House Floor Activity: The Daily Flow of Business
House Floor Activity:
The Daily Flow of Business
Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
The rules of the House include a rule that lays out the daily order of business on the
House floor. In practice, however, the House never follows this rule as it decides what
legislative business it will transact, and when. All of the legislative business that the
House conducts is brought to the floor in ways that interrupt the daily order of business,
as defined by clause 1 of Rule XIV. For more information on legislative process, see
[ http://www.crs.gov/products/guides/guidehome.shtml] .
This rule provides that each daily session of the House is to begin with a prayer,
followed by the reading and approval of the Journal (which documents the previous day’s
proceedings), and the Pledge of Allegiance. The rule then lists six other kinds of business
and the order in which the House is to transact them each day. However, other House
rules and certain precedents allow Members to interrupt these six kinds of business so that
the House can act on specific kinds of measures and motions. A measure or motion is
called privileged if it can interrupt the regular order of business, as defined in Rule XIV.
In practice, all the legislative matters that the House considers during its floor sessions are
brought up as privileged interruptions of the regular order of business.
Certain matters are privileged for floor consideration at any time. Others are
privileged only after prior notification to the House or after they have been available in
writing to Members for certain periods of time. Still others are privileged on certain days
of the week, or on certain days of each month, or after a certain date of each year. In
addition, the House always can agree to a unanimous consent request that it act on some
matter — usually a non-controversial one — that otherwise would not be privileged for
floor consideration at that time.
For example, clause 5(a) of Rule XIII grants certain committees “leave to report at
any time” on certain kinds of measures within their jurisdictions. Once one of these
measures is reported from committee, it becomes privileged for floor consideration,
immediately or eventually. Under this rule, for instance, a special rule reported by the
Rules Committee becomes privileged on the day after the committee reports it. Under the
same rule, a general appropriations bill becomes privileged three days after being
reported, but a continuing appropriations resolution is privileged only after September 15
of each year. Other rules and precedents grant privilege to such matters as conference
reports, resolutions assigning Members to House committees, and resolutions raising “a
question of the privileges of the House” (under Rule IX). Once any such matter becomes
eligible for consideration, the appropriate Member (or, in some cases, any Member) can
call it up for floor action when there is no other matter pending.
Rule XV designates certain days of each week or month on which special procedures
take precedence over the regular order of business. For example, motions to suspend the
rules are privileged on every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, whereas motions to
discharge committees must be listed on their calendar for at least seven days and then are
privileged on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. The same rule also grants
privilege on certain days to measures on the Private Calendar, to bills that committees call
up on Calendar Wednesday, and to District of Columbia bills that the Committee on
Oversight and Government Reform has reported.
Because of the House’s reliance on this system of privileged business, there really
is no such thing as a “typical day” on the House floor, except for the non-legislative
proceedings that take place at the beginning and end of the day. Each daily session begins
with the prayer, the approval of the Journal, and the Pledge of Allegiance. These opening
proceedings usually are followed by some one-minute speeches that allow Members to
comment on current legislative or other matters. However, the Speaker can control how
many one-minute speeches are permitted on each day, or decline to allow any at all. After
completion of legislative business on each day, there usually is a period of time for
special-order speeches, arranged by unanimous consent, during which Members who have
requested to do so can speak for as much as an hour each on subjects of their choice.
Between one-minute speeches and special-order speeches, the House’s floor
schedule of legislative business depends on what kinds of privileged matters are in order
on that day and what specific privileged matters are ready for consideration, as well as on
the sequence in which the majority party’s leaders propose that the House consider them.
With few exceptions, the majority party, acting through the Speaker or its majority on the
Rules Committee, retains the ability to control the daily floor schedule by determining the
sequence in which the House takes up various items of privileged business.
The flow of business on the House floor also depends on the day of the week and the
time of the year. The House tends to be in session more often and for longer hours during
the middle of the week than on Mondays and Fridays. Also, the House tends to meet
more often and for longer hours later during the year than during the first months of each
session, when much of the House’s legislative work is being done in committee. As the
end of each session of Congress approaches, the House sometimes meets in extended
floor sessions. Finally, the House typically conducts certain kinds of legislative business
during certain months of the year. For example, the House is expected to act on a budget
resolution during the spring, and the floor schedule during the months of June and July
often is dominated by the House’s initial consideration of the annual general
appropriations bills. By the same token, during the last weeks of September, the House
frequently has been preoccupied with the need to complete the appropriations process
before the new fiscal year begins on October 1.