How Measures Are Brought to the House Floor: A Brief Introduction
How Measures Are Brought to the
House Floor: A Brief Introduction
Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
This report presents a brief description of the five methods used to bring proposed
legislation to the House floor for consideration. These methods allow for consideration
as a privileged matter, under the limited privilege of a special calendar or day, under
suspension of the rules, under the terms of a special rule, or by unanimous consent. This
report will be updated to reflect any changes in the rules or practices of the House.
There is no single method that the House must employ in calling up or considering
proposed legislation. Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution allows each house of
Congress to determine for itself the “Rules of its Proceedings,” and the House has used
this freedom to provide itself several alternative procedures for raising measures for
consideration. These procedures allow the House to tailor its consideration depending on
the circumstances and content of the measure.
When a measure is reported by a House committee, it is placed on a calendar. Tax,
authorization, and appropriation measures are placed on the Union Calendar (so-called
because such measures must be considered in the Committee of the Whole House on the1
state of the Union, known as the Committee of the Whole). Other matters go on the
House Calendar. These calendars are essentially lists of measures that committees have
recommended for further consideration by the House. It would be virtually impossible
for the House to consider all of the proposed legislation on these lists and it would be
equally impractical for the House to attempt to consider each of these measures in the
order in which they appear on these lists. Therefore, the House has evolved a system for
establishing priorities. This system is based on a concept called “privilege.”
1 For more on Committee of the Whole, see CRS Report RS20147, Committee of the Whole: An
Introduction, by Judy Schneider.
The rules and practices of the House provide five methods by which a measure may
be raised for consideration. A measure may be brought to the floor as a privileged matter,
under the limited privilege of a special calendar or day, under suspension of the rules,
under the terms of a special rule, or by unanimous consent.
House Rule XIV, clause 1, specifies a daily order of business for the House to
follow. In practice, that order is not usually observed because House rules also specify
several types of measures that are privileged, and therefore may interrupt the order of
business. These types of measures may be called up on the floor whenever another matter
is not already pending. They are then considered only when the House agrees to do so by
agreeing to a unanimous consent request, voting to resolve into Committee of the Whole
(in the case of general appropriation bills), or raising and voting on the question of
consideration. In this way the House gives precedence to important classes of business
without losing its power to decide (by majority vote) to consider any measure it chooses.
Currently, privileged measures include
!bills and resolutions reported under the right of a committee to report at
any time (Rule XIII, clause 5(a)); this category includes
-general appropriations bills,
-continuing resolutions after September 15,
-concurrent resolutions on the budget,
-resolutions from the Committee on Rules concerning the rules of the
House, joint rules, or the order of business (known as “special rules”),2
-resolutions from the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct
recommending action as a result of an investigation, and
-measures reported from the Committee on House Administration
concerning enrolled bills, contested elections, printing for the use of the
House, expenditures from the contingent fund (including committee
funding resolutions), or noncurrent records of the House;
!conference reports after three days (Rule XXII, clause 7(a));
!motions to discharge or instruct conferees (Rule XXII, clause 7(c));
!questions of the privileges of the House or questions of personal privilege
(Rule IX, clause 2);
!resolutions of inquiry (Rule XIII, clause 7); and
2 Privileged reports by the Committee on Rules are further specified in Rule XIII, clause 6.
!measures vetoed by the President (Article I, Section 7 of the U.S.
Special Calendars or Days
Other measures may be accorded a more limited form of privilege. These measures
may interrupt the order of business, but only in certain specified circumstances. This
limited privilege can apply to special calendars (i.e., lists of legislation), such as the
Discharge or Private Calendars. It can also apply to special types of legislation regardless
of which calendar they appear on, such as the special days on which District of Columbia
business is privileged, or even to committees, such as with Calendar Wednesday. These
special procedures allow the House to set aside predictable periods of time when it may
consider various categories of proposed legislation.
Under House Rule XV, clause 2, if a committee fails to report a measure, a motion
to discharge the committee from further consideration of the measure may be made on the
second or fourth Monday of a month if 218 Members have signed a petition for that
purpose and certain waiting periods are met. If the motion is agreed to, a further motion
is in order to consider the measure discharged. If the measure coming up by discharge is
a special rule for considering another measure, the special rule is automatically
considered. A measure called up from the Discharge Calendar is considered in the House
or in the Committee of the Whole, as appropriate.
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to “exercise
exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles
square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become
the seat of the government of the United States ....” Because of this special responsibility
over the District of Columbia, House rules provide that measures from either the House
or Union Calendar dealing with District business are privileged for consideration on the
second and fourth Mondays of each month (Rule XV, clause 4). A measure called up by
this method is considered in the House or in the Committee of the Whole, as appropriate.
3 The constitution mandates that the House “shall proceed to reconsider” a vetoed bill. It is the
usual, but not invariable, rule that a bill returned with the objections of the President shall be read
and considered at once [Hinds, Asher C., Precedents of the House of Representatives of the
United States, including references to the Constitution, the laws, and decisions of the United
States Senate, vol. IV, sections 3534-3536 (Washington: GPO, 1907).] However, it has also
been interpreted as complied with by laying the bill on the table, referring it to a committee,
postponing consideration to a day certain, or immediately voting on reconsideration [Cannon,
Clarence, Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States, including references
to provisions of the Constitution, the laws, and decisions of the United States Senate, vol. VII,
section 1105 (Washington: GPO, 1935).]
4 For more detail see CRS Report 97-552, The Discharge Rule in the House: Principal Features
and Uses, by Richard S. Beth.
Private legislation concerns measures of a private, rather than a public, nature (i.e.,
those that apply only to specified individuals, corporations, institutions, etc.), and
typically involve such things as claims against the government and immigration problems.
Such measures are privileged for consideration on the first and third Tuesdays of each
month (Rule XV, clause 5). The Speaker is required to direct the clerk to call measures
on the Private Calendar on the first Tuesday, but consideration on the third Tuesday is
discretionary. Consideration of measures on the Private Calendar may also be dispensed
with on either the first or third Tuesday by two-thirds vote.
On days when the Private Calendar is privileged the Speaker directs the clerk to call
each bill on the Private Calendar. The measures are then passed by unanimous consent
with little or no debate if no Member objects. If one Member objects the measure is
“passed over without prejudice” for later consideration. If two or more Members object,
the measure is automatically recommitted to the committee that reported it. The rule also
allows that on the third Tuesday omnibus measures, embodying those private bills that
have been previously rejected, may have preference (although this procedure is now rarely
used). Each party appoints Members (currently three) as “official objectors” to act as
watchdogs over private legislation.
The Calendar Wednesday procedure is rarely used by the House today. Also known
as the “Call of Committees,” this rule allows a committee to overcome what it feels is
inaction or indifference by the majority leadership or the Rules Committee, or both, if the
House wishes to consider a measure (Rule XV, clause 7). The rule allows each
committee in turn to call up bills not otherwise privileged that have been reported but that
have not reached the House floor through a more conventional route. Under modern
practice the call of committees is routinely dispensed with by unanimous consent.
Suspension of the Rules
Suspension of the rules is used to provide expedited consideration of relatively non-
controversial legislation. It is the most commonly used method for raising measures for
consideration. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of measures that became public
laws in recent Congresses have been considered by this method.6
The procedure for suspension of the rules is spelled out in House Rule XV, clause
1. Under this rule, the Speaker may recognize a Member to move to suspend the rules and
pass a particular measure on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and the last six days of
a session. Suspensions may also be authorized at other times by unanimous consent or
5 For more detail, see CRS Report 98-628, Private Bills: Procedure in the House, by Richard S.
6 For more detail, see CRS Report RL32474, Suspension of the Rules in the House of
Representatives, by Thomas P. Carr.
by the adoption of a special rule. There is no requirement limiting suspension motions
to measures reported from committees.
A suspension motion may be debated for 40 minutes (equally divided between a
proponent and opponent); may not be amended from the floor (although the motion itself
may include changes to the measure); and must pass by a two-thirds vote of those present
and voting. The suspension procedure effectively waives all rules of the House that
would prevent consideration of a measure, so that no points of order may be made against
the measure on the House floor.
Unlike other special days, the suspension procedure is not designed to grant limited
privilege to a specific class of legislation or empower the House to circumvent a
recalcitrant committee or leadership. The Speaker’s authority with regard to suspension
motions is not limited by the rules of the House. Rules and guidelines adopted by the
House party caucuses, however, theoretically place some limits on the use of the
procedure. The rules of the House Democratic Caucus, for example, among other limits,
direct the Democratic leadership not to consent to the consideration of measures under
suspension that would make or authorize appropriations in excess of $100 million. In the
109th Congress, Republican Conference rules provided that the Republican leadership
should not schedule any bill for consideration under the suspension procedure that did not
include a cost estimate, had not been cleared by the minority, or was opposed by more
than one-third of a reporting committee’s members, unless the rule was waived by a
majority of the party’s elected leadership.
The House Committee on Rules is authorized to report resolutions on the order of
business. These resolutions, called special rules, are privileged under Rule XIII, clause
5(a), and generally provide for the House to make in order floor consideration of a
measure.7 In effect, special rules allow the House to take a measure from the House or
Union Calendar (or even one not reported by a committee), and give it privilege to be
considered. Most major and controversial legislation is considered under this method.
Otherwise privileged measures, such as appropriations bills and budget resolutions, may
come before the House on the adoption of a special rule as well. Special rules are
considered in the House under the one-hour rule, but the measure covered by the special
rule is typically considered in the Committee of the Whole (although consideration in the
House can be specified if it is appropriate).
Special rules set the terms and conditions for consideration of the specified measure.
Special rules typically state a period for general debate on the measure as a whole, and
expedite final action after the Committee of the Whole is finished with consideration.
Special rules may include provisions to structure the amending process for a measure and
7 For more detail on special rules see, CRS Report 96-938, Special Rules in the House of
Representatives, by Stanley Bach, James V. Saturno, and Christopher M. Davis. Rule XIII,
clause 6(e) and Rule XV, clause 3 also provide that an adverse report by the Committee on Rules
on a special rule is privileged for consideration on the second and fourth Mondays of a month,
and may be called up by any Member.
may also waive points of order against consideration of a bill, against specified
provisions, or against amendments.
For some noncontroversial matters, the Speaker will recognize a Member to ask for
unanimous consent that a measure be passed. If any Member objects to the request, the
measure will fail to pass. In this circumstance, no formal debate can take place, but
Members may sometimes reserve the right to object in order to clarify the content or
purposes of a measure. Unanimous consent requests can also be made to provide for
consideration of a measure, although this is rare. The request may designate a procedure
under which debate may take place and amendments may be offered.
Under a long-standing policy, the Speaker will generally not recognize a Member to
make a unanimous consent request relating to the consideration of measures unless that
request has been cleared in advance by both the majority and minority. Furthermore,
under the same policy, with respect to unanimous consent requests to dispose of Senate
amendments to House bills on the Speaker’s table, the chair will generally only entertain
such a request it if is made by the chairman of the committee of jurisdiction or another
committee member who has been authorized to make the request.8
8 U.S. Congress, Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives,
H.Doc. 109-157, 109th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, 2007), §956.