proper 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, it is referred to the House Calendar and if it is to be considered on the same legislative day reported, it requires a two-thirds vote for its consideration. Normally, however, the rule is on the calendar for at least one legislative day, and if not called up for consideration by the Member who filed 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 the House has adopted a resolution making in order a motion to consider a bill, and such a motion has not been offered within seven calendar days thereafter, such a motion shall be privileged if offered by direction of all reporting committees having initial jurisdiction of the bill.
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 legislative 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 been referred to a standing committee for 30 legislative days. 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 non-germane amendments. The motion is placed in the custody of the Journal Clerk, where Members may sign it at the House rostrum when the House is in session. The names of Members who have signed a discharge motion are made available electronically and published in the Congressional Record on a weekly basis. When 218 Members 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 Committees.
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 call 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 a standing committee 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 status as if reported by a standing committee.
If the motion to discharge the Committee on Rules from a resolution 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.
MOTION TO SUSPEND THE RULES
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 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. Sometimes the motion is allowed on other days by unanimous consent or a rule from the Committee on Rules. For example, the House by rule from the Committee on Rules provided for the motion on a Sunday when the House was in session. Members need to arrange in advance with the Speaker to be recognized to offer such a motion. The Speaker usually recognizes only a majority member of the committee that has reported or has primary jurisdiction over the bill. The motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill is debatable for 40 minutes, half of the time in favor of the proposition and 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 measures.
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 and pending on either the House or Union Calendar. The report on the bill must have been available for three days and must not be privileged under the rules of the House. General debate is limited to two hours and must be confined to the subject matter of the measure, the time being equally divided between those for and those against. An affirmative vote of a simple majority of the Members present is sufficient to pass the measure. The purpose of this rarely utilized 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 Oversight and Government Reform may call up for consideration any District of Columbia business reported from that committee. This procedure is rarely utilized in the modern House.
QUESTIONS OF PRIVILEGE
House rules provide special treatment for 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; or (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 and does not result in a vote. 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 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 when no other business is pending. 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 a general appropriation bill. A general appropriation bill 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 hearing transcripts on the bill have been available to the Members.