Privileged Business on the House Floor
Privileged Business on the House Floor
James V. Saturno
Specialist on the Congress
Government and Finance Division
Privileged business is the legislative business of the House that Members have a
right to call up for consideration on the floor when the House is not engaged in
considering some other matter. Privileged business consists of various kinds of bills,
resolutions, and other matters. (The concept and list of privileged motions, such as the
motion to adjourn, are not discussed here.) For more information on legislative process,
Clause 1 of House Rule XIV defines the daily order of business on the House floor.
However, other House rules and precedents allow certain kinds of matters to interrupt this
daily order of business. A matter that can interrupt the daily order of business is said to
be privileged. In practice, the House never follows the daily order of business that Rule
XIV defines. Instead, virtually all the legislative business that the House transacts on the
floor each day — after the opening prayer, the approval of the Journal, and the Pledge of
Allegiance — is conducted either by unanimous consent or as a privileged interruption
of the daily order of business.
Various rules of the House give privilege to specific kinds of measures and matters.
Most important is clause 5(a) of Rule XIII, which grants certain committees the “leave to
report at any time” on certain kinds of bills and resolutions. Those bills and resolutions
are privileged. Under this rule, privileged business includes
!general appropriations bills, reported by the Committee on
Appropriations, and continuing resolutions, reported by the same
committee after September 15;
!budget resolutions and reconciliation bills, reported by the Committee
on the Budget;
!amendments to the House’s rules and resolutions affecting the order of
business (“special rules”), reported by the Committee on Rules; and
!resolutions concerning the official conduct of Members and staff,
reported by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
1 Stanley Bach, former Senior Specialist at CRS, originally wrote this report. The listed author
updated this report and is available to respond to inquiries on the subject.
Other kinds of legislative business derive their privilege from other House rules or from
well-established precedents. Among other privileged matters are
!resolutions making committee assignments;
!questions of personal privilege or the privileges of the House;
!resolutions of inquiry (resolutions seeking documents or facts from the
!certain motions to send bills to conference;
!Senate amendments to which the House has disagreed; and
!bills that the President has vetoed and returned to Congress.
The House can consider any one of these privileged matters at any time that the
House is not acting on something else. In practice, though, the choice of the day and time
for considering a privileged measure is made through discussions involving the majority
party leadership and the committee chairman, usually in consultation with the
committee’s ranking minority member.
Among the privileged measures listed above, only general appropriations bills,
continuing resolutions, and budget reconciliation bills can be enacted into law. In
addition, some laws grant privilege to particular kinds of joint resolutions that Congress
can pass, usually by using expedited procedures within a limited time period, and usually
for the purpose of disapproving some action that the President or an executive branch
official plans to take or has taken. This kind of measure may be privileged, even if the
committee to which it was referred has not reported it.
No other bills are privileged. Therefore, the chairman of a committee cannot simply
rise on the floor and call up for consideration some other kind of bill that his or her
committee has reported. The chairman cannot do so because House rules do not empower
the chairman (or any other Member) to interrupt the daily order of business for that
Instead, nonprivileged bills are brought to the floor in one of three ways: by
unanimous consent; under the terms of a special rule (which itself is privileged); or by
one of several special procedures that are privileged orders of business on certain days as
provided under House Rule XV. These procedures involve (1) motions to suspend the
rules; (2) motions to discharge committees from further consideration of bills referred to
them; (3) consideration of District of Columbia business; (4) the call of the Private
Calendar for considering private bills; (5) the call of the Corrections Calendar for
considering bills the Speaker has placed on that calendar; and (6) the call of the
committees on Calendar Wednesday, when committees can call up non-privileged bills
they have reported. In practice, the House considers almost all nonprivileged bills by
unanimous consent, pursuant to special rules, or under motions to suspend the rules. The
alternative procedures are used infrequently.
For additional information, see the Parliamentarian’s notes accompanying clause 5(a)
of Rule XIII and clause 1 of Rule XIV in the House Rules and Manual; pp. 653-660 of
House Practice; and volume 6 of Deschler’s Precedents, especially pp. 13-31 and pp.