Considering Measures in the House Under the One-Hour Rule

Considering Measures in the House
Under the One-Hour Rule
James V. Saturno
Specialist on the Congress
Government and Finance Division
The fundamental rule of the House of Representatives governing debate is the one-
hour rule. Clause 2 of Rule XVII states in part that no one shall “occupy more than one
hour in debate on a question in the House....” When the House debates a bill on the floor
under this rule, the bill is said to be considered “in the House.” The House considers bills
on the floor under the one-hour rule unless it resorts instead to one of the alternative
packages of floor procedures for which the House’s rules also provide, especially the
Committee of the Whole and motions to suspend the rules. In fact, a primary advantage
of these alternative procedures is that they avoid some of the difficulties that can arise
when the House debates a bill under the one-hour rule. For more information on
legislative process, see [].1
In theory, the one-hour rule allows each Member of the House to speak for an hour
on any question, meaning not only each bill, but also each amendment to that bill, and
each debatable motion that Members propose during the bill’s consideration. Potentially,
the result could be debates of interminable length, which could make it impossible for the
House to complete its legislative work in a timely fashion. In practice, however, the one-
hour rule typically limits all Members of the House to a total of only a single hour of
debate on the bill and any amendments and motions relating to its passage. This can be
insufficient time for the House to consider many of the important and controversial bills
that it takes up each year. As a result, the House actually debates relatively few bills on
the floor each year under the one-hour rule. Although any bill or resolution on the House
Calendar (but not those on the Union Calendar) can be considered “in the House,” the
measures most likely to be considered in this way are resolutions, reported by the Rules
Committee, providing for other bills and resolutions to be considered in Committee of the
Controlling the First Hour. When a bill is considered “in the House,” the
Speaker recognizes the majority floor manager of the bill to control the first hour of
debate. The majority floor manager typically is the chair of the committee or
subcommittee that had reported the bill. The majority floor manager controls what

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.

happens during this hour. No one else can speak or propose an amendment or motion
unless the majority floor manager yields to another Member for that purpose. In virtually
every case, the majority floor manager supports the bill in the form in which it is called
up for consideration, so the manager is very unlikely to yield to anyone else for the
purpose of offering an amendment. Instead, the majority floor manager normally yields
part of his or her one hour to other Members “for purposes of debate only.”
Opening Statements. The majority floor manager first makes his or her opening
statement on the bill. Even before beginning this statement, the majority floor manager
very often yields control of one-half of his or her hour to be controlled by the minority
floor manager, who usually is the ranking minority member of the same committee or
subcommittee. In these instances, the majority floor manager opens the debate and then
reserves the balance of his or her time. The minority floor manager follows with an
opening statement and also concludes by reserving the balance of his or her time.
Yielding Time. Each floor manager then yields portions of the time remaining
under his or her control to other Members who also wish to speak. Either floor manager
may yield to another Member for a specified number of minutes or for as much time as
that other Member may consume. At the conclusion of each speech, the Speaker again
recognizes one of the floor managers either to speak or to yield time for other Members
to speak. In doing so, the Speaker may recognize the floor manager who has the most
time remaining in an effort to make sure that the time for debate on each side is used at
roughly the same rate. The majority floor manager has the right to close the debate.
The Previous Question. At the end of the hour, or at least after any time that the
minority floor manager controls has been consumed or yielded back, the majority floor
manager can be expected to move the previous question on the bill. This nondebatable
motion proposes to end the debate on the bill, to preclude amendments to the bill, and to
bring the House to a vote on passing the bill without intervening motions, except for the
possibility of motions to adjourn, or to table the bill, or to recommit the bill to committee.
The motion to order the previous question requires only a simple majority vote for
adoption, and the motion rarely is defeated. As a result, debate under the one-hour rule
rarely continues for more than one hour in total, not one hour for each Member.
Opportunities to Amend. There are two ways in which Members may be able
to offer amendments to a bill that is considered “in the House.” First, the motion to
recommit the bill can instruct the committee to report the bill back to the House
immediately with a certain amendment that is contained in the instructions. The House’s
rules protect the right of the minority party to offer such a motion. Second, it may be
possible to offer an amendment before the previous question is ordered; however, there
is no right to do this and it happens infrequently. Only the Member who controls the floor
— in other words, the Member whom the Speaker has recognized for an hour — can
propose an amendment to a bill that is being considered “in the House.” The bill’s
proponents usually are not interested in offering an amendment. An opponent can
propose an amendment only if he or she controls the floor. This requires that the House
first vote against ordering the previous question, allowing the debate to continue for a
second hour. To control this hour, the Speaker recognizes the leading opponent of
ordering the previous question, usually the minority floor manager, and that Member then
can propose an amendment. At the conclusion of the second hour, if not before, the
Member controlling the floor can be expected to move the previous question on both the

bill and the amendment to it. If the House votes to order the previous question, it
proceeds to vote first on the amendment and then on the bill as it may now have been