How a bill becomes a law/IX. Obtaining consideration of measures

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Series: How a bill becomes a law in the U.S. Congress
Main page:
Subpages:
  1. The Congress
  2. Sources of legislation
  3. Forms of congressional action
  4. Introduction and referral to committee
  5. Consideration by committee
  6. Reported bills
  7. Legislative oversight by standing committees
  8. Calendars
  9. Obtaining consideration of measures
  10. Consideration and debate
  11. Congressional budget process
  12. Engrossment
  13. Final action on amended bill
  14. Enrollment
  15. Presidential action
  16. Publication

Contents

House of Representatives

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.

Unanimous consent

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 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 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. Under some circumstances, the Committee on Rules may originate a resolution providing for the "discharge" and consideration of a measure that has not been reported by the legislative committee or committees 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.XXX) 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 XXX hours, to be equally divided and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on XXX, 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.
Main article: House Rule XVIII - The committee of the whole House on the state of the union

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. XXX) 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. 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 calendar and if it is to be considered immediately 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.

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 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 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 made available electronically and published in the Congressional Record on a weekly basis. When a majority of the total membership of the House (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 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 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 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.

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. Sometimes the motion is allowed on days other than Monday and Tuesday 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 Wednesdays for the remainder of the 108th Congress. 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, 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 public measures.

The Speaker may postpone all recorded and yea-nay votes on certain questions before the House, including a motion to suspend the rules and on passage of bills and resolutions, until a specified time or times on that legislative day or the next two legislative days. At these times, the House disposes of the postponed votes consecutively without further debate. After an initial fifteen-minute vote is taken, the Speaker may reduce to not less than five minutes the time period for subsequent votes. Eliminating intermittent recorded votes on suspensions reduces interruptions of committee activity and allows more efficient scheduling of voting.

Calendar wednesday

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 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 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. 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 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 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.

Privileged matters

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 hearings on the bill 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.

Senate

The Senate's Majority and Minority Leaders, as the spokesmen for their parties, and in consultation with their respective policy committees, implement and direct the legislative schedule and program.

Most measures are passed either on the call of the Calendar or by unanimous consent procedure. The more significant and controversial matters are considered, when possible, under unanimous consent agreements limiting debate and controlling time on the measure, amendments thereto, and debatable motions relating to it. This is done because otherwise debate is unlimited. Measures may be brought up on motion by a simple majority vote if they have been on the Calendar one legislative day. Such a motion to proceed is usually made by the Majority Leader or his designee and is usually debatable. The motion to proceed to the consideration of a measure on the Calendar is usually only made if there has been objection to a unanimous consent request to proceed to its consideration.

On highly controversial matters, the Senate frequently has to resort to cloture to work its will. Under Rule XXII, if three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn (60 if the Senate is at full membership of 100) vote in the affirmative, further debate on the question shall be limited to no more than one hour for each Senator, and the time for consideration of the matter shall be limited to 30 additional hours, unless increased by another three-fifths vote. On a measure or motion to amend the Senate Rules, it takes two-thirds of the Senators present and voting, a quorum being present, to invoke cloture.

Main article: Filibuster

Under Rule VIII, which governs the consideration of bills on the call of the Senate Calendar, there is supposed to be a Calendar call each day at the end of the morning business. Under current practice, however, this very rarely occurs; instead, the Calendar is usually called, if at all, pursuant to a unanimous consent order. Rule VII makes a call of the Calendar mandatory on Monday if the Senate had adjourned after its prior sitting. This requirement may only be waived by unanimous consent, and it has become the regular practice of the leadership to request that the requirement be waived.

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