Suspension of the Rules in the House of Representatives
CRS Report for Congress
Suspension of the Rules in the
House of Representatives
Updated February 1, 2005
Thomas P. Carr
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Suspension of the Rules in the House of
Suspension of the rules is a procedure the House of Representatives uses
frequently to debate and pass measures on the floor. After a Representative moves
to suspend the rules and pass a particular measure, there can be 40 minutes of debate
on the motion and the measure. No floor amendments to the measure are in order.
However, the Member who offers the suspension motion may include amendments
to the measure as part of the motion. In this case, the Member moves to suspend the
rules and pass the bill or resolution as amended. At the end of the debate, the House
casts a single vote on suspending the rules and passing the measure. There is no
separate vote on the measure or on any of the amendments to it that are included in
the suspension motion. Each suspension motion requires a vote of two-thirds of the
Members present and voting, a quorum being present.
The Speaker determines which suspension motions the House will consider.
Members offering suspension motions are recognized at the discretion of the
Speaker. House rules provide that such motions are in order on Mondays, Tuesdays,
and Wednesdays, and on the last six days of a session of Congress, and at other times
by unanimous consent or pursuant to a standing order or a special rule the House has
adopted. The Speaker also may postpone electronic votes on suspension motions
until later on the same day or until the following day, and then cluster these votes to
occur one right after the other.
The suspension procedure is well-suited for expeditious action on relatively
non-controversial measures. Approximately one-half of the bills and resolutions the
House has passed in recent Congresses have been considered in this way. The House
also sometimes agrees to suspension motions for other purposes, such as to agree to
Senate amendments to a bill the House already has passed, or to agree to a conference
In early Congresses, motions to suspend the rules were used primarily to give
individual bills priority for floor action. When considered, these bills were debated
and amended under the House’s regular legislative procedures. Gradually during the
19th century, the suspension motion was transformed into a procedure for taking up
and acting on a bill by one vote. Also originally, Members claimed the right to be
recognized for the purpose of offering whatever suspension motions they wished.
Late in the last century, the Speaker asserted the authority to decide which Members
would be recognized to make suspension motions and the purposes for which these
motions would be offered.
This control by the Speaker transformed suspension of the rules into a useful
and well-regulated device for the majority party leadership to schedule floor action
on measures that are supported by more than a simple majority of the House. This
report will be updated to reflect any procedural changes.
In troduction ......................................................1
When in Order................................................2
Discretion of the Speaker........................................2
Control of Time...............................................5
Points of Order................................................6
Evolution of Suspension Procedures...............................8
For What Purposes Are the Rules Suspended?......................12
When May the Rules Be Suspended?.............................18
Who Decides What Suspension Motions the House Shall Consider?.....28
Under What Procedures Are Suspension Motions Considered?.........40
Sources of Additional Information...................................44
List of Tables
Table 1. Committee Action on House Bills and Joint Resolutions
Considered Under Suspension of the Rules, 103rd-108th Congresses......4
Table 2. House Action on All Measures Considered Under Suspension of
the Rules, 101st - 108th Congresses................................10
Table 3. House Action on Statutory Measures Considered Under
Suspension of the Rules, 101st - 108th Congresses....................11
Suspension of the Rules in the House of
The legislative procedures of the House of Representatives strike a balance
between two requirements: that the House act with reasonable dispatch, but that it
act only after adequate deliberation, with an opportunity for differing positions to be
considered. The most appropriate balance between these requirements varies from
one measure to the next. Many bills and resolutions are relatively routine; they evoke
little controversy and disagreement, and the House passes them quickly. Others
provoke more interest and debate among Members, so the House usually considers
them at greater length. The rules and practices of the House take these differences
into account, providing a necessary flexibility in the procedures by which individual
measures are considered on the House floor.
Measures to which there is virtually no opposition may be called up and passed
by unanimous consent, generally with little discussion and no floor amendments. By
contrast, the most important measures are considered in Committee of the Whole,
and are debated and amended under the terms of resolutions — or special rules —
reported by the Committee on Rules and adopted by the House. In specifying the
number of hours for general debate, and perhaps imposing restrictions on the
amendments that Members may offer in Committee of the Whole, each of these
resolutions is adapted to the nature of, and circumstances surrounding, the measure
it proposes to make in order. Consideration of measures in the House (under the one-
hour rule) or in the House as in Committee of the Whole (as opposed to consideration
in Committee of the Whole and then in the House) imposes different conditions and
restrictions on floor action.
An alternative to these procedures for considering measures on the House floor
is a special set of procedures known as suspension of the rules. This mode of
consideration limits opportunities for debate and amendment, and, consequently, is
generally reserved for measures that are relatively non-controversial. This report
summarizes the current rules and practices governing House floor action under
suspension of the rules, and then discusses the evolution of these procedures.1
1 The current report is a revision of archived CRS Report 98-796, originally written by
Stanley Bach, Senior Specialist in the Legislative Process, Government and Finance
Division, now retired from CRS.
The House considers measures under suspension of the rules pursuant to clause2
1 of Rule XV. When a Representative makes a motion to suspend the rules and pass
a bill or resolution, agreement to the motion also constitutes passage of the measure.
Rule XV provides for a maximum of 40 minutes of debate on the motion, and it
precludes all floor amendments. Passage of a measure under suspension of the rules
requires a two-thirds vote of the Members voting, a quorum being present.
When in Order
Motions to suspend the rules are in order on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday
of each week, during the last six days of a session, and at other times by unanimous
consent or pursuant to a resolution reported by the Rules Committee and adopted by
the House.3 On the first day of the 108th Congress, the House adopted a standing
order expanding the number of suspension days to include Wednesdays through the
second Wednesday in April.4 Subsequently, on April 30, 2003, by unanimous
consent, Wednesday suspensions were extended through June 25, 2003.5 Then, on
June 26, the House adopted H.Res. 297, which authorized the Speaker to entertain
motions to suspend the rules on all Wednesdays through the end of the 108th
Congress. H.Res 5 in the 109th Congress formally added Wednesday as a day on
which suspension motions could be entertained.
Discretion of the Speaker
Although motions to suspend the rules are “in order” at specific times,
recognition is at the discretion of the Speaker. The Speaker is authorized to entertain
such motions at these times, but he is not required to do so.6 If a Member is to make
a suspension motion, it must have the support, or at least the acquiescence, of the
Speaker. Representatives consult with the Speaker before they are recognized for
this purpose. No Member has the right to be recognized to make such a motion
2 Until the House recodified its rules by adopting H.Res. 5 on the first day of the 106th
Congress, rules governing suspension procedures were found in the first two clauses of Rule
XXVII and in several other provisions of House rules. References in this report to the
current rule are to Rule XV; references to rules that governed suspension motions before theth
3 House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House, 108th
Cong., 1st sess., by Wm. Holmes Brown and Charles W. Johnson (Washington: GPO, 2003),
chapter 53, sec. 4 (hereafter cited in the form House Practice, ch. 53, 4).
4 See sec. 4 (d) of H.Res. 5, Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 149, Jan. 7, 2003, p.
5 Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 149, Apr. 30, 2003, p. H3532.
6 House Practice, ch. 53, 6.
When the Speaker intends to entertain a suspension motion, the majority party
leadership normally gives advance notice to all Members through published whip
notices. Also, during the last floor session of each week, majority and minority party
leaders usually engage in a discussion on the floor about the anticipated floor
schedule for the following week, including whatever measures are likely to be
considered under suspension. At this and other times, Members sometimes refer to
the “suspension calendar.” By this, they mean the unofficial list of measures that the
leadership intends to have considered under suspension. There is no official list of
these measures, as there is for measures that have been placed on the Union, House,
or Corrections Calendar.
The Speaker may recognize any Member to offer a suspension motion. Most
often, however, this motion is made by the chairman of the committee or
subcommittee with legislative jurisdiction over the measure in question, or a
designee. A Representative recognized for this purpose usually says, “Mr. Speaker,
I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill H.R. [number],” and then states the
bill’s official title. The suspension procedure also may be used for other purposes —
for example, to concur in a Senate amendment or to agree to a conference report.
The House may consider a measure under suspension of the rules even though7
it has not been reported from committee or even if it has not already been introduced
and referred to committee.8 More often than not, bills and resolutions are considered
under this procedure only after they have been reported favorably from committee.
However, if a committee expects the House to consider one of its bills under
suspension, there is no need for the committee to satisfy the requirements of House
rules for reporting it (i.e., securing the presence of a majority quorum to vote on
approving the measure, and preparing a written committee report to accompany it).
In recent years, there has been an upward trend in the number of House bills and joint
resolutions that have been considered under suspension of the rules, without first
having been reported from committee (see Table 1 below).
7 Deschler’s Precedents of the United States House of Representatives, 16 vols.
(Washington: GPO, 1977-2002), vol. 6, chapter 21, sec. 9.2. ; vols. 10-16 are formally titledth
Deschler-Brown Precedents of the U.S. House of Representatives, H.Doc. 94-661, 94nd
Cong., 2 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1977- 2002)(hereafter cited in the form Deschler, 6,
8 Deschler, 6, 21.9.19.
Table 1. Committee Action on House Bills and Joint Resolutions
Considered Under Suspension of the Rules,
CongressConsideredReportedReported asPercentage ofUnreported
103rd Cong.374286 76%88
105th Cong. 392273 70%119
106th Cong.553 319 58% 234
107th Cong. 43026261%168
Majority and minority party rules contain guidelines for consideration of bills
under suspension of the rules. In the 108th Congress, Rule 28 of the House
Republican Conference directed the Speaker not to schedule a bill for consideration
under suspension if it would authorize or appropriate funds, or provide direct or
indirect loan commitments or guarantees, in an amount greater than $100 million in
any fiscal year, except with the approval of a majority of the party’s electedth
leadership. This conference rule was modified in the 109 Congress, dropping the
$100 million proviso, requiring instead, a waiver for consideration of any bill or
resolution that “creates a new program, extends an authorization whose originating
statute contained a sunset provision, or authorizes more than a 10% increase in
authorization, appropriations, or direct spending in any given year.”
Because suspension motions require two-thirds votes for passage, they usually
are not offered unless the measures they propose to pass enjoy significant bipartisan
support, especially on the committees with legislative jurisdiction over the measures
in question. In fact, Republican Conference rules also direct the Majority Leader not
to schedule a measure for consideration under suspension unless that bill or
resolution has been cleared by the minority and was not opposed by more than one-
third of the committee members reporting the bill.
Control of Time
The House cannot vote against considering a suspension motion.9 Once the
motion is made, the Speaker typically announces that the 40 minutes for debating it
will be equally divided between the chairman and the ranking minority member of
the committee with jurisdiction over the measure in question, or their designees.10
Clause 1(c) of Rule XV, however, provides that the 40 minutes are to be divided
between those “in favor of” and those “in opposition to” the motion, not merely
between members of the majority and minority parties.11 Consequently, another
Member may inquire if the ranking minority member opposes the motion. If he or
she does not, which usually is the case, the Speaker assigns control of half the debate
time to a Member who is opposed.12 Such challenges are infrequent because
opponents usually can obtain sufficient time to present their case from the ranking
minority member, whatever his or her personal position may be.13
The House then debates the suspension motion for a maximum of 40 minutes,14
with the allocation of time being at the discretion of the two Members controlling it.
Each of them usually makes an opening statement on the measure in question, and
then yields to other Members who wish to participate in the debate. After the 40
minutes have elapsed or after all requests for debate time have been satisfied, the
9 As discussed in later sections, Members once could decline to consider some or all
suspension motions by voting against ordering seconds on them. This opportunity was
restricted in 1979 and eliminated in 1991.
10 In recent Congresses, in a departure from earlier practices, some measures brought up
under suspension procedures have been managed by Members with little committee
11 Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual and the Rules of the House of Representatives, 107th
Cong. 2nd sess., H. Doc. 107-284, sec. 891 (Washington: GPO, 2003) (hereafter cited in the
form House Manual, sec. 891).
12 See, for example, the consideration of H.R. 668, The Airport and Airway Trust Fund Tax
Reinstatement Act of 1997, Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 143, Feb. 25, 1997,
pp. H599-H600. Since neither the chair nor ranking member of the Ways and Means
Committee opposed the legislation, a majority party member sought, and was granted
control of the time in opposition.
13 During the consideration of H.R. 3479, the National Aviation Capacity Expansion Act of
Jackson, “who is a true opponent of this legislation,” Congressional Record, daily edition,
vol. 148, July 23, 2002, p. H5118
14 On occasion, time for debate has been extended beyond the 40 minutes specified in House
rules. Such extensions have been granted by unanimous consent. For example, during
consideration of H.R. 10809, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Authorizations for FY1960, debate on the suspension motion was increased to one hour and
provisions of a special rule reported by the Rules Committee. H.Res. 417, 101 Congress,
provided for five hours of debate on a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting flag
desecration (H.J.Res. 350).
House votes on the motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill. There is one vote
on both parts of the motion; it is not divisible.
A measure considered under suspension of the rules is not subject to amendment
from the floor, not even pro forma amendments offered for purposes of extending the
debate.15 Amendments to the measure can be included, however, in the motion to
suspend the rules. More often than not, these amendments are committee
amendments. In such a case, the majority floor manager moves to suspend the rules
and pass the bill “as amended.” (If an amendment is not included in the motion, the
measure may be amended by withdrawing the initial motion and offering it de novo
in amended form. Alternatively, the manager of the motion may subsequently
modify it by unanimous consent). No separate votes on the amendments are
permitted; after debate, the House casts one vote on the motion and on the measure
Points of Order
Moving to suspend the rules and pass a measure has the effect of waiving all
rules of the House (including provisions of the Budget Act) under which Members
might otherwise make points of order against the measure, any of its provisions, or
the amendments included in the motion.17 Points of order may be made against the
motion itself — for example, if it is offered on a day not permitted by Rule XV —
but the $100 million ceiling imposed by Republican Conference rules cannot be
enforced on the floor because it is not a rule of the House.
Clause 1(b) of Rule XV states that, “[p]ending a motion that the House suspend
the rules, the Speaker may entertain one motion that the House adjourn. After the
result of such a motion is announced, the Speaker may not entertain any other motion
until the vote is taken on the suspension.” Consequently, it is not in order to move
to postpone, recommit, refer, or table either the motion or the measure.
Passage of a measure under suspension of the rules requires support by two-
thirds of the Members present and voting, a quorum being present. The vote may be
taken by voice, by division, or by electronic device or roll call. Clause 8 of Rule XX
permits the Speaker to postpone and cluster record votes on suspension motions until
a later time on the same day or within two legislative days. This procedure is for the
convenience of the Members, who might otherwise have to cast a series of record
votes at intervals of no more than 40 minutes.
15 House Practice, ch. 53, 8.
16 Deschler, 6, 21.15.5.
17 Deschler, 6, 21.9.8.
If a number of motions to suspend the rules are scheduled for consideration on
the same day, and especially if record votes are expected on several or all of them,
the Speaker usually announces before the first suspension motion is offered that he
will “postpone further proceedings today on each motion to suspend the rules on
which a recorded vote or the yeas and nays are ordered, or on which the vote is
objected to” because of the absence of a quorum. He also announces when the
postponed votes will take place — either later on the same day or at some other time
within two legislative days. For example, the House sometimes debates suspension
motions on Monday, but the Speaker defers any electronic votes on them until
If a Member then obtains a record vote on a suspension motion, or if he or she
objects to a voice or division vote on the ground that a quorum is not present (and
makes a point of order to this effect), the Speaker announces that further proceedings
on the motion will be postponed. After the Speaker’s announcement, the point of
order of no quorum is considered as withdrawn, since if a quorum call did occur, the
purpose of postponing further action on the suspension motion would be lost. The
House then proceeds to consider additional motions to suspend the rules, either
taking final action on each by a non-record vote or postponing final action if a record
vote is required.
When the time arrives for voting on the postponed motions, the votes occur one
after the other, and in the order in which the motions were offered. Before the first
of these votes takes place, the Speaker may announce that the time available for the
first vote will be 15 minutes, but that only five minutes will be allowed for the
second and each succeeding vote. The practice of postponing and clustering votes
reduces the number of times that Members have to come to the floor to vote on
suspension motions, especially on Mondays, when many Representatives have other
commitments. Also, limiting the time for conducting most clustered votes to five
minutes each reduces the total time devoted to voting when most Members already
are on the floor.
If a measure is passed under suspension, a Member may move to reconsider the
vote by which the House agreed to the motion; such reconsideration motions usually
are laid on the table (and thereby killed). In practice, the Speaker often announces
that, “without objection, a motion to reconsider is laid on the table.” No motion to
reconsider is in order if a suspension motion fails.
A bill that is considered but not passed under suspension of the rules is not
necessarily dead. When the House rejects a suspension motion, it decides only that
it is not prepared to pass the bill in question under the constraints of the suspension
procedure. The bill may be brought before the House again for further consideration,
usually in Committee of the Whole under the terms of a special rule, at a later date
during the same Congress.18 Theoretically, a measure that has failed under
suspension procedures could be considered again under the same procedures, but this
tactic is rarely attempted.19
Evolution of Suspension Procedures
The procedures for suspending House rules originally were a useful device to
supersede the regular order of business so that the House could take up the bills it
considered most timely and important. During the 19th century, however, these
procedures also became an attractive way for individual Members to bring matters
of their choice to the floor, leading to criticisms that such motions often were
disruptive and time-consuming distractions from the orderly consideration of
As a result, the House gradually imposed restrictions on suspension motions —
limiting the days on which they could be offered, requiring majority votes to consider
them, and, finally, giving the Speaker control over them through his discretionary
power of recognition. In addition, the House devised an alternative way to set aside
the order of business: through resolutions that the Rules Committee reports and that
the House adopts by simple majority vote.
During the 20th century, suspension motions came to be an increasingly
established and accepted means for taking up and passing relatively noncontroversial
bills that enjoy bipartisan support. Although the available data are incomplete and
not always comparable from Congress to Congress, they do indicate that the use of
suspensions has increased during recent Congresses. An average of fewer than 200
measures were considered under suspension procedures during each two-yearthnd20th
Congress from the 89 to the 92. In the 108 Congress, the number of measures
considered under suspension burgeoned to 924.
In part, these data reflect that, at the beginning of the 93rd Congress, the number
of suspension days was increased from the first and third Mondays of each month to
the first and third Mondays and the Tuesdays following, and then, at the beginningth
of the 95 Congress, to every Monday and Tuesday (in addition to the last six days
of each session). As mentioned earlier, a 109th Congress rules change added
Wednesday to the days on which suspension motions could be entertained. Changes
in the numbers of suspension motions, however, undoubtedly are attributable as well
18 Deschler, 6, 21.15.8.
19 On at least one occasion, a measure that failed passage under suspension of the rules was
later considered and passed — again under suspension procedures. On July 15, 2002, H.R.
3479, a bill to expand aviation capacity, failed under suspension of the rules by a vote of
20 Data on the 89th - 92nd Congresses are presented in the archived CRS Report Bills
Considered Under Suspension of the Rules in the House of Representatives, 89th-92nd
Congresses, by Mildred Amer.
to changes in congressional workload and to the success of committees in resolving
legislative issues before they reach the floor.
The frequency with which the House has agreed to the suspension motions
offered by Members suggests that, in most cases, measures considered in this way
would have passed if they had been considered under less restrictive procedures.
However, there undoubtedly have been instances in which measures have been
brought to the floor under suspension motions in order to minimize debate and
especially to preclude amendments.
Some Representatives also have argued that considering measures under
suspension, and then clustering votes on a series of such motions, discourages
Members from informing themselves in detail about the measures and their probable
effects. The very fact that a bill or resolution is considered under suspension may be
taken by some as evidence that it does not require as much careful and skeptical
scrutiny as other measures. Therefore, critics have argued, the increasing use of
suspension motions to achieve efficiency and save time may detract from the care and
deliberation with which the House should act.
In its legislative procedures, the House needs to strike a difficult balance
between deliberation and dispatch. The history of the suspension procedure, to be
discussed in the remainder of this report, offers clear evidence that the House has
adjusted, and undoubtedly will continue to adjust, its rules and practices as they
affect this balance, in response to the changing pressures and circumstances the
Table 2. House Action on All Measures Considered Under Suspension of the Rules, 101st - 108th Congresses
Statutory Measures ConsideredNon-Statutory Measures Considered
(and years) ConsideredHouseApprovalH.R.S.H.J.Res.S.J.Res.H.Con. Res.S.Con. Res.H.Res.
ction on Statutory Measures Considered Under Suspension of the Rules, 101st - 108th Congresses
House Bills and Joint ResolutionsSenate Bills and Joint ResolutionsTotals
d years)ConsideredPassedBecameConsideredPassed HouseBecameConsideredPassed HouseBecame
HousePublic LawPublic LawPublic Law
Since at least the third decade of the 19th century, House rules have made some
provision for suspending the rules in order to facilitate the conduct of business.
According to Asher C. Hinds, Clerk at the Speaker’s table of the House, 1895-1911,21
who compiled the early precedents of the House:
In the First Congress, where the membership was small, no limitation was put
upon motions to change the rules; but on November 13, 1794, this rule was
No standing rule or order of the House shall be rescinded without one day’s
notice being given of the motion therefor.
On December 23, 1811, the words “or changed” were added after “rescinded.”
Eleven years later, on March 13, 1822, the rule was modified by adding the
Nor shall any rule be suspended, except by a vote of at least two-thirds of the
On April 26, 1828, the rule was again amended:23
Nor shall the order of business, as established by the rules, be postponed or
changed, except by a vote of at least two-thirds of the Members present.
Thus, by the 20th Congress, it had become established that an extraordinary majority
of the House could set aside its rules temporarily, including the rules governing the
order of business.
During the many Congresses that followed, these provisions developed into the
procedures described in the preceding section. In this section, these developments
are discussed under four headings. (1) For what purposes are the rules suspended?
(2) When may the rules be suspended? (3) Who decides what suspension motions
the House shall consider? (4) Under what procedures are suspension motions
For What Purposes Are the Rules Suspended?
Although the House needed to develop an order of business that imparted some
regularity and predictability to its proceedings, it became equally necessary for the
House to have some means to bypass this order of business on occasion. According
21 Hinds’ and Cannon’s Precedents of the House of Representatives, 11 vols., by Asher C.
Hinds and Clarence Cannon (Washington: GPO, 1907-1908, 1935-1941), vol. V, sec. 6790
(hereafter cited in the form Hinds and Cannon, V, 6790).
to DeAlva Stanwood Alexander, author of History and Procedure of the House of
Represent a t i ves : 24
In 1811, the rules provided this order of business: (1) Prayer; (2) reading and
approval of the Journal; (3) presentation of petitions; (4) reports from
committees; (5) unfinished business; and (6) consideration of reports assigned
to a future day, known as “orders of the day.” The rapid increase of routine
legislation, however, kept parliamentarians busy inventing new devices for the
advancement of important measures. The practice of mortgaging the future with
“orders of the day” became so unwieldy that the House cut off debate respecting
the priority of such business and gave precedence to “special orders of the day.”
Subsequently it limited (1822) petitions and reports to a “morning hour” of sixty
minutes, required a two thirds vote to suspend the rules, gave up Saturdays as
well as Fridays to the consideration of private bills, and fixed a definite time for
disposing of business “on the Speaker’s table” — a parliamentary term indicating
the temporary abode of certain messages from the President, communications
from heads of departments, bills with Senate amendments, conference reports,
and other matters which await the Speaker’s presentation to the House.
The opportunity to suspend the rules was a particularly useful device “for the
advancement of important measures.” The commentary accompanying clause 1 of
Rule XV in the compilation of House Manual refers to the 1828 rules change and
This provision marks the great purpose of the motion, which was to give a means
of getting consideration for bills which could not get forward under the rule for
the order of business.
The rules were suspended when the regular order of business impeded action
that the House wished to take. For example, Hinds cites an instance in 1834 when
the rules were suspended so that Representative James K. Polk of Tennessee could
offer the following resolution.26
Resolved, That the report of the Committee on Ways and Means on the removalth
of the public deposits from the bank of the United States, made on the 4 of
March, 1834, and the resolutions thereto appended, be the standing order of the
day for Tuesday next, at 1 o’clock, and on each succeeding day in every week,
Saturdays excepted, at the same hour, until disposed of; and that until the hour
of 1 o’clock p.m. on each day, the business of the House shall proceed in the
order prescribed by the rules of the House; but it shall be in order to present
petitions and memorials on Mondays.
According to Hinds, “[s]pecial orders for disposing of particular matters of
legislation, such as appropriation bills and other important measures, began to be
used quite frequently in the first session of the Twenty-fourth Congress (1836), and
24 DeAlva Stanwood Alexander, History and Procedure of the House of Representatives
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), p. 214.
25 Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual and the Rules of the House of Representatives, 105th
Cong. 2nd sess., H.Doc. 105-358, sec. 885 (Washington: GPO, 1999)
26 Hinds and Cannon, IV, 3156.
the index of the Journal shows a considerable number of them proposed and
adopted.”27 Such special orders could only be arranged by unanimous consent or by
suspension of the rules. Thirty-two years later, it was by suspension of the rules that
the House considered and agreed to a resolution establishing procedures for debating
the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.28
During this period, motions were made to suspend the rules for a variety of
purposes, such as dispensing with the reading of amendments.29 However,
suspension motions had their greatest impact on House procedures as a means for
setting aside the regular order of business in favor of particular measures.
In the case of the 1868 motion regarding the Johnson impeachment, after
Representative Elihu B. Washburne of Illinois moved to suspend the rules and agree
to the resolution, Speaker Schuyler Colfax of Indiana overruled a point of order that
the House had a right to vote separately on suspending the rules and then on agreeing
to the resolution.30 But the usual practice at the time was for a Member to move to
suspend the rules to make consideration of a measure in order. The measure itself
then would be considered under the regular procedures of the House. The use of the
suspension motion for this purpose had the advantage of altering the normal order of
business, but it also had the disadvantage of requiring a two-thirds vote. For this
reason, an alternative procedure was developed for bringing measures before the
House for consideration:31
Special orders have been in use in the House from the early days, but the method
of making them has not always been the same. Often they were made by
unanimous consent, and sometimes this method is used at the present time. If
there was objection they were made by a suspension of the rules, which was in
order more frequently in the earlier years than at present. This method was
cumbersome, since on any question which involved party differences the attempt
was very likely to fail. In 1882, in the first session of the Forty-seventh
Congress, it was the usage, and apparently the only method in a case where there
was opposition, to offer under motion to suspend the rules a resolution providing
for consideration of a bill at a given time. This required a two-thirds vote, and
a minority would sometimes refuse consent to the order until they had exacted
terms as to kinds of amendments that should be permitted, etc. . . .
It was in the second session of the Forty-seventh Congress, in 1883, that the
method of adopting a special order by majority vote after a report from the
Committee on Rules was first used. This method was not in great favor in the
next three Congresses, but in the Fifty-first Congress it was used frequently, and
since 1890 has been in favor as an efficient means of bringing up for
consideration bills difficult to reach in the regular order and especially as a
27 Hinds and Cannon, IV, 3158.
28 Hinds and Cannon, IV, 3159.
29 Hinds and Cannon, V, 5278.
30 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6846; Congressional Globe, vol. 39, Feb. 25, 1868, p. 1425.
31 Hinds and Cannon, IV, 3152.
means for confining within specified limits the consideration of bills involving
important policies for which the majority party in the House may be responsible.
Sometimes special orders are made yet by unanimous consent or under
suspension of the rules, but only as to matters to which the opposition is not
Once it became accepted that the House could temporarily put aside its order of
business by adopting, by majority vote, a resolution reported by the Rules
Committee, the use of motions to suspend the rules for this purpose fell into
decline.32 However, this usage did not immediately disappear altogether. In 1906,
Representative John Dalzell of Pennsylvania moved to suspend the rules to make a
specific bill in order for consideration at any time. In response,33
Mr. David A. De Armond, of Missouri, made the point of order that this
proposition ought to go to the Committee on Rules, because it provided for
precisely the same condition of things that existed when a measure was reported
from the Committee on Rules. Suspension day was to dispose of things, not to
provide for their disposal at some other time, and this was really in effect a
special rule without having been referred to the Committee on Rules.
The Speaker overruled the point of order, saying:
The Chair will state to the gentleman from Missouri that his point of order, in the
opinion of the Chair, is not well taken. This is one of the Mondays in the month
when it is in order to move to suspend the rules and do anything where a Member
is recognized, providing two-thirds of the Members vote for the motion.
This ruling by Speaker Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois indicates that motions to
suspend the rules continued to be made for purposes other than to take up and
dispose of measures. For example, in 1908, Representative Dalzell of Pennsylvania
offered a resolution on which the House ordered the previous question. Another
Member then demanded a division of the question into several parts, at which point
Representative Dalzell moved to suspend the rules and agree to the resolution. A
point of order was made against the motion but was overruled by Speaker Cannon.34
Three years later, a point of order was raised against a conference report when it was
called up for consideration. Before the Speaker ruled, Representative Albert S.
Burleson of Texas moved to suspend the rules and agree to the report. The Speaker
overruled a point of order against the motion.35 Notwithstanding these instances,
however, the use of suspension motions was becoming more restricted, although not
to the extent that it currently is.36
32 Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual and the Rules of the House of Representatives, 107th
Cong. 2nd sess., H. Doc. 107-284, p. 648 (Washington: GPO, 2003)
33 Hinds and Cannon, IV, 3154.
34 Hinds and Cannon, VIII, 3418.
35 Hinds and Cannon, VIII, 3422.
36 See also Hinds and Cannon, VIII, 3421.
In general, then, during early Congresses, the rules were suspended when the
House found it advisable to set aside the regular order of business in favor of
particular measures. Of lesser importance, the rules also were suspended when the
House wished to set aside some other rule under special circumstances. After the
practice developed of adopting special rules reported by the Committee on Rules, a
change occurred in the primary use of suspension motions. They came to be used
principally to enable the House to take up and dispose of measures that did not evoke
substantial opposition, especially opposition that divided the House along partisan
More recently, however, some Members contended that the suspension
procedure was being used excessively and inappropriately, and especially to the
disadvantage of the minority party. In March 1975, for example, the House
Republican Task Force on Reform issued a series of proposals for changing House
organization and procedure. Its statement on suspension of the rules included the
It is clear from the legislative record of the 93d Congress that the more the
suspension procedure is used, the more it is abused, to the detriment of sound
legislative practice and results. The fact that numerous bills were defeated under
suspension and that some were even cynically brought up under suspension for
the very purpose of defeating them, is sufficient evidence that this procedure
must be modified and restricted ....
While we do not favor the outright repeal of the suspension procedure and
recognize its utility if limited to minor non-controversial legislation, we must
strongly protest its increasing utilization for cynical purposes or on major,
controversial bills. While our committees ordinarily do a thorough and
responsible job on the legislation they report, their work should not be allowed
to go unchallenged or unaltered on the House floor or to pass in substitute for the
will of the House. The full and free working of the legislative process should not
be sacrificed for the sake of expediency.
Representative James C. Cleveland of New Hampshire made much the same38
argument at a 1978 hearing of the Rules Committee.
At the same time ... the legislation considered under suspension has more and
more frequently included the highly significant. Already, dozens of non-routine
measures have been identified on the suspension calendar [sic] during the
present Congress. They were judged to be non-routine on the basis of such
criteria as: amount of spending authorized, creation of new programs or
expansion of existing ones, impact on the general public, known amendments
desired to be offered, substantial negative vote in committee or subcommittee,
opposing views in the committee report, an Administration position at odds with
the legislation, etc.
37 John J. Rhodes, The Futile System (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1977), p.
38 Statement of Rep. James C. Cleveland before the Subcommittee on Rules and
Organization of the House, House Committee on Rules, on H.Res. 1246, Aug. 14, 1978, p.
Such concerns were not limited to Members of the minority party. During the
autumn of 1978, the New Members Caucus of Democratic Representatives first
elected to the 95th Congress supported a rules change to the effect that a motion to
suspend the rules and pass a bill or resolution would not be in order if it made or
authorized appropriations in excess of $100,000,000 for any fiscal year. On August
17, 1978, Representative Allen Ertel of Pennsylvania, vice chairman of the New
Members Caucus, introduced H.Res. 1332, officially proposing this rules change.
Similarly, 58% of the Members of the House Democratic Study Group responded to
a survey on possible changes in the House by supporting the general proposition that
the House should “[e]stablish strict standards to restrict bills on suspension to those
which are truly routine and which do not contain authorizations in excess of $1
The Democratic Caucus responded to these concerns, as well as to concerns
about the sheer number of bills considered under suspension, when it held its
organizational meetings after the 1978 congressional election.40 Faced with the
difficulty of establishing guidelines for measures that should be taken up under
suspension of the rules, the caucus accepted a cost criterion. But instead of
proposing an additional amendment to House rules, the caucus amended its own
rules. The new caucus rule generally directed the Speaker not to schedule a bill or
resolution for consideration under suspension if a legislative or executive branch cost
estimate indicated that the measure would make or authorize appropriations of more
than $100 million in a fiscal year. The same rule also provided that the Democratic
Steering and Policy Committee could authorize exceptions to the rule. At that time,
the Democratic Caucus could impose such a directive on the Speaker because, as the
majority party, it nominated him for the election that occurs on the first day of each
new Congress. The $100 million ceiling could not be enforced on the House floor,
however, because it was not a rule of the House itself.
The Republican majority adopted Conference Rule 28 that imposed the same
$100 million ceiling. In the 109th Congress the rule was modified. The $100 million
dollar proviso was dropped. Under the new requirements, the Majority Leader may
not schedule any bill for consideration under suspension which “creates a new
program, extends an authorization whose originating statute contained a sunset
provision, or authorizes more than a 10% increase in authorization, appropriations,
or direct spending in any given year.”41
The Republican party rule also includes other provision that recognize that
suspension motions almost always need some support from Members of the minority
party if the motions are to pass. To protect the House from investing time in
considering suspension motions that are very unlikely to pass, because they confront
significant minority party opposition, the rule directs the Majority Leader not to
39 Memorandum dated Oct. 3, 1978, to Democratic Study Group Members from Rep. Abner
J. Mikva, chairman, on “Proposed Rules and Procedural Changes.”
40 Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Sept. 30, 1978, pp. 2693-2695; Congressional
Quarterly Weekly Report, Dec. 9, 1978, pp. 3405-3406.
41 House Republican Conference Rules, 109th Congress.
schedule any measure for consideration under suspension unless it “has been cleared
by the minority and was not opposed by more than one-third of the committee
members reporting the bill.” These directives may be waived by a majority of the
elected Republican leadership.
When May the Rules Be Suspended?
Since the 1820s, there have been several changes in the days on which Members
may move to suspend the rules. These changes first decreased, and then increased,
opportunities for suspension motions. Originally, such motions were in order daily,
and were made by leaders of the House in order to arrange the order of business, but
also by other Representatives for their own purposes. It appears that individual
Members made suspension motions so often that they eventually disrupted the
orderly and timely consideration of legislation. Consequently, by 1847, the rules of
the House had been amended to permit the motions only on Mondays and during the
last 10 days of a session, except when made for specific purposes:42
Except during the last ten days of the session, the Speaker shall not entertain a
motion to suspend the rules of the House at any time except on Monday of every
week; provided nothing herein contained shall be construed to alter so much of
the 133d rule as provides as follows: “The House may, at any time, by a vote of
a majority of the members present, suspend the rules and orders for the purpose
of going into Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union; and also,
for providing for the discharge of the committee from the further consideration
of any bill referred to it, after acting, without debate, on all amendments pending,
and that may be offered.”
Hinds quotes Representative Daniel M. Barringer of North Carolina as supporting
this limitation because he had seen “week after week, and month after month, the
whole morning hour, and perhaps two or three hours each day, consumed in making
motions to suspend the rules, a motion which had become so common as to be43
considered almost a test vote.”
It seems likely that the opportunity to move to suspend the rules at the end of
a session was used frequently by Members on behalf of measures of limited
importance or parochial interest. As Mary Parker Follett wrote in her study of the
Speaker of the House:44
During the last 10 days of Congress, when the rules may be suspended at any
time, the power of the Speaker is at its height. Tremendous pressure is brought
to bear on him. Day and night his room is crowded with members begging for
recognition. The struggle on the floor is severe. The time is brief. Twice on
March 3, 1887, Carlisle had the minute-hand of the clock turned back. The last
moments often show a scene of disorder and confusion, but the able Speaker
guides this tumultuous body to the accomplishment of his own ends.
42 Congressional Globe, vol. 17, Dec. 18, 1847, p. 47.
43 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6790.
44 Mary Parker Follett, The Speaker of the House of Representatives (New York: Longmans,
Green, 1902), pp. 253-254.
In the general revision of the rules made in 1880, the rules affecting suspension
motions were changed in four significant respects. First, the Committee on Rules
recommended, and the House agreed to, an amendment providing that motions to
suspend the rules should be seconded by a majority vote, taken by tellers, if a second
was demanded. Second, the House also agreed to the committee’s recommendation
that motions to suspend the rules, when seconded, should be debatable for 30
minutes. These amendments are discussed under later headings of this report.
Third, the new rule regarding Committee of the Whole no longer included
provision for the rules to be suspended at any time for the purpose of going into
Committee of the Whole or discharging the committee from further consideration of
a measure referred to it. (This provision had been part of the 1847 rule governing
suspension of the rules, quoted above, but in 1860 was placed instead with other
rules affecting Committee of the Whole.) The elimination of this provision seems
to indicate that motions to suspend the rules were no longer being used as a primary
means for structuring the order of business on the House floor.
This conclusion also is supported by comments made in debate on another
amendment to the proposed new Rule XXVIII on suspension of the rules (formerly
Rule 145). In this fourth major change in procedure, the House agreed to a proposal
made by Representative William P. Frye of Maine, on behalf of the Rules
Committee, that motions to suspend the rules be allowed only on the first and third
Mondays of each month, instead of every Monday, with preference to be given to
individual Members on the first Monday and to committees on the third Monday.
A theme of the 1880 debate was that Members were not using the opportunity
to move to suspend the rules for serious legislative purposes. In support of limiting
suspension motions to two days per month, Representative Frye argued:45
It will at once be seen what this amendment will effect if adopted. It will leave
all the Mondays but two in each month for useful business and legislation.
Under the present rule motions for suspension of the rules can be made on every
Monday. Now, few gentlemen in this House have failed to see what the effect
of such a rule as that has been .... And since I have been in the Congress the
result has been that two-thirds of the time on each Monday has been utterly and
In the first place, it is understood that any gentleman under the present rule may
bring before the House any resolution he may see fit, and compel us to vote upon
it. Political resolutions are in order, and to prevent their being offered to the
House every now and then we adjourn immediately after the call of States has
been completed, and the remainder of that Monday is wasted.
* * * * * * * *
It seems to me that we have been sent here for some useful purpose, to do some
good, not to be compelled to go upon the record on foolish propositions, on
propositions the majority of which are mere humbug propositions — simply, thin
45 Congressional Record, vol. 10, Feb. 27, 1880, p. 1195.
attempts at demagogy. That is true of two-thirds of the individual resolutions
which have been offered on Monday.
Representative John T. Harris of Virginia agreed with Frye and stated that he
had “prepared an amendment which will cut off on every Monday these resolutions
looking alone to mere expressions of opinion, and not leading to any useful
legislation for the country.”46 Other Members asserted that the time of the House
should be protected by permitting the rules to be suspended only for consideration
of measures that had been reported favorably by committee and distributed to the
Members in printed form — requirements that also would protect against precipitate
passage of legislation at the end of congressional sessions.
Speaking against these proposals, Representative Edward H. Gillette of Iowa
contended that the motion to suspend the rules “is the only door open, if it is open,
to an individual who is in the minority in this House and wishes to bring some47
measures before this body for action....” The majority, however, evidently
concluded that suspension motions had become a nuisance and embarrassment that
should be curtailed. Although no limitations were placed on what suspension
motions might be offered, the House did reduce from four days to one day per month
the opportunity for individual Members to make such motions. The third Monday
of each month was reserved for Members, acting on behalf of committees, to offer
suspension motions for consideration of measures that had been reported favorably.
When the newly revised House rules were published in June 1880, Rule
XXVIII, on change or suspension of rules, read as follows:48
1. No standing rule or order of the House shall be rescinded or changed without
one day’s notice of the motion therefor, and no rule shall be suspended except
by a vote of two-thirds of the members present, nor shall the Speaker entertain
a motion to suspend the rules except on the first and third Mondays of each
month after the call of States and Territories shall have been completed,
preference being given on the first Monday to individuals and on the third
Monday to committees, and during the last six days of a session.
be seconded by a majority by tellers, if demanded.
before the final vote is taken thereon, to debate the proposition to be voted upon
for thirty minutes, one-half of such time to be given to debate in favor of, and
one-half to debate in opposition to, such proposition, and the same right of
debate shall be allowed whenever the previous question has been ordered on any
proposition on which there has been no debate.
47 Ibid., p. 1196.
48 House Rules and Manual, 46th Congress, 2nd sess., Constitution of the United
States...Jefferson’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice...Standing Rules and Orders for
Conducting Business in the House of Representatives...Joint Rules in Force...and a Digest
thereof.... (abridged version of full title) (Washington: GPO, June 1880), pp. 184-185.
Until 1973, the rule governing the suspension procedure continued to give
preference to committees on the third Monday of each month. In 1890, Speaker
Thomas B. Reed of Maine ruled that a motion to suspend the rules and pass a
measure could be made on behalf of a committee only if the measure had been
referred to that committee.49 In the same year, he also ruled that a Member offering
a suspension motion on behalf of a committee had to be formally and specifically
authorized to do so by the committee.50 Eleven years later, Speaker David B.
Henderson of Iowa ruled that, on third Mondays, measures considered under
suspension could only carry amendments authorized by the committee of
jurisdiction.51 By 1921, however, the distinction in the rule between first and third
Mondays was no longer being observed consistently.52 Although the distinction
remained until 1973, it came to have little significance, as the expectation became
firmly established that most measures considered under suspension would first have
been reported from committee.
In 1890, the time for debating a suspension motion was extended from 30 to 40
minutes, and the reference to “the call of States and Territories” was stricken because
of a change in the order of business. Four years later, the first provision of the rule
regarding rescissions or changes of House rules was eliminated as well, having been
rendered obsolete by the development of the Rules Committee’s jurisdiction over
proposed rules changes. And during the 54th Congress, the number of votes
necessary to adopt a suspension motion was changed from “two-thirds of the
Members present” to “two-thirds of the Members voting, a quorum being present.”53
But with these few exceptions, Rule XXVIII as adopted in 1880 was identical to Rule
XXVII adopted by the 92nd Congress in January 1971.
During the 19th century, the trend in the House was to limit the opportunities for
moving to suspend the rules. By contrast, during the late 20th century, the trend has
been in the opposite direction. This change in sentiment most likely reflected changes
in the purposes for which such motions have been made, which in turn resulted partly
from changes in the Speaker’s power of recognition on the floor. In brief, as the
Speaker’s power of recognition increased, suspending the rules became a more
limited and disciplined procedure to be used on occasions and for purposes
acceptable to the majority party leadership. Once the procedure was brought under
the firm control of the Speaker, it became a useful vehicle for expediting House
action. As the workload of the House has grown, there has been increasing pressure
for the House to act with dispatch. The result has been an increase in the
opportunities for using the suspension procedures.
49 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6813; Congressional Record, vol. 21, Aug. 18, 1890, pp. 8772-
50 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6805.
51 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6812.
52 Hinds and Cannon, VIII, 3410; Congressional Record, vol. 60, Feb. 21, 1921, p. 3585.
53 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6790.
On January 7, 1909, Representative Marlin E. Olmsted of Pennsylvania inserted
in the Congressional Record an article by Hinds on the “Order of Business in the
House,” part of which read:54
There does exist an arbitrary recognition on the motion to suspend the rules.
Formerly the Speaker was compelled to recognize any Member who first got his
attention on the motion to suspend the rules. The result was that the motion was
greatly abused. Men would prepare resolutions on subjects of no practical
standing in the House, sometimes so artfully worded as to be political traps,
condemning many Members to political danger in their districts, whether they
voted for or against them. Members therefore did not naturally like to run the
risk of such pitfalls or to be put on record upon questions not of practical
moment to the United States or which might involve local prejudices in their
homes, and thus destroy their usefulness without any compensating good. So it
happened that frequently the House on suspension days adjourned in order to
escape this snare, and in 1880 the number of suspension days were reduced to
two a week [sic], so as to make the dangers of the day as little as possible.
About that time Mr. Speaker Randall, without complaint of the House, began to
exercise the right to determine when he would recognize for the motion, thus still
further placing it under control. If the motion to suspend the rules were essential
to the business of the House, this usurpation by Mr. Speaker Randall would have
had bad consequences, but in 1883 and in 1890 the rules were improved by
enlarging the functions of the Committee on Rules and by improving the rule for
the order of business, so that bills in an unfavorable position might be gotten out
by a majority vote, without recourse to the older and clumsier method of
suspending the rules. And today the motion to suspend the rules is used two days
in the month to supplement the proceeding by unanimous consent. There are
many bills which cannot get through by unanimous consent, because two or three
Members may be opposed. In such cases the motion to suspend the rules affords
a convenient and easy method of dealing with them.
Between 1880 and 1909, the House elected forceful Speakers, such as Samuel J.
Randall (1876-1881), John G. Carlisle (1883-1889), Thomas B. Reed (1889-1891,
1895-1899), and Joseph G. Cannon (1903-1911). According to Hinds, it was their
assertion of control over recognizing Members to move to suspend the rules that
eventually transformed the suspension motion into a well-regulated device for
considering relatively noncontroversial measures.
Once this transformation had taken place, ad hoc adjustments and eventually
formal changes in House rules were made to permit suspension motions at times
other than the first and third Mondays of each month and the last six days of each
Motions to suspend the rules have been made on other days by unanimous55
consent. On February 23, 1906, not a suspension day, a Member asked unanimous
consent to move to suspend the rules and agree to a concurrent resolution amending
an enrolled bill. Representative John Dalzell of Pennsylvania made the point of order
54 Congressional Record, vol. 43, Jan. 7, 1909, p. 589.
55 Deschler, 6, 21.10.2-6.
that it was improper to suspend the rules on a day other than one specified in the
I do not wish to be misunderstood with respect to the merits of the bill. I am not
talking about that now. I am talking about the question of the rules; and it seems
to me that it was the intention of the rule to place a limitation upon the power of
the House by placing a limitation on the power of the Speaker. It says that he
shall not entertain a motion to suspend the rules. It is very much like the case of
the rule that prohibits the Speaker from entertaining a motion to permit parties
not permitted by the rule to come upon the floor of the House.
Speaker Cannon overruled the point of order, replying:57
But that rule, the gentleman will recollect, prohibits the Speaker from submitting
a request for unanimous consent. This rule does not. The Chair could not and
would not entertain a motion on any except the two Mondays specified, but this
comes by a request for unanimous consent that the Speaker shall entertain a
motion to suspend the rules under the terms of Rule XXVIII. It seems to the
Chair that the House may under the rule, if it sees proper to do so, give
Eight years later, in 1914, Representative Oscar W. Underwood of Alabama asked
and received unanimous consent that motions to suspend the rules might be made on
the following Monday, the fifth Monday of the month.58
More recently, under emergency conditions, the House has granted unanimous
consent to consider a measure on other than a regular suspension day. On April 10,
considering a bill relating to a threatened rail strike. On two other occasions, in
1964 and 1969, unanimous consent was granted to consider, on other than a
suspension day, certain measures that the House lacked time to consider on the
Monday for which they had been scheduled.60 In the 1964 case, the Speaker and the
two floor leaders were authorized to agree on a day for considering the remaining
bills.61 Also, several days before the 1959 session was expected to end, Majority
Leader John W. McCormack of Massachusetts asked unanimous consent to authorize
the Speaker to recognize Members to make suspension motions during the remainder
56 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6795.
58 Chang-Wei Chiu , The Speaker of the House of Representatives Since 1896 (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1928), pp. 219-220.
59 Procedure in the U.S. House of Representatives, 97th Cong. (Washington: GPO, 1982),
chapter 21, sec. 11.4 (hereafter cited in the form Procedure, 21.11.4); Congressional
Record, vol. 113, April 10, 1967, p. 8729. See also Deschler, 6, 21.9.22-24.
60 Deschler, 6, 21.10.5-6.
61 Procedure, 21.11.6-7; Deschler, 6, 21.10.5; Congressional Record, vol. 110, Aug. 17,
1964, pp. 19943-19944; Congressional Record, vol. 115, Dec. 15, 1969, p. 39046. See also
Procedure, 21.11.3, and Congressional Record, vol. 107, Aug. 21, 1961, pp. 16562-16563.
of the session. In supporting this request, Minority Leader Charles A. Halleck of
It is understood of course, that any suspensions of the rules would be agreed to
by me as the minority leader before they are put on. Again may I say that I shall
consult with the members of the committee involved before any suspensions are
The House also has agreed by resolution to permit suspension motions on days
other than those specified in the rules.63 During the first session of the 60th
Congress, according to Samuel W. McCall, the minority adopted a “policy of
obstruction” by demanding “an almost endless succession of roll-calls.” In response,
the House adopted a resolution making suspension motions in order on every day and
providing for the House to agree to such motions by simple majority vote.64 Hinds65
commented on this situation in the article quoted above:
In the last session of Congress a peculiar situation arose, caused by the
determination of the entire minority side of the House to obstruct the public
business, and immediately a form of martial law was declared in the House, and
the motion to suspend the rules was used daily and upon the arbitrary recognition
of the Speaker. But this was only a temporary condition, brought about by urgent
necessity in order that the public business might be transacted. Such an occasion
had not arisen before for five years, and then only for a very limited time, and in
all probability will not arise again for another five or ten years.
The House also has increased the number of suspension days when a deadline
for congressional action has approached. During the last week of June 1973, for
example, the House adopted a resolution authorizing the Speaker to entertain
suspension motions at any time during the week. Representative David T. Martin of
Nebraska explained that the resolution was the means chosen by the party leaders to
waive the requirement of House rules that conference reports lie over three days
before being considered on the floor. This waiver was sought because of the
impending end of the fiscal year (then on June 30) and the need to complete action66
on a bill affecting the public debt ceiling.
Toward the end of congressional sessions, the suspension procedure has been
a useful means for completing action on a number of measures without extended
62 Procedure, 21.11.5; Congressional Record, vol. 105, Sept. 11, 1959, pp. 19128-19129.
63 In at least one instance, the House has suspended the rules for the purpose of making
suspension motions in order on another day. On July 24, 1984, Representative Carl D.
Perkins of Kentucky, chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, moved to
suspend the rules and agree to a resolution that proposed to make in order on any day
thereafter two suspension motions to concur in the various titles of a Senate amendment to
a House bill. Congressional Record, vol. 130, July 24, 1984, pp. 20680-20682.
64 Samuel W. McCall, The Business of Congress (New York: Columbia University Press,
65 Congressional Record, vol. 43, Jan. 7, 1909, p. 589.
66 Congressional Record, vol. 119, June 25, 1973, pp. 21180-21182.
debate.67 But the provision of what now is clause 1(a) of Rule XV permitting
suspension motions during the last six days of a session is not triggered until both
houses have agreed to a concurrent resolution setting the date for adjournment.68
When the date of adjournment has remained unsettled, the House has adopted
resolutions making suspension motions in order during what is expected to be the last
week of the session. In 1974, the House agreed to a resolution permitting suspension
motions during the last two weeks of the session in the expectation that debate on the
Nelson Rockefeller vice-presidential confirmation would occupy the final week.69
As described in Mary Parker Follett’s The Speaker of the House of
Representatives, competition among Members to offer suspension motions could
become intense during the closing days of a session. It was under such circumstances
that Speaker Nicholas Longworth of Ohio made the following comments:70
The Chair agrees that suspension of the rules is not a normal legislative
procedure. In a sense, it is a trifle unfair in that it limits debate and does not
permit the right of amendment. If anybody thinks that the Chair covets the right
to recognize or not to recognize motions to suspend the rules in the last six days
of a session, he is far from being correct. It is one of the most burdensome,
unpleasant duties that can fall to the lot of a Member of Congress. It is always
unpleasant for the present occupant of the Chair to say no four out of five times,
as he is compelled to do.
But there are times when suspension of the rules is vitally necessary to dispatch
public business. It is going to be vitally necessary in the next few hours because
very few hours remain before adjournment, and the Chair must use his discretion,
when he believes it is in the interest of a large majority of the House to use the
right of suspension.
I think the Chair is safe in saying that not more than three or four times since his
incumbency of this office for the past six years has the motion to suspend the
rules, out of hundreds of cases, received less than the necessary two-thirds; in
other words, the Chair was in fact aiding the House to carry out its will.
Longworth’s concluding observation indicates the extent to which suspension
of the rules had become a procedure used almost exclusively for one purpose: for
expeditious floor consideration of measures enjoying the support of more than a
majority of House Members. By unanimous consent or by resolution, the restrictions
of the rules have been, and continue to be, set aside temporarily when floor action on
such measures could not be accommodated on the regular suspension days. The
expansion of suspension days during the 108th Congress to include most Wednesdays
is the most recent acknowledgment of the belief that the number of suspension days
67 Chiu, The Speaker of the House of Representatives Since 1896, pp. 223-225. In 1909, the
House voted that, during the remainder of the session, suspension motions would require
only a majority vote and that a second, if demanded, would be considered as ordered.
Congressional Record, vol. 43, Feb. 26, 1909, pp. 3310-3311.
68 Hinds and Cannon, VIII, 3397; Procedure, 21.11.8.
69 Procedure, 21.11.3; Congressional Record, vol. 120, Dec. 4, 1974, pp. 38169-38170.
70 Congressional Record, vol. 74, Mar. 2, 1931, p. 6735.
specified in House Rules may be insufficient to meet current requirements for
expediting legislative scheduling. Prior to the 108th Congress expansion, the House
voted on two occasions during the 1970s to change what was then Rule XXVII so as
to make suspension motions in order more often.
On January 3, 1973, the House adopted its rules for the 93rd Congress, including
two changes in its suspension procedures. First, motions to suspend the rules were
made in order on the first and third Mondays of each month, and the Tuesdays
following, as well as during the final six days of a session. Second, the rule no
longer gave preference to motions by individual Members on some days and to
motions made at the direction of committees on others. Four years later, when the
House adopted H.Res. 5, making rules changes for the 95th Congress, suspension
procedures were again changed to allow the rules to be suspended on every Monday
During the 1973 debate, Members of the minority party opposed increasing the
number of suspension days on the ground that it would permit too many bills —
including bills of considerable cost and significance — to be considered with only
limited debate and without opportunity for floor amendments. Illustrative of these
concerns was the following statement by Representative Gerald R. Ford of Michigan,
the minority leader:71
As I understand the historical justification for suspension, it was for the purpose
of considering relatively unimportant legislation or legislation where there was
little or no controversy, and the net result was the rules of the House said that on
every first and third Monday we should have suspension, and in addition during
the last 6 days after the date of an adjournment has been set. I think that is a
But now Mr. Speaker, to double, to increase by a hundred percent, the days on
which we can have suspensions, in my judgment, is going too far, because
suspensions, as all of us who have been here know, mean that you can take a bill
involving billions of dollars, involving literally hundreds of thousands of words,
and put it on suspension and you could not amend a dollar and you could not
amend a word. And I do not believe that is the way to legislate.
In response, the majority leader, Representative Thomas P. O’Neill of
Massachusetts, argued that increasing the number of suspension days would permit
a more even distribution of workload on the floor, and that measures were only72
brought up under suspension with the prior knowledge and consent of the minority:
Mr. O’NEILL. They have complained because on one day we had 46 suspension
bills, which made for a long night session.
Is this a way to legislate? Why should we not have quit at 8 o’clock that night
and brought up the remaining suspensions the next day?
71 Congressional Record, vol. 119, Jan. 3, 1973, p. 18.
72 Ibid., p. 21.
That is what we have in mind. That is what we would like to do. We do not
want to go until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.
How does a bill get on the Suspension Calendar, the gentleman from New
Hampshire [Mr. Cleveland] wants to know. I am sure the minority leader knows.
Although the chairman of the committee goes to the Speaker, he always clears
the legislation with the minority member of the committee.
* * * * * * * *
Mr. GERALD R. FORD. If the chairman of the committee gets permission from
the Speaker to be recognized, it does not make any difference whether the
ranking minority member or the minority leader is consulted at all.
Mr. O’NEILL. I appreciate that, but I will say to the gentleman, I think we have
always been extremely fair along the line. When the majority whip organization
calendar is made up, the Speaker inevitably says to the chairman: Is this bill
going to be a controversial matter? After all, as the gentleman from Michigan
knows, it takes a two-thirds vote of this Congress to pass a bill on the Suspension
Why, if the minority member of the committee is opposed to it, rare is the
occasion when a suspension goes on the calendar.
During debate on the rules for the 95th Congress, opposition focused principally
on the fact that the resolution to adopt the rules was not open to amendment. The
minority leader, Representative John J. Rhodes of Arizona, inserted in the Record a
summary of amendments that would have been offered if the parliamentary73
circumstances permitted, including the following:
Suspension of the Rules — clause 1 of rule XXVII is amended to prohibit
bringing up any matter under suspension of the rules unless authorized by rollcall
vote of the committee having jurisdiction or by joint request of the chairman and
ranking minority member. Under the present procedure the chairman may
unilaterally request bringing a matter up under suspension.
The minority leader’s insertion also included this critique and proposal by the House
Republican Task Force on Reform:74
At the beginning of the 93rd Congress, the use of the suspension motion was
increased from 2 to 4 days per month. A majority of the Republican members
opposed such an expansion of the suspension procedure as detrimental to sound
legislative practice. Although assurances were given by the Democrat leadership
that the suspension rule would be used sparingly and be limited to minor,
noncontroversial legislation, what has occurred is an abuse of suspensions with
bill after bill being considered under an essentially closed rule procedure —
limited debate with no amendments. The end result — debasement of the
legislative process. The Task Force on Reform has recommended strongly that:
73 Congressional Record, vol. 123, Jan. 4, 1977, p. 58.
1. No bill be brought up under suspension unless the chairman and ranking
minority member of a committee so request.
2. A dollar ceiling amount be placed on bills which may be brought up under
3. At least three calendar days advance notice be given to any bill which is to be
brought up under suspension.
4. Prior to scheduling a bill under suspension, the majority party leadership
would consult with the minority leader.
Even with these safeguards, expanded use of suspensions is simply an invitation
to further abuse.
Notwithstanding these objections, the rules for the 95th Congress were adopted
by a rollcall vote of 256 to 142, with no opportunity for floor amendments.
The Republican minority continued to seek changes in the suspension procedure
that would have required formal notice to all Members of the suspension motions the
Speaker intended to entertain. As part of their package of rules changes proposed in
1991 on the opening day of the 102nd Congress, there were several proposed changes
in suspension procedures, including the following:75
It shall not be in order to entertain a motion to suspend the rules and pass or
agree to any measure or matter unless written notice is placed in the
Congressional Record of its scheduled consideration at least one calendar day
prior to its consideration, and such notification shall include the numerical
designation of the measure or matter, its short title, and the text of any
amendments to be offered thereto, and the date on which the measure or matter
is scheduled to be considered.
The Democratic majority resisted such proposals as unwelcome intrusions on the
majority party leadership’s control over arranging the floor schedule, and the
Republican majority thus far has not instituted any pertinent rules changes of its own.
The result is that members of both parties remain dependent on effective but informal
and discretionary notification practices to alert them to the propositions on which
they will be asked to vote through suspension motions.
Who Decides What Suspension Motions
the House Shall Consider?
Until the closing decades of the 19th century, Speakers did not exercise as much
discretion as they do now in recognizing Members to offer motions to suspend the
rules. Consequently, such motions could be used, especially by minority party
Members, to raise issues for parochial or partisan advantage. During the 20th century,
75 Congressional Record, vol. 137, Jan. 3, 1991, p. 46. See also H.Res. 127, submitted by
Rep. Mickey Edwards, et. al., on April 17, 1991. For proposals in earlier Congresses, see
H.Res. 205 (1979), H.Res. 47 (1987), H.Res. 599 (1988), and H.Res. 61 (1989).
in contrast, it became the accepted, if not invariable, practice of the House to suspend
the rules to expedite action on relatively noncontroversial legislation. Nonetheless,
there were occasional charges during recent decades that specific measures were
brought up under the suspension procedure in order to avoid the possibility of floor
am endm ent s . 76
Although the rules are now suspended frequently to pass a House or Senate
measure reported from committee, this is not always the case. At the beginning of
the 91st Congress, for instance, a bill was brought up under suspension even before
the standing committee of jurisdiction was organized to consider it.77 The House also
has suspended the rules to take from the Speaker’s table a House-passed bill with
Senate amendments and agree to the amendments (or agree to them with House
amendments). To cite just one example from the 1970s, Representative Harley O.
Staggers of West Virginia, then chairman of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign
Commerce (now the Energy and Commerce Committee), moved to suspend the rules
and agree to a resolution to concur in a Senate amendment to a House amendment
with a further House amendment in the nature of a substitute. After this motion
failed to receive a two-thirds vote, Staggers offered a second suspension motion that,
if adopted, would have changed the proposed new House amendment in one
significant respect. This motion also failed, as did a third successive suspension
motion which proposed simply that the House agree to the Senate amendment.78
Thus, the House may suspend the rules to consider measures at various stages
of the legislative process — for example, House or Senate bills coming to the House
floor for the first time or bills returned to the House with Senate amendments.79 The
question remains: who decides whether a measure, at whatever stage of the process,
will be considered under suspension of the rules? To put it differently, to what extent
is the consideration of suspension motions controlled by the House or its majority
The suspension procedure was amended in 1880 to provide that:
All motions to suspend the rules shall, before being submitted to the House, be
seconded by a majority by tellers, if demanded.
According to Hinds, this requirement “was intended to prevent the offering of
‘buncombe’ resolutions, the idea being that a proposition which could not receive
76 Writing in 1928, Chang-Wei Chiu asserted that some “[m]easures, such as appropriations,
public buildings and rivers and harbors are brought up under the suspension of the rules with
the distinct purpose of shutting off amendments or unnecessary ‘riders’....” Chiu, The
Speaker of the House of Representatives Since 1896, p. 217. On November 15, 1983,
Representative Peter Rodino of New Jersey, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, moved
to suspend the rules and pass a joint resolution proposing an Equal Rights Amendment to
the Constitution. The motion was rejected by a vote of 278 — 47. Also see Deschler, 6,
77 Congressional Record, vol. 115, Jan. 6, 1969, pp. 172-176; Deschler, 6, 21.9.1.
78 Congressional Record, vol. 119, Dec. 21, 1973, pp. 43251-43288.
79 Deschler, 6, 21.13-17.
such a second should not take the time of the House.”80 In addition to conserving
time, the opportunity for a majority of the House to vote against ordering a second
on a suspension motion enabled Members to avoid taking positions on “resolutions
on subjects of no practical standing in the House, sometimes so artfully worded as
to be political traps, condemning many Members to political danger in their districts,
whether they voted for or against them.”81
A similar provision had been adopted in 1874 but abandoned two years later.
Whereas the House agreed to the 1880 rules change without controversy, an extended
and informative debate took place when the House first voted to require that
suspension motions be subject to a demand for a second.
This requirement was first debated on the floor in December 1873. The
Committee on Rules had recommended unanimously that Rule 145 be amended to
read as follows:82
No standing rule or order of the House shall be rescinded or changed without one
day’s notice being given of the motion therefor; nor shall any rule be suspended,
except by a vote of at least two-thirds of the members present; nor without the
motion therefor being seconded by a majority, as in the case of the previous
This language had the same effect as requiring a teller vote on ordering a second
because, at that time, a roll-call vote could not be demanded on a vote to second the
demand for the previous question.83
Proponents of this change in the rules argued that it would expedite floor
activity by enabling House Members to decide by majority vote whether they wished
to consider a suspension motion. Although motions to suspend the rules were not
then debatable, they were subject to demands for roll-call votes. Members of the
Rules Committee believed that such motions had often been offered, and roll-call
votes demanded, merely for purposes of delay. In other cases, they asserted,
Members had offered suspension motions, especially to adopt resolutions, without
any expectation that the motions would be approved. Instead, these motions were
drafted and proposed only to create political embarrassment. The demand for a
second, if rejected by an unrecorded majority vote, would enable Members to avoid
having to go on record as being for or against such “political conundrums” that do
80 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6797.
81 See note 53.
82 Congressional Record, vol. 2, Dec. 18, 1873, p. 314.
83 House Rules and Manual, 46th Congress, 1st sess., Constitution of the United
States...Jefferson’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice...Standing Rules and Orders for
Conducting Business in the House of Representatives...Joint Rules in Force...and a Digest
thereof.... (abridged version of full title) (Washington: GPO, Mar. 1879), p. 282. A second
no longer may be demanded on a motion to order the previous question.
not “affect one single item of the legislation of the country.”84 On behalf of the Rules
Committee, Representative Horace Maynard of Tennessee contended:85
Now, then, if any gentleman has a measure which he regards as of such
consequence that the rules of the House should be suspended and immediate
action had upon it, let him appeal to the House, in the first place, and see whether
he can get a majority vote; because if he cannot it is utterly idle to suppose that
he could ever get two-thirds to vote with him.
This is a proposition that will save time and will protect the rights of minorities.
It will prevent our Monday mornings and the last ten days of the session from
being consumed upon impracticable measures when there are measures of real
importance upon which, if the House could get at them, it would act favorably.
It seemed to the committee (and they were unanimous on this question) that this
was a wise provision, calculated to facilitate the public business and protect the
rights of everybody while interfering with the just privileges of none.
On the other hand, opponents of the proposal contended that suspension motions
offered individual Members — and especially Members of the minority party — their
only opportunity to raise issues of their choice on the floor and to force votes on
them. This opportunity would be eliminated if the House could vote to refuse to
consider these motions, and do so by unrecorded teller votes.
The two positions were summarized aptly in the following exchange between
Representative Maynard and Representative William J. O’Brien of Maryland:86
Mr. O’BRIEN. I desire to illustrate the effect of this proposed rule. Under the
existing rule I may have a resolution — for instance, a resolution of inquiry —
upon which I desire the action of the House; and, moving a suspension of the
rules to adopt the resolution, I can demand the yeas and nays upon the motion,
and even though I know the resolution will be defeated, yet if one-fifth of the
members present should consent to order the yeas and nays, I can obtain a record
in that form. But if the rules be amended, as proposed by the gentleman from
Tennessee, then, in such a case as I have stated, unless I can get a majority of the
House to second the demand for the previous question [sic] so that my resolution
can be entertained, I can get no information as to who are and are not willing to
order the inquiry proposed by the resolution. I ask the gentleman from
Tennessee whether that is or is not a practical illustration of the operation of this
Mr. MAYNARD. Mr. Speaker, it is not presumed that gentlemen come here for
the purpose of wasting public time upon questions and propositions which they
know have nothing in them, which can be interposed only for the sake of delay
— propositions which have no practical vitality, but which merely seek to
ventilate or air the opinion of those submitting the propositions. No gentleman,
I suppose, will for a moment maintain that such is the object for which his
constituents have sent him here....
84 Congressional Record, vol. 2, Dec. 18, 1873, p. 318.
85 Ibid., p. 315.
86 Ibid., p. 314.
In view of the opposition that arose, the resolution to change the rules was
recommitted, without objection, to the Rules Committee for further study. A month
later, in January 1874, the proposal again was reported, in a slightly different form,
and the debate resumed.
Representative Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts described how the
legislative business of the House had been delayed and disrupted by Members
offering suspension motions on one subject while the House was in the midst of
considering more pressing legislation on another. By contrast, Representative
William S. Holman of Indiana characterized such ploys as a necessary means for
obstructing “the plundering schemes which have from time to time been sought to
be rushed through this House in the closing hours of the session.”87
Representative Holman also argued that the proposal for unrecorded teller votes
violated the constitutional rights of one-fifth of the Members present to demand the
years and nays on any question. Representative Clarkson N. Potter of New York,
among others, supported this position, even though he disapproved of many of the
measures considered under suspension:88
In some cases...they attach preambles to their resolutions, preambles which are
absolutely true, while the resolutions appended are entirely objectionable.... The
practice is, I concede, an abuse and an evil, but it does not, after all, mislead the
country or do very much harm. We have, to be sure, during this very session,
seen the House upon a Monday putting itself, by the adoption of conflicting
resolutions, in two or three different positions on the same day, each one
inconsistent with the others. But such votes only have the effect of showing the
country how little the buncombe action of the House on Mondays amounts to.
The constitutional argument was rejected by Butler and others who sought to
distinguish between a question and a motion for a question:89
The difference is this: when any question is put for the action of the House, in
legislation or otherwise, the members have the right to record their votes on the
demand of one-fifth of those present; but when the motion comes up, will we
have this subject up to-day or shall we take the other up tomorrow, then they
have no right to invoke this constitutional provision in their behalf, because it is
on the order of business.
Butler also recalled that, under the existing rules, the House sometimes had
adjourned rather than vote on measures brought up under suspension:90
How did it operate yesterday? We voted on two or three things which were mere
matters of theoretical politics; and to prevent those things being sprung in the
House the only protection that the majority of the House had was to adjourn. So
87 Congressional Record, vol. 2, Jan. 30, 1874, p. 784.
88 Ibid., p. 785.
89 Ibid., p. 792.
90 Ibid., p. 785.
we adjourned about three o’clock, or at that hour we began to vote on the
question of adjournment; and that is the only protection that the majority of the
By changing the rules, he argued, Members would be protected against being
compelled to vote on whatever measures were offered under suspension without the
benefit of debate or time for thought. The case for changing the rules was well
summarized by Representative James A. Garfield of Ohio:91
The plain purport of this rule is, that it shall not be the right of one member, or
one-fifth, not of the political minority only, but of the majority, to push aside the
business of this House and by the help of one-fifth compel every other man in
this House to vote on any subject he pleases without a word of debate and
without a chance of amendment. Any one man, with one-fifth of the House at his
back, can put the House through its paces on any question on earth that he
pleases. This rule only provides that before any one member shall be empowered
to do this he shall show that a majority of the members are willing that the
question shall be brought before them and disposed of without amendment or
debate in the precise words he pleases to use.
The resolution to change the rules was finally adopted by a vote of 123 to 101.
Before the vote took place, Garfield noted that “we sometimes need a suspension of
the rules in order to fix a day for considering some measure.”92 But the 1873-1874
debate and vote, and the vote in 1880 to reinstate the provision for demanding a
second, illustrates to what extent the use of suspension motions had changed from
an effective means for organizing the business of the House to an equally effective
means for accommodating individual Members and interfering with the planned
schedule of legislative activity.
According to Floyd M. Riddick, Senate Parliamentarian, 1964-1974, “if no
question of second is raised, the bill will not be debated, but the vote will be taken
immediately.”93 However, it became routine practice in the House for a second to be
demanded by the ranking minority member of the subcommittee or committee with
jurisdiction over the measure, and for the second to be considered as ordered without
Contrary to this general practice, however, the House refused to order a second
on two suspension motions during the 95th Congress. On November 1, 1977,
Representative Stephen J. Solarz of New York moved to suspend the rules and pass
H.R. 9282, deferring the effective date of future congressional salary adjustments and
making out of order provisions of appropriations bills or budget resolutions, or
amendments thereto, rescinding such adjustments. By 167 - 233, the House refused
to order the second on the motion, reportedly because Members objected to
91 Ibid., p. 790.
92 Ibid., p. 791.
93 Floyd M. Riddick, The Organization and Procedure of the United States Congress
(Manassas, Va.: National Capitol Publishers, 1949), p. 262; Congressional Record, vol. 13,
Jan. 16, 1882, p. 431.
considering the bill under circumstances that would have compelled them to vote for
or against both of its provisions.94
Five months later, on March 20, 1978, the House again refused to order a
second, this time on a motion to suspend the rules and pass the “Middle Income
Student Assistance Act.” Although no debate is permitted before a second is ordered
or refused, Representative Thomas B. Evans Jr. of Delaware explained the reason for
his opposition immediately before the suspension motion was offered:95
Assistance for middle-income taxpayers to meet increasing educational expenses
is one of the most important issues facing the Congress. To bring such an
important measure up under a suspension of the rules is a simple attempt by the
administration to “ramrod” this approach through the Congress without adequate
opportunity for full and open debate. American families need relief from
mounting educational costs, but in not providing the opportunity for full
discussion, we are further corrupting the deliberative legislative process.
These instances were exceptional. The House usually agreed without objection
(that is, by unanimous consent) to order seconds on suspension motions. However,
the right of any Member to force the House to vote on ordering a second preserved
the opportunity for the House to decide not to consider such a motion. On the other
hand, the same right also created an opportunity for Members to demand roll-call
votes, and thereby delay the work of the House, as a way of expressing their
displeasure at some unrelated legislative development.
There were no votes at all on ordering seconds from 1973 to 1976. Then,
between March and July of 1978, there were 13 such votes.96 On June 28, 1978,
alone, five votes on ordering seconds took place, all evidently unrelated to the merits
of the bills at issue. In each case, a Member objected to the result of the teller vote
on the ground that a quorum was not present, triggering an automatic roll call vote;
but no more than five Members voted against seconding any one of the five
suspension motions. Such events pointed to a concern among some Members that
their time, and the time of the House, was being consumed needlessly by an
increasing number of roll-call votes that were not seriously contested and that
occurred on procedural questions which few, if any, Members opposed on their own
On August 14, 1978, the Subcommittee on Rules and Organization of the House
of the Rules Committee held hearings on H.Res. 1246, submitted by Representative
Joseph D. Waggonner, Jr. of Louisiana, to repeal clause 2 of Rule XXVII, and
94 Congressional Record, vol. 123, Nov. 1, 1977, pp. 36309-36311; Congressional
Quarterly Weekly Report, vol. 35, Nov. 5, 1977, p. 2348.
95 Congressional Record, vol. 124, Mar. 20, 1978, pp. 7535-7537.
96 Archived CRS Report, Votes on Ordering the Second on a Suspension Motion Under
Rule XXVII: 1973-1978, by Stanley Bach.
thereby eliminate the requirement for a second on suspension motions. In support
of his proposal, Waggonner argued that:97
Clause 2 of Rule XXVII is about as useful as one’s appendix. The time for its
removal from the House Rules has arrived. It has long ceased to serve its
original purpose of protecting the Members from considering a matter that they
don’t desire and is now a filibustering tactic used to thwart the leadership in its
responsibility for programming the House’s business — but more important it
wastes the time of all of us without regard to how we stand on the merits of
particular measures being considered from time to time on suspension. This is
exactly what our predecessors aimed at preventing in 1880.
In reply, Representative James C. Cleveland of New Hampshire contended that:98
Without this protection, Members would face an increasing threat of being
forced to record a simple “aye” or “nay” on legislation which may be highly
significant, extremely costly, far more controversial than expected, and often
hastily considered in committee — all without the possibility of obtaining needed
information through adequate debate or of considering possible options through
the amendment process. Thus, the resolution before you would strip us all of our
flak jackets at the very time the risk of political land mines is growing. And the
threat to the public interest is even more acute.
When the 96th Congress convened on January 15, 1979, the resolution adopting
the Rules of the House incorporated a number of amendments proposed by the House
Democratic Caucus. Several of these amendments were designed, according to
Representative James C. Wright Jr. of Texas, “to save the time of the House, to save
the taxpayers waste of that valuable time, and to save Members the harassment that
has sometimes come with procedural demands that they present themselves and vote99
on meaningless votes.” Among the amendments was one that waived the
requirement for a second “where printed copies of the measure or matter as proposed
to be passed or agreed to by the motion have been available for one legislative day
before the motion is considered.”100
On January 3, 1991, at the beginning of the 102nd Congress, the House
eliminated the seconding requirement completely when it adopted H.Res. 5,
emanating from the House Democratic Caucus. Majority Leader Richard Gephardt
97 Statement of Rep. Joseph Waggonner, Jr., on H.Res. 1246 before the House Committee
on Rules, Subcommittee on Rules and Organization of the House, House Committee on
Rules, Aug. 14, 1978, p. 5, (unpublished hearing).
98 Statement of Rep. James C. Cleveland on H.Res. 1246 before the House Committee on
Rules, Subcommittee on Rules and Organization of the House, Aug. 14, 1978, p. 2,
99 Congressional Record, vol. 125, Jan. 15, 1979, p. 9.
100 Ibid., p. 8.
explained what this rules change would do, but felt no need to justify or defend it;
nor did Republicans specifically oppose it.101
By eliminating the possibility of votes on seconding suspension motions, these
rules changes removed an opportunity for dilatory tactics on the floor. At the same
time, however, they also removed the ability of the House to vote against considering
suspension motions. This second effect concerned the Members who believed that
the suspension procedure was being used with increasing frequency to pass bills that
were too important and controversial to be debated for no more than 40 minutes and
with no opportunity for amendment on the floor. Not coincidentally, therefore, the
same 1978-1979 series of Democratic Caucus meetings that led to severely limiting
votes on seconds also resulted in the caucus rule imposing the $100 million ceiling
on the cost of bills the Speaker should permit to be considered under suspension —
the same ceiling that the Republican majority now has included in its conference
Thus, the Democratic Caucus limited the power of the Speaker to entertain
suspension motions at roughly the same time that the House limited its own power
to vote against considering them. Nonetheless, this restriction on the Speaker’s
discretion is less significant than the control that he retains over suspension motions.
Each motion to suspend the rules still must have the Speaker’s acquiescence or
approval, and this requirement has had a significant effect on the development and
use of the procedure, for reasons already discussed. Rule XV specifies when the
Speaker may entertain motions to suspend the rules, but he is not required to do so
at any time. Through his power of recognition, therefore, the Speaker controls which
matters are considered under suspension and when they are raised for consideration.
In his article quoted earlier, Hinds states that, in the early 1880s, “Mr. Speaker
[Samuel J.] Randall, without complaint of the House, began to exercise the right to
determine when he would recognize for the motion....”102 In the published
precedents, the first cited instance of the Speaker’s discretionary power occurred in
Mr. ROBESON. The motion that I make is the regular order, it is in accordance
with the rules; it is a motion to suspend the rules allowed by the rules, and cannot
be denied to any member.
Mr. CHALMERS. You must be recognized before you can submit the motion.
Mr. ROBESON. I have the right to be recognized for this purpose, though, and
I have submitted the motion.
The SPEAKER. The gentleman is not recognized for such purpose.
101 Congressional Record, vol. 137, Jan. 3, 1991, pp. 39-63.
102 Congressional Record, vol. 43, Jan. 7, 1909, p. 589.
103 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6791; Congressional Record, vol. 11, March 1, 1881, pp. 2296-
Speaker Samuel J. Randall subsequently asserted that “[t]he rule is not compulsory
on the Chair, and never has been so construed in regard to motions to suspend the
rules during the last six days of a session.” However, Hinds states that “before the
time of Mr. Speaker Randall the Speakers do not seem to have exercised this control
over the motion.”104
Speaker Randall’s claim to discretion was repeated by his successors on a
number of occasions during the next several decades.105 Speaker Charles F. Crisp of
Georgia addressed himself to the question in 1893:106
The Chair fully appreciates the fact that according to the practice which has
always prevailed the motion to suspend the rules has been one depending on
recognition; that is, it can not be made unless the Member is recognized to make
it. The Chair, in speaking of this motion as one of the highest privilege, did not
mean to convey the idea that necessarily when the day comes for motions to
suspend the rules the Chair must recognize a gentleman to make such motion.
Speaker David B. Henderson of Iowa reached the same conclusion in 1900. On
May 7 of that year, Representative Sulzer of New York rose to demand recognition
for a suspension motion. The Speaker asked for what purpose the gentleman rose
and, Sulzer having replied, Speaker Henderson declined “to recognize the gentleman
from New York at this time.... The Chair must exercise his duty to this House and
recognize Members upon matters which the Chair thinks should be considered.”107
On February 21, 1921, Representative Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky sought
recognition to offer a suspension motion. Speaker Frederick H. Gillett of
Massachusetts declined to recognize him, stating:108
The Chair will not recognize any gentleman unless the Chair knows about the
The Chair will not recognize the gentleman unless he consults the Chair in
To avoid such situations at the close of a session, Speaker Nicholas Longworth made
the following announcement in 1931:109
104 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6791, note 7.
105 For an instance involving Speaker John G. Carlisle, see Follett, The Speaker of the
House of Representatives, pp. 262-265; see also McCall, The Business of Congress, pp. 137-
106 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6794.
107 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6792; for other instances, see Chiu, The Speaker of the House of
Representatives Since 1896, pp. 211-212.
108 Hinds and Cannon, VIII, 3404; Congressional Record, vol. 60, Feb. 21, 1921, p. 3585.
109 Hinds and Cannon, VIII, 3402.
When the session draws to a close ordinarily there are quite a number of requests
to the Speaker for recognition to move to suspend the rules. Those requests are
now coming in rapidly. It is impossible for the Chair to keep in mind all of the
requests and the merits of the bills. At the close of the last session the Chair
requested all Members desiring to move to suspend the rules to put their requests
in writing and to accompany their requests with the bill and report. The Chair
will again make that request for the remainder of the session. It worked very
well last year, and the Chair hopes that it will this year.
Thus, by the 1920s, if not before, Speakers had come to exert effective control
over what measures might be considered under suspension of the rules. But if the
following statement by Speaker Champ Clark of Missouri is indicative, this power
was not exercised arbitrarily:110
If there is a pronounced sentiment in the House amounting to a majority or
anywhere approximating two-thirds, in favor of the consideration of a particular
bill, whether it be a big or a little bill, I believe it is the business of the Speaker
to recognize some gentlemen, under the suspension of the rules, to call that bill
Speaker Frederick H. Gillett evidently adopted a similar policy. On August 28, 1922,
he was asked what suspension motions were likely to be brought up. In reply, he
stated that “he will recognize no motions for suspension without the consent of the
gentleman from Tennessee,” Minority Leader Finis J. Garrett.111
It appears, however, that during the 1920s, the minority leader was not always
consulted in this way, and that there had not yet been developed a regular means for
informing all Members about the suspension motions that the Speaker intended to
entertain. In 1926, Minority Leader Garrett found it necessary to ask the Speaker on
the floor, “Will there be any suspension today?”112 Under current practice, by
contrast, suspension motions are routinely listed on the “whip notices” of expected
floor activity each week. In the House’s recent practice, moreover, when additional
suspension motions are considered, advance notice usually has been given. For
example, on March 5, 1974, after Representative Harold R. Gross of Iowa sought
recognition to offer a suspension motion, the following occurred:113
The SPEAKER. The Chair will state that the gentleman from Iowa has not
consulted the Chair and the Chair is not going to recognize the gentleman from
Iowa for that purpose. The Chair would like to state further that the request of
the gentleman from Iowa violates the “Gross” rule whereby he has requested that
notification of suspensions be given 24 hours in advance.
Mr. GROSS. What kind of a rule is that?
The SPEAKER. The Gross rule.
110 Chiu, The Speaker of the House of Representatives Since 1896, p. 216.
111 Ibid., pp. 212-213.
112 Ibid., p. 213.
113 Congressional Record, vol. 120, Mar. 5, 1974, p. 5316.
On occasion, such advance notice apparently was not given. On March 20,
1978, Representative Robert L. Coughlin of Pennsylvania asserted that a suspension
motion was offered without regard to the “so-called Gross rule, which is a tradition
in which the House is required to have 24 hours advance notice....”114 To ensure that
all Members are adequately forewarned, the House Republican Task Force on
Reform later proposed that “[a]t least three calendar days advance notice be given to
any bill which is to be brought up under suspension.”
This issue also was addressed in Democratic Caucus Rule 39, on “Guidelines
on Suspensions of House Rules,” which stated in part that:115
In scheduling any bill or resolution for consideration under the suspension of the
Rules of the House, the Speaker of the House shall provide notice to all Members
of the House of Representatives by at least three calendar days (excluding
Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, but including the day on which such bill
or resolution is considered under the suspension of the Rules of the House) that
said bill or resolution has been scheduled for consideration under the suspension
of the Rules of the House.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives shall provide sufficient time for
Members of the House to receive copies of the Whip Advisory regarding any bill
or resolution for consideration under the suspension of the Rules of the House,
or a comparable analysis of such bill or resolution. In no case shall such time be
less than two calendar days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays,
but including the day on which such bill or resolution is considered under
Again, however, these provisions were not rules of the House and so were not
enforceable on the floor. Although Republican Conference rules do not contain such
a provision, the need for it is largely obviated by the conference’s insistence that each
suspension motion have the concurrence of the ranking minority member of the
In sum, motions to suspend the rules were once offered by individual Members
at their own discretion and for various purposes. Gradually, though, the suspension
procedure evolved into a regular and relatively routine procedure that usually is used
for acting on measures reported by committee and favored by the Speaker. Until
recently, Rule XXVII (now Rule XV) permitted the House to refuse to consider a
suspension motion by voting not to order a second. This opportunity rarely was
exercised and has now been eliminated altogether. Yet it remains unusual for the
House to consider a bill under suspension that does not enjoy at least majority
support. Of the more than 4,000 measures considered under suspension of the rulesstth
from the 101 through the 107 Congresses, fewer than 100 failed to attract the
necessary two-thirds support. Moreover, of those that failed, approximately one-third
114 Congressional Record, vol. 124, Mar. 20, 1978, p. 7536.
115 Preamble and Rules of the Democratic Caucus, 102nd Cong. (Washington: GPO, 1991),
were later considered under other procedures and approved.116 Through consultation
with minority party and committee leaders, the Speaker usually is in a position to
entertain only those suspension motions that are likely to be supported by the
necessary two-thirds majority.117
Under What Procedures Are Suspension
As previously discussed, each suspension motion is debatable for a maximum
of 40 minutes, and the measure or proposition it brings up for consideration is not
subject to floor amendments during this time. While the House is acting on a
suspension motion, the only other motion that is in order is one motion to adjourn.
Measures considered under suspension are protected against points of order that
might otherwise be made against them. At the end of the debate, Members cast a
single vote on both suspending the rules and passing the bill or taking whatever other
action is proposed. To pass, the motion must be supported by two-thirds of the
Members present and voting, a quorum being present.
Each motion to suspend the rules may be debated for a maximum of 40 minutes
even if the question to be decided under the motion would not be debatable under
other parliamentary circumstances. For example, in 1893, debate was permitted on
a motion to suspend the rules and table a motion to reconsider. Although a motion
to table ordinarily is not debatable, Speaker Charles F. Crisp ruled, according to
Hinds, that the provision allowing debate on suspension motions “applied to all
propositions sought to be passed under suspension of the rules, whether the main118
question was debatable or not under the ordinary rules of the House.”
Before 1880, motions to suspend the rules were not debatable; House
precedents cite rulings to this effect in 1842 and 1846.119 At that time, however,
suspension motions related primarily to the order of business on the House floor. In
the 1842 case, for example, Representative Millard Fillmore of New York moved
that the House suspend the rules and proceed to consider a resolution affecting House
action on another measure. Speaker John White of Kentucky ruled that the motion
116 Donald R. Wolfensberger, “Suspended Partisanship in the House: How Most Laws Are
Really Made,” paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science
Association, Boston, MA, Aug. 29 — Sept. 1, 2002, p. 30.
117 On rare occasions, Members have been recognized to offer suspension motions that have
not only failed to garner the requisite two-thirds, but also have been defeated
overwhelmingly. See for example H.Res. 467, 106th Congress (failed on a vote of 1-420),th
and H.R. 3085. 106 Congress (failed on a vote of 0-419). Such voting anomalies usually
occur when the sponsor of the motion has no expectation that the measure will pass, but
rather employs the suspension procedure simply as a convenient vehicle for eliciting a
118 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6822.
119 Hinds and Cannon, V, 5405, 6820.
was not debatable but that, if the motion was agreed to, the resolution thereby made
in order then would be subject to debate.120
As the practice developed of acting by a single vote on motions to suspend the
rules and dispose of measures, the prohibition against debate precluded discussion
of the issues considered in this manner. Hinds cites three significant examples:121
On November 5, 1877, the House, on motion of Mr. Richard D. Bland, of
Missouri, passed, under suspension of the rules, without any debate being
possible, a bill providing for the free coinage of silver. On January 28, 1878, the
House in the same way and against the protest of Mr. James A. Garfield, of Ohio,
passed a concurrent resolution from the Senate declaring the coin bonds of the
United States payable in a silver dollar of 412½ grains; and on February 24,
1879, the sundry civil appropriation bill carrying on appropriation of nineteen
millions of dollars.
It certainly seems likely that bills of such importance were passed under suspension
of the rules not simply in order to expedite business, but in order to preclude debate
and amendment. Debate on suspension motions continued to be prohibited even
though the character and use of the suspension procedure had changed.
Consequently, during the rules revision of 1880, the House agreed, without
discussion or opposition, to an amendment permitting 30 minutes of debate on each
suspension motion, the time to be equally divided and controlled. In 1890, the
period for debate was extended to 40 minutes. The time was reduced to 30 minutes
during the next two Congresses, but again extended to 40 minutes during the 54th
Congress and thereafter.122 Additional time for debate has been permitted by
unanimous consent, or by resolution.123
The time for debate is divided between, and controlled by, the majority party
Member offering the motion and the ranking minority member of the committee or
subcommittee of jurisdiction. However, if this minority party Member is not
opposed to the measure, another Member of his or her party who does oppose it may
claim control of the time instead.
Once the time is allocated, the Representatives controlling it yield portions of
it to other Members wishing to participate in the debate. The minority party Member
controlling half the time generally yields at least some of this time to opponents of
the measure, even though he or she may support it. The Speaker does not, however,
assume responsibility for ensuring that time is equally divided, or divided at all,
between proponents and opponents.124 In 1882, for instance, Representative
Goldsmith W. Hewitt of Alabama demanded a second but then indicated that he did
120 Congressional Globe, vol. 11, Jan. 12, 1842, p. 121.
121 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6821.
122 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6821.
123 House Practice, ch. 53, 7.
124 Procedure, 21.15.7-8.
not oppose the bill. During the discussion that followed, Speaker J. Warren Keifer
stated that “[t]hose who are opposed to a bill ought to have fifteen minutes of the
time allowed for debate,” but also that “[t]he gentlemen must appeal to the
gentleman from Alabama for a fair division of the time, and not to the Chair.”125
More recently, in 1969, Representative Lester L. Wolff of New York made a point
of order that no time had been yielded to opponents of a bill. Speaker John W.
McCormack of Massachusetts responded that “[t]hat is not within the province of the
When measures are considered in Committee of the Whole, committee
amendments are acted upon after general debate on the measure itself. Under the
suspension procedure, on the other hand, the motion submitted to the House already
includes any committee amendments or any other amendments that the mover
incorporates in his or her suspension motion. No other amendments are in order.
In the 1840s, Speakers ruled that amendments were not in order to motions to
suspend the rules that were offered to permit the introduction of bills or to set aside
the one-hour limit on debate. But when a suspension motion only made a measure
in order for consideration, the measure itself then might be subject to amendment
under the regular procedures of the House.127 The prohibition against amendments
continued even after the practice developed of disposing of measures as part of
suspension motions. Amendments may not be offered even by unanimous consent,128
nor may Members offer pro forma amendments to secure time for debate.129
When a measure is considered by the House under suspension of the rules, it is
protected against points of order that might otherwise be made against its
consideration or provisions, or against any amendments to it that are proposed as part
of the motion.130 The suspension procedure sets aside the rules on which any such
points of order would be based. For the same reason, consideration of a measure
under suspension precludes Members from offering most of the procedural motions
that otherwise would be in order. Clause 1(b) of Rule XV, first adopted in 1868,
125 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6824; Congressional Record, vol. 12, May 1, 1882, pp. 3476-
126 Procedure, 21.15.8; Congressional Record, vol. 115, Dec. 15, 1969, p. 39034.
127 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6856.
128 Deschler, 6, 21.14.7. Notwithstanding the precedents, however, on at least one occasion,
a measure that had been agreed to by voice vote under suspension of the rules was
subsequently amended by unanimous consent. See the consideration of H.Con.Res. 232,
Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 147, Dec. 5, 2001, pp. H8860-H8864, and H8881-
129 Procedure, 21.16.2-3; Deschler, 6, 21.9.11.
130 Procedure, 21.10.1. The Speaker, however, may decline to entertain a suspension
motion to consider a bill against which a point of order otherwise would lie. See also Hinds
and Cannon, VIII, 3424, 3426, and Deschler, 6, 21.7-12.
Pending a motion that the House suspend the rules, the Speaker may entertain
one motion that the House adjourn. After the result of such a motion is
announced, the Speaker may not entertain any other motion until the vote is taken
on the suspension.
Pursuant to this rule, a motion to recess was ruled out of order in 1877,131 as was the132
call for a quorum after the defeat of an adjournment motion in 1892.
Even before adoption of what is now Rule XV, clause 1(b), a motion to
postpone indefinitely was ruled out of order by Speaker Robert M.T. Hunter of133
Virginia in 1840, and in 1859, Speaker James L. Orr of South Carolina ruled that
it was not in order to move to table a suspension motion.134 In 1901, Speaker David135
B. Henderson ruled that a motion to recommit might not be offered, and demands
for a division of the question were ruled out of order at various times by Speakers
Schuyler Colfax of Indiana, James G. Blaine of Maine, and Joseph G. Cannon of
Illinois.136 After debate on a suspension motion, a single vote occurs. If a suspension
motion includes amendments to the measure, no separate vote may be demanded on
Until recently, the House debated and then disposed of each suspension motion
as it was offered. On April 9, 1974, however, the House adopted H.Res. 998, making
changes in a number of House procedures, including the procedures for voting on138
suspension motions. The resolution added a new paragraph (b) to what was then
clause 3 of Rule XXVII, authorizing the Speaker to postpone and then cluster139
recorded or roll-call votes on suspension motions. There was little discussion of
this change during the debate, as Members focused their attention instead on
amendments to the rules governing quorums and recorded votes in Committee of the
Whole. The provisions for postponing and clustering votes on various questions,
including suspension motions, now are consolidated in clause 8 of Rule XX.
131 Hinds and Cannon, V, 5748.
132 Hinds and Cannon, V, 5747.
133 Hinds and Cannon, V, 5322.
134 Hinds and Cannon, V, 5406.
135 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6860.
136 Hinds and Cannon, V, 6141-6143; see also Deschler, 6, 21.15.6.
137 Hinds and Cannon, VIII, 3171; Procedure, 21.17.3; Deschler, 6, 21.15.5.
138 Congressional Record, vol. 120, Apr. 9, 1974, pp. 10181-10200.
139 Congressional Record, vol. 120, Apr. 9, 1974, pp. 10195-10196.
Sources of Additional Information
Much of this report is based on information derived from the published rules
and precedents of the House. Readers who wish to refer directly to these sources
should consult the following:
Cannon’s Procedure in the House of Representatives. H.Doc. 610, 87th Congress, 2nd
session (Washington: GPO, 1963), pp. 454-458.
Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual and the Rules of the House of Representatives.
H.Doc. 107-284, 107th Congress, 2nd session (Washington: GPO, 2003), sec.
Deschler’s Precedents of the U.S. House of Representatives, 16 vols, by Lewis
Deschler (Washington: GPO, 1977-2002), vol. 6, chapter 21, sec. 9-15; vols
10-16 are formally titled Deschler-Brown Precedents of the U.S. House of
Representatives, H.Doc. 94-661, 94th Congress, 2nd session, (Washington: GPO,
Hinds’ and Cannon’s Precedents of the House of Representatives, 11 vols, by Asher
C. Hinds and Clarence Cannon (Washington: GPO, 1907-1908, 1935-1941),
vol. V, chapter 142; and vol. VIII, chapter 272.
House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House,
chapter 53, pp. 871-879. 108th Congress, 1st session, by Wm. Holmes Brown and
Charles W. Johnson (Washington: GPO, 2003).