House Rules Changes Affecting Floor Procedures in the 109th Congress
CRS Report for Congress
House Rules Changes Affecting Floor
Procedures in the 109 Congress
February 15, 2005
Thomas P. Carr and Elizabeth Rybicki
Analysts in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
House Rules Changes Affecting Floor Procedures in
the 109th Congress
On the first day of the 109th Congress, the House agreed to H.Res. 5, which
made several rules changes affecting floor proceedings. These modifications include
allowing committees to adopt rules giving chairs the general authority to make the
motion necessary to send a measure to conference; adding Wednesdays to the
permissible days on which suspension motions may be entertained; eliminating the
Corrections Calendar; amending the rules of decorum and debate regarding
references to the Senate and its members; and granting the Speaker added authority
to postpone votes on certain questions.
In order to prepare for a catastrophic event, the House created a procedure to
determine a quorum in case a large number of Members are missing, incapacitated,
or incapable of attending House proceedings. The House must hold two lengthy
quorum calls and receive a report from the Sergeant-at-Arms before a quorum will
be determined based on the “provisional number of the House.” Before consideration
of H.Res. 5 began, a Member raised a point of order that the provisional quorum
mechanism was unconstitutional. The Speaker does not rule on constitutional
questions; instead, the House voted to consider the resolution, and in this way
disposed of the constitutional question.
This report will be updated if the rules of the 109th Congress change.
Rules Changes Affecting Regular Floor Procedure....................1
Motion to Send Bills to Conference............................1
Suspension of the Rules on Wednesdays........................2
Repeal of the Corrections Calendar............................2
Reference to the Senate in Debate.............................3
Authority to Postpone and Cluster Votes........................4
Quorum in the Case of Catastrophic Circumstances...................5
Steps Required to Establish the House Is Without a Quorum
Due to Catastrophic Circumstance.........................6
The Provisional Number of the House..........................8
Constitutionality of the Provisional Quorum.....................8
The authors thank Paul Rundquist for his contributions to this report.
House Rules Changes Affecting Floor
Procedures in the 109 Congress
On the first day of the 109th Congress, the House agreed to H.Res. 5, which
made several rules changes affecting floor proceedings. Following a well-established
practice, H.Res. 5 provided for the rules of the previous Congress to be the rules of
the new Congress, but with a set of amendments. Five substantive changes to the
standing rules of the House will affect the transaction of business on the floor in the
109th Congress. A sixth change created new procedures to determine a quorum in the
House in the case of a catastrophic event.1
Rules Changes Affecting Regular Floor Procedure
Motion to Send Bills to Conference. H.Res. 5 amends clause 2(a) of Rule
XI to facilitate the process for sending a bill to conference committee. Under the new
subparagraph, a committee can change its rules to grant its chair the general authority
to make the motion necessary to send a bill to conference. Before the rules change,
a committee could not grant the chair blanket authority to make the motion to go to
conference for all measures reported by the committee. Instead, it was necessary for
a committee, usually at the end of a mark-up when a measure was ordered reported,
to move that the chair be authorized to offer such motions as may be necessary to
secure a conference with the Senate on the specified measure.
In order to send a bill to conference, the House must agree either to a motion to
disagree to Senate amendments and request (or agree to) a conference, or a motion
to insist on House amendments and request (or agree to) a conference. House Rule
XXII, clause 1, states that these motions are only privileged if offered by direction
of the committee(s) of jurisdiction.2 If a chair does not have this authority from the
committee, then to go to conference the chair must secure either unanimous consent
1 The resolution agreed to by the House, H.Res. 5, also changed the rules affecting the
House committee system. These changes, including the creation of a permanent Committee
on Homeland Security, are identified in CRS Report RS22018, Committee System Rulesth
Changes in the House, 109 Congress, by Judy Schneider. Changes affecting the
congressional budget process are discussed in CRS Report RS22021, House Rules Changesth
Affecting the Congressional Budget Process in the 109 Congress (H. Res. 5), by Bill Heniff
Jr. Changes to the rules of conduct and the procedures of the Committee on Standards of
Official Conduct are described in CRS Report RS22034, House Ethics Rules Changes forth
the 109 Congress, by Mildred Amer. The resolution also made technical and grammatical
changes to the House rules that are not described in this report.
2 The motion is privileged at the discretion of the Speaker if offered “by direction of the
primary committee and of all reporting committees that had initial referral of the
proposition” (House Rule XXII, clause 1).
on the House floor or the House must adopt a special rule reported by the Committee
Suspension of the Rules on Wednesdays. H.Res. 5 amended House
Rule XV, clause 1(a) to allow the Speaker to entertain motions to suspend the rules
on Wednesdays. 3 Previously, House rules only granted this authority to the Speaker4
on Mondays and Tuesdays. This change codified the increasingly common practice
of adding certain Wednesdays as suspension days. In the 108th and several preceding
Congresses, Wednesday was added as a suspension day on an ad hoc basis by
unanimous consent, special rule, or standing order.5
Entertaining motions to suspend the rules on Wednesdays has helped the House
to better manage the growing number of measures considered under suspension
procedures. In the 108th Congress 924 measures were brought up under suspension,th6
compared to 685 measures brought up under suspension in the 107 Congress.
Furthermore, in recent Congresses fewer motions to suspend the rules have been
entertained on Mondays. This practice may reflect broader trends in how the House
schedules legislative business.7
Repeal of the Corrections Calendar. H.Res. 5 amended the House rules
in several places to remove all mention of the “Corrections Calendar,” a procedural
device created in the 104th Congress to expedite the consideration of legislation that
corrected, or eliminated, ambiguous laws and regulations.
Under the former procedures that were described in clause 6 of Rule XV, the
Speaker could place measures reported by committees on the Corrections Calendar.
The measures could be called up for consideration on the second and fourth Tuesdays
of each month. Debate on bills called from the Corrections Calendar was limited to
3 For more information on suspension of the rules, see CRS Report RL32474, Suspension
of the Rules in the House of Representatives, by Thomas P. Carr.
4 According to the rule, the Speaker may also entertain motions to suspend the rules during
the last six days of a session. In contemporary practice, however, it is difficult to know
when the last six days of a session begin. Adjournment resolutions usually are not approved
until very shortly before the adjournment takes place. The House sometimes agrees to
special rules near the end of a session that make motions to suspend the rules privileged for
the remainder of the session.
5 At the start of the 108th Congress, the House agreed to a standing order that allowed the
Speaker to entertain motions to suspend the rules on Wednesdays through Apr. 9, 2003. On
Apr. 30, 2003, the House agreed, by unanimous consent, to continue to grant this authority
to the Speaker through June 25, 2003 (Congressional Record, daily edition, Apr. 30, 2003,
p. H3532). On June 26, 2003, the House agreed to a resolution (H.Res. 297) stating that the
Speaker could entertain motions to suspend the rules on Wednesdays for the remainder ofth
the 108 Congress.
6 CRS Report 97-901, Suspension of the Rules in the House: Measure Sponsorship by Party,
by Thomas P. Carr.
7 For more information on the House schedule, see CRS Report RL30825, House Schedule:
Recent Practices and Proposed Options, by Richard S. Beth.
one hour.8 The only amendments in order were those authorized by the primary
committee of jurisdiction or those offered by the chair or a designee. One motion to
recommit with or without amendatory instructions was also in order. Passage of
measures called from the Corrections Calendar required a three-fifths vote.
The procedure was used with some frequency during the 104th Congress, but its
use declined markedly in succeeding Congresses. Twenty-one bills were considered
from the Corrections Calendar in the 104th Congress, but in the three subsequent
Congresses (105th-107th) a total of eight bills were considered using the procedure.
No bills were considered from the Corrections Calendar in the 108th Congress.
House leaders concluded that the purpose of the Corrections Calendar could be more
easily achieved through the use of other procedures for the consideration of
legislation such as unanimous consent or suspension of the rules.9
Reference to the Senate in Debate. H.Res. 5 amends Rule XVII, clause
(1)(b) to allow references to the Senate and Senators during debate, while directing
Members, as always, to keep remarks relevant to the subject under debate and to
avoid “personality.” H.Res. 5 strikes the paragraphs in the rule that described the
kinds of Senate references that were previously allowed. According to House
leaders, the change will expand the permissible references to the Senate but still10
maintain the “traditions of dignity and decorum in proceedings.” The Speaker will
continue to call Members to order who violate this House rule.
For almost 200 years, the House strictly interpreted British parliamentary
custom and did not allow Members of the House to refer in debate to Senate actions
or Senators, or to the Senate at all except in a general, neutral, and factual way.11
One reason behind the prohibition was the principle that two chambers of a bicameral
legislature should make decisions independently of each other, without referring to
arguments made in the other body. The other reason was that the prohibition would
minimize disputes or misunderstandings between the chambers.12
In the late 1980s, the House loosened the prohibition against references to the13
Senate that had been established by precedent. A 1987 amendment to House rules
8 Under the rule, the previous question was ordered automatically on the bill and any
amendments after one hour of debate.
9 Congressional Record, daily edition, Jan. 4, 2005, p. H13.
10 Congressional Record, daily edition, Jan. 4, 2005, p. H13.
11 Lewis Deschler and Wm. Holmes Brown, Deschler-Brown Precedents of the U.S. House
of Representatives, H. Doc. 94-661, 94th Cong., 2nd sess., (Washington: GPO, n.d., coveringth
precedents through the 104 Congress), vol. 13, ch. 29, sec. 44, pp. 127-9 (hereafter cited
as Deschler-Brown Precedents); House Manual, sec. 371, p. 189.
12 U.S. Congress, House, Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual, and Rules of the House of
Representatives of the United States, One Hundred Eighth Congress, H.Doc. 107-284, 107thnd
Cong., 2 sess., [compiled by] Charles W. Johnson, Parliamentarian (Washington: GPO,
13 Congressional Record, daily edition, Jan. 6, 1987, pp. H6-H7; Congressional Record,
allowed Members to refer to Senate actions if they were a matter of public record and
to refer to the sponsorship or status of bills, resolutions, and amendments in the
Senate. In 1989, the House further expanded permissible references to allow
Members to provide factual descriptions of Senate action or inaction on a measure
before the House, and to quote Senate proceedings relevant to the creation of a
legislative history establishing the meaning of a measure before the House. House
rules, however, still prohibited characterizations of Senate action or inaction and
references to individual Senators. Quotations from Senate proceedings that would
not be relevant to the legislative history of a measure then under debate were also
Authority to Postpone and Cluster Votes. Since 1979, House rules have
granted the Speaker the authority to postpone certain electronic votes. Clause 8 of
Rule XX allows the Speaker to schedule votes on some questions at a convenient
time within the next two legislative days. Postponing votes on questions so that a
series of electronic votes can be taken back-to-back is generally considered to be
convenient for all Members. The rule, furthermore, allows the Speaker to shorten the
length of electronic votes. If several votes are postponed, then after the first vote is
held open for the minimum 15 minutes required by House rules, the Speaker can
reduce the time for all subsequent votes to 5 minutes each.
Since the adoption of the original rule allowing the Speaker to postpone certain
votes, the House has amended the rule several times to include votes on additional
questions.14 This most recent revision adds three questions to the list of questions
that can be postponed: agreeing to a motion to reconsider; agreeing to a motion to lay
on the table a motion to reconsider; and agreeing to an amendment reported from the
Committee of the Whole.
The three questions added to the list of votes that can be postponed are rarely
settled by recorded vote, and therefore the Speaker will have few opportunities to
postpone them. One motion to reconsider the vote on final passage of the bill, and
in fact on most questions decided in the House, can be made by a Member on the
daily edition, Jan. 3, 1989, p. H7.
14 The original rule included only the question of passing bills or resolutions or agreeing to
conference reports. In the 97th Congress, the House added the question of agreeing to a
motion to suspend the rules and on ordering the previous question on special rules. In theth
of agreeing to the Speaker’s approval of the Journal later in the legislative day. In the 101
Congress, the question of agreeing to a motion to instruct House conferees if they failed toth
report was added, and in the 106 Congress the House added the question of agreeing to anth
initial motion to instruct conferees. In the 104 Congress, the House expanded the list to
include a vote ordering the previous question on all the questions that are susceptible of
postponement. House Manual, sec. 1030, p. 808.
prevailing side of the question.15 The motion is rarely made; instead it is routinely
laid on the table without objection.
The House also does not often vote electronically on amendments reported from
the Committee of the Whole. Most major measures are considered in the Committee
of the Whole, and most amendments are offered, debated, and voted on in the
Committee of the Whole.16 Since the Committee of the Whole is technically a
committee of the House, any amendments that are agreed to are reported to the full
House, and, since only the House has the authority to actually amend the bill, the
amendments must be voted on again. Generally, all amendments agreed to in the
Committee of the Whole are agreed to, en bloc, by voice vote after the Committee
of the Whole reports to the House. A Member could, however, demand a separate
vote on any amendment. Voting a second time on all the amendments could
potentially be time-consuming. The rules change will allow the Speaker to schedule
electronic votes on these amendments, if demanded, at a later time in the legislative
Quorum in the Case of Catastrophic Circumstances
Article I, Section 5, clause 1 of the Constitution states that “a Majority of each
[House] shall constitute a Quorum to do Business.” A quorum has long been defined
as a majority of the whole number of the House, and the whole number of the House
has long been viewed as the number of Members elected, sworn, and living.
Whenever the death, resignation, disqualification, or expulsion of a Member results
in a vacancy, the whole number of the House is adjusted.17
In the event of a catastrophe, however, it may not be immediately known
whether a Member is alive or dead, thereby making it impossible to adjust the whole
number of Members. Furthermore, if a Member is incapacitated but living, or
unharmed but unable to attend the proceedings of the House, he or she would still
count toward the whole number used to determine a quorum. Missing, injured, and
stranded Members are still “elected, sworn, and living.” If many such Members are
affected, and the Congress needs to act, this situation could prove problematic
because it may be impossible to establish a quorum.
15 House Rule XIX, clause 3, provides the opportunity to offer the motion to reconsider. The
motion can only be made in the House, not in the Committee of the Whole. Furthermore, it
is only in order the same day as the vote or on the day after the vote. For more information,
see House Manual, sec. 1003, pp. 783-788 and CRS Report RL32207, Commonly Used
Motions and Requests in the House of Representatives, by Betsy Palmer.
16 For more information on the amending process in the House of Representatives, including
a discussion of the process after the Committee of the Whole rises and reports, see CRS
Report 98-995, The Amending Process in the House of Representatives, by Christopher M.
Davis and Stanley Bach.
17 This long-standing practice was codified in House Rule XX, clause 5(c) in the 108th
Congress. H.Res. 5 of the 109th Congress also amended the rules to include the long-
standing definition of whole number of the House: “the number of Representatives, chosen,
sworn, and living whose membership in the House has not been terminated by resignation
or action of the House.”
In order to address this issue, the House modified clause 5 of Rule XX to
prepare for a catastrophic event that leaves a large number of Members missing,
incapacitated, or incapable of attending the proceedings of the House. The addition
to the rule establishes a method for establishing a “provisional quorum” in the case
of a catastrophic event. This new method does not provide a new means for
determining the whole number of the House; on the contrary, it is a method to be
used provisionally until a quorum can be constituted by a majority of the whole
number of the House. Under the new rule, if the House is without a quorum due to
catastrophic circumstance, then a quorum shall be a majority of the “provisional
number” of the House.
Steps Required to Establish the House Is Without a Quorum Due
to Catastrophic Circumstance. The rule requires four steps to be taken in order,
and without intervening adjournment, to establish that the House is without a quorum
due to catastrophic circumstances. Only after the steps described below are taken
will a quorum be determined based on the provisional number of the House. A
majority of Members present may terminate the proceedings by adopting the motion
First, dispose of a motion to compel the attendance of absent18
Members. If the absence of a quorum is demonstrated, then under a House rule
dating back to 1789 a Member can make a motion to compel the attendance of absent
Members. This motion, described in House Rule XX clause 5(a), must first be
disposed of, either favorably or unfavorably, before any other steps are taken to19
establish that the House is without a quorum due to catastrophic circumstances.
The motion to compel the attendance of absent Members requires a majority
vote for adoption, and that majority must comprise at least 15 Members.20 If the
motion is adopted, then the call of the House occurs through Members presenting
themselves, perhaps after receiving notification from the Sergeant-at-Arms, and21
having their presence recorded by the Clerk. If the motion is not adopted, either
because it failed to garner support from a majority of Members present, or because
the majority supporting it is fewer than 15 Members, then the motion is still
18 The failure of the House to comply with the constitutional quorum requirement is
demonstrated if a majority of the whole number of the House does not respond to a quorum
call or a call of the House or do not participate in a record vote. For more information see
CRS Report 98-988, Voting and Quorum Procedures in the House of Representatives, by
19 “Section-by-Section Summary of H. Res. 5, Adopting House Rules for the 109th
Congress,” Congressional Record, daily edition, Jan. 4, 2005, p. H13.
20 This motion is in order even if the absence of a quorum has been demonstrated. Article
I, Section 5, clause 1 of the Constitution states that, in the absence of a quorum, “a smaller
Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of
absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.”
21 Under the modern practice, the call to compel attendance of absent Members rarely
occurs, but for an example of proceedings see Congressional Record, daily edition, Nov. 2,
considered “disposed of” and the other steps necessary to establish that the House is
without a quorum due to catastrophic circumstances can occur.
Second, conduct a 72-hour call of the House that does not produce
a quorum. After disposing of the motion to compel the attendance of absent
Members, the House must have a call (or series of calls) of the House over a period
of 72 hours, excluding time spent in recess.22 The call could be the one that was
ordered by adoption of the motion to compel the attendance of absent Members. The
Speaker23 could also entertain a motion for a call of the House under clause 7(b) of
Rule XX. However ordered, if the call failed to produce a quorum based on the
existing whole number of the House after 72 hours, then the call could be closed and
additional steps to establish that the House is without a quorum due to catastrophic
circumstances could be taken.
Third, the Speaker must receive a “catastrophic quorum failure
report” and announce its contents to the House. After the call of the House
is closed, the Speaker, with the Majority and Minority Leader, can then receive from
the Sergeant-at-Arms (or his designee) a “catastrophic quorum failure report” that
states the House cannot establish a quorum because of catastrophic circumstances
such as an attack or a natural disaster. According to the rule, a catastrophic quorum
failure report must contain:
!the number of known vacancies;
!a list of former Representatives whose seats are vacant (this list
would include any known dead Representatives, as well as any
Representatives who resigned or who were removed by action of the
House if their seats had not yet been filled;
!a list of Representatives considered incapacitated;
!a list of Representatives not incapacitated but still incapable of
attending the proceedings of the House; and
!a list of Representatives not accounted for.
The Sergeant-at-Arms is directed by the new rule to prepare the report in
consultation with the Attending Physician to the Congress (or his designee), the Clerk
of the House (or his designee), and public health and law enforcement officials. The
Speaker, after consultation with the two party leaders, is required to announce the
content of the report to the House. This announcement is not subject to appeal.
22 Under some conditions, House rules grant the Speaker the authority to declare a recess.
Clause 12(b) of Rule I states: “To suspend the business of the House when notified of an
imminent threat to its safety, the Speaker may declare an emergency recess subject to the
call of the Chair.” Clause 12 (a) also authorizes the Speaker to declare a recess when no
question is pending before the House.
23 In catastrophic circumstances, the person exercising the authorities of the Office of
Speaker might not be an elected Speaker or Speaker pro tempore. He or she might be a
Speaker pro tempore appointed under clause 8(a) or clause 8(b)(1) of Rule I or acting under
clause 8(b)(3) of Rule I.
Fourth, conduct a 24-hour call of the House that does not produce
a quorum. Even after the Speaker’s announcement, the House is not considered to
be without a quorum due to catastrophic circumstances until the completion of a
second extended call of the House. This call of the House can be ordered under the
procedures described in clause 5(a) of Rule XX or by a motion for the call under
clause 7(b). This second call of the House, or series of calls, could be closed after
24 hours, excluding the time spent in recess, if it did not produce a majority of the
whole number of the House.
The Provisional Number of the House. If all four of these steps are
completed, then the House has established that it is without a quorum due to
catastrophic circumstances. A quorum for conducting business can then be
determined based on the “provisional number of the House.” The number of
Members who respond to the 24-hour call of the House will be the provisional
number of the House, and a majority of the provisional number will constitute a
quorum for doing business. If Members arrive after the call of the House, the
provisional number is increased accordingly. If any Member counted under the
24-hour call of the House to determine the provisional number later ceases to be a
Representative, due to death, resignation, or action by the House, then the provisional
number of the House would also be reduced accordingly.24
The catastrophic quorum failure report must be updated each legislative day; in
other words, it must be updated each time the House reconvenes after an
adjournment. The Speaker is required to make these updates available to the House.
If at any time a sufficient number of Members arrive to constitute a quorum of the
whole number of the House, then the provisional number would no longer be in
Constitutionality of the Provisional Quorum. Some Members expressed
concern that the catastrophic quorum rule was unconstitutional. When H.Res. 5 was
called up for consideration, a Representative made a constitutional point of order.
The Speaker declined to entertain the constitutional point of order, citing numerous
earlier precedents barring the Speaker from ruling on the constitutionality of a
pending proposal.25 Instead, typically, the House determines for itself the
constitutionality of a proposition either by voting to consider it or voting to adopt it.
The Representative then raised the question of consideration, and the House by a vote
of 224-192 agreed to consider H.Res. 5 and the provisions in it dealing with the new
quorum procedure. Thereafter, H.Res. 5 was agreed to by a vote of 220-195.
Whether an attempt will be made to challenge in court the constitutionality of the rule
24 According to the new rule, if the House is conducting business with a provisional
quorum, then it cannot expel a Representative who is not incapacitated but is otherwise
incapable of attending the proceedings of the House (Rule XX, clause 5(c)(6)).
25 Congressional Record, daily edition, Jan. 4, 2005, p. H10. The Speaker cited the
numerous precedents in House Manual, sec. 628, p. 341, and specifically Asher C. Hinds,
Hinds’ Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington: GPO,
is not yet certain. Neither is it certain that a Member has legal standing to bring such
a suit without the new quorum rule ever having been implemented.26
26 For more information on the issue of a catastrophic loss of Members of Congress, see
CRS Report RL31394, House Vacancies: Selected Proposals for Filling Them After a
Catastrophic Loss of Members, by Sula P. Richardson and Paul S. Rundquist, and CRS
Report RL32031, House Vacancies: Proposed Constitutional Amendments for Filling Them
Due to National Emergencies, by Sula P. Richardson and Paul S. Rundquist.