"Self-Executing" Rules Reported by the House Committee on Rules

“Self-Executing” Rules Reported by the
House Committee on Rules
Walter J. Oleszek
Government and Finance Division
House Rule X assigns the Committee on Rules jurisdiction over the “order of
business of the House.” The panel’s most noteworthy responsibility is to issue order of
business resolutions; these are usually called “rules,” “special rules,” or, less commonly,
“special orders.” Chamber adoption of these rules accomplishes two main objectives: it
permits the House to take up measures that typically lack a convenient right-of-way to the
floor, and it defines the procedural playing field — for example, time for debate and the
structure of the amendment process — for considering legislation.
The committee’s important scheduling role has meant that congressional scholars
and others have classified rules in various ways. For example, an “open” rule affords any
lawmaker an opportunity to offer amendments to a bill so long as they are in compliance
with the House’s standing rules; a “closed” rule forbids anyone from offering
amendments with an exception sometimes made for amendments recommended by the
committee that reported the measure. Starting about twenty-five years ago, in response
to developments such as increased partisanship and uncertainty with respect to how long
or controversial the amendment process on the floor might be, the Rules Committee
began to issue more procedurally imaginative and complex rules.
Definition of “Self-Executing” Rule. One of the newer types is called a “self-
executing” rule; it embodies a “two-for-one” procedure. This means that when the House
adopts a rule it also simultaneously agrees to dispose of a separate matter, which is
specified in the rule itself. For instance, self-executing rules may stipulate that a discrete
policy proposal is deemed to have passed the House and been incorporated in the bill to
be taken up. The effect: neither in the House nor in the Committee of the Whole will
lawmakers have an opportunity to amend or to vote separately on the “self-executed”
provision. It was automatically agreed to when the House passed the rule. Rules of this
sort contain customary, or “boilerplate,” language, such as: “The amendment printed in
[section 2 of this resolution or in part 1 of the report of the Committee on Rules
accompanying this resolution] shall be considered as adopted in the House and in the
Committee of the Whole.”

Traditional Use. Originally, this type of rule was used to expedite House action
in disposing of Senate amendments to House-passed bills. As mentioned in the
precedents (House Practice by Wm. Holmes Brown and Charles W. Johnson), self-
executing rules for these purposes eliminate “the need for a motion to dispose of the
[Senate] amendment.” Brown and Johnson further state that such resolutions are
sometimes called “hereby” special orders “because the House, in adopting the resolution
as drafted, ‘hereby’ agrees to the disposition of the [Senate] amendment as proposed by
that resolution. If the House adopts a resolution, no further action by the House is
required. The [Senate] amendment is never before the House for separate consideration.”
“Hereby” or self-executing rules have also been used to adopt concurrent resolutions
correcting the enrollment of measures or to make other technical changes to legislation.
Contemporary Use. Self-executing rules are still employed on matters involving
House-Senate relations. They have also been used in recent years to enact significant
substantive and sometimes controversial propositions. Examples from the Congressional
Record will illustrate:
!On March 19, 1996, the House adopted a rule (H.Res. 384) that
incorporated a voluntary employee verification program — addressing
the employment of illegal immigrants — into a committee substitute
made in order as original text.
!H.Res. 239, agreed to on September 24, 1997, automatically incorporated
into the base bill a provision to block the use of statistical sampling for
the 2000 census until federal courts had an opportunity to rule on its
!A closed rule (H.Res. 303) on an IRS reform bill provided for automatic
adoption of four amendments to the committee substitute made in order
as original text. The rule was adopted on November 5, 1997, with
bipartisan support.
!On May 7, 1998, an intelligence authorization bill was made in order by
H.Res. 420. This self-executing rule dropped a section from the
intelligence measure that would have permitted the CIA to offer their
employees an early-out retirement program.
!On February 20, 2005, the House adopted H.Res. 75, which provided that
a manager’s amendment dealing with immigration issues shall be
considered as adopted in the House and in the Committee of the Whole
and the bill (H.R. 418), as amended, shall be considered as the original
bill for purposes of amendment.
!On March 14, 2007, the House adopted H.Res. 239, which stated that
committee amendments to a whistleblower protection bill (H.R. 985)
recommended by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee
shall be considered as adopted in the House and the Committee of the