The Legislative Process on the House Floor: An Introduction

The Legislative Process on the House Floor:
An Introduction
Updated November 26, 2008
Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division

The Legislative Process on the House Floor:
An Introduction
With very few exceptions, the House determines and enforces its own
procedures for considering legislation on the floor. Its standing rules include several
alternative sets of procedures for acting on individual bills and resolutions. The
choices made among these procedures usually depend on how important and
controversial each measure is. In general, though, all these procedures permit a
majority of Members to work their will without excessive delay.
The House passes many bills by motions to suspend the rules, with limited
debate and no floor amendments, with the support of at least two-thirds of the
Members voting. Most major bills first are considered in Committee of the Whole
before being passed by a simple majority vote of the House. The Committee of the
Whole is governed by more flexible procedures than the basic rules of the House,
under which a majority can vote to pass a bill after only one hour of debate and with
no floor amendments. The Rules Committee is instrumental in recommending
procedures for considering major bills, and may propose restrictions on the floor
amendments that Members can offer.
The daily order of business on the House floor is governed by standing rules that
make certain matters and actions privileged for consideration, and by House
decisions to grant other individual bills privileged access to the floor, usually upon
recommendation of the Rules Committee. Although a quorum is supposed to be
present on the floor when the House is conducting business, the House assumes a
quorum is present unless a quorum call or electronically recorded vote demonstrates
that it is not. However, the standing rules preclude quorum calls at most times other
than when the House is voting. Questions are first decided by voice vote, though any
Member then may demand a division vote. Before the final result of a voice or
division vote is announced, Members can secure an electronically-recorded vote
instead, if enough Members desire it or if a quorum is not present in the House.

In troduction ......................................................1
The Nature of the Rules.............................................1
The House and the Committee of the Whole.............................2
Limitations on Debate..............................................2
Four Modes of Consideration........................................3
Under Suspension of the Rules...................................3
In the House under the Hour Rule.................................4
In Committee of the Whole and the House..........................5
General Debate............................................5
Amending Process.........................................6
Final Passage.............................................7
In the House as in Committee of the Whole.........................7
The Calendars and the Order of Business...............................8
The Rules Committee and Special Rules................................9
Senate Amendments and Conference Reports...........................10
Voting and Quorum Procedures......................................12
The Daily Order of Business........................................13
Sources of Additional Information...................................14
CRS Reports................................................14

The Legislative Process on the House Floor:
An Introduction
A complicated body of rules, precedents, and practices governs the legislative
process on the floor of the House of Representatives. The official manual of House
rules is more than a thousand pages long and is supplemented by more than 25
volumes of precedents, with more volumes to be published in coming years. Yet
there are two reasons why gaining a fundamental understanding of the House’s
legislative procedures is not as difficult as the sheer number and size of these
documents might suggest.1
First, the ways in which the House applies its rules are largely predictable, at
least in comparison with the Senate. Some rules certainly are more complex and
more difficult to interpret than others, but the House does tend to follow similar
procedures under similar circumstances. Even the ways in which the House
frequently waives, supplants, or supplements its regular rules with special, temporary
procedures generally fall into a limited number of recognizable patterns.
Second, underlying most of the rules that Representatives may invoke and the
procedures the House may follow is a fundamentally important premise — that a
majority of Members ultimately should be able to work their will on the floor. While
House rules generally do recognize the importance of permitting any minority,
partisan or bipartisan, to present its views and sometimes to propose its alternatives,
the rules do not enable that minority to filibuster or use other devices to prevent the2
majority from prevailing without undue delay. This principle provides an underlying
coherence to the various specific procedures that are discussed briefly in this report.
The Nature of the Rules
Article I of the Constitution imposes a few restrictions on House (and Senate)
procedures — for example, requirements affecting quorums and roll call votes — but
otherwise the Constitution authorizes each house of Congress to determine for itself
the “Rules of its Proceedings” (Article 1, Section 5).

1 This report was written by Stanley Bach, a former Senior Specialist in the Legislative
Process at CRS. The listed author updated the report and can respond to inquiries on the
2 This premise is not characteristic of Senate rules and procedures, and this difference most
clearly distinguishes between the general approaches that the two chambers traditionally
have taken to the legislative process.

This grant of authority has several important implications. First, the House can
amend its rules unilaterally; it need not consult with either the Senate or the
President. Second, the House is free to suspend, waive, or ignore its rules whenever
it chooses to do so. By and large, the Speaker or whatever Representative is
presiding usually does not enforce the rules at his or her own initiative. Instead,
Members must protect their own rights and interests by making points of order
whenever they believe that the rules are about to be violated. In addition, House
rules include several formal procedures for waiving or suspending certain other rules,
and almost any rule can be waived by unanimous consent. Thus, the requirements
and restrictions discussed in this report generally apply only if the House chooses to
enforce them.
The House and the Committee of the Whole
Actually, much of the legislative process on the floor occurs not “in the House,”
but in a committee of the House known as the Committee of the Whole (formally, the
Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union). Every Representative is
a member of the Committee of the Whole, and it is in this Committee, meeting in the
House chamber, that most major bills usually are debated and amended before being
passed or defeated by the House itself. Most bills first are referred to, considered in,
and reported by a standing committee of the House before coming to the floor. In
much the same way, once bills do reach the floor, many of them then are referred to
a second committee, the Committee of the Whole, for further debate and for the
consideration of amendments.
The Speaker presides over meetings of the House but not over meetings of the
Committee of the Whole. Instead, she appoints another member of the majority party
to serve as the chair of the Committee of the Whole during the time the Committee
is considering a particular bill or resolution. In addition, the rules that apply in
Committee of the Whole are somewhat different from those that govern meetings of
the House itself. The major differences are discussed in the following sections of this
report. In general, the combined effect of these differences is to make the procedures
in Committee of the Whole — especially the procedures for offering and debating
amendments — considerably more flexible than those of the House.
Limitations on Debate
If for no other reason than the size of its membership, the House has found it
necessary to limit the opportunities for each Representative to participate in floor
deliberations. Whenever a Member is recognized to speak on the floor, there always
is a time limit on his or her right to debate. The rules of the House never permit a
Representative to hold the floor for more than one hour. Under some parliamentary
circumstances, there are more stringent limits, with Members being allowed to speak
for no more than 5, 20, or 30 minutes.
Furthermore, House rules sometimes impose a limit on how long the entire
membership of the House may debate a motion or measure. Many bills and

resolutions, for instance, are considered under a set of procedures called “suspension
of the rules” (discussed later in this report), that limits all debate on a measure to a
maximum of 40 minutes. Under other conditions, when there is no such time limit
imposed by the rules, the House (and to some extent, the Committee of the Whole
as well) can impose one by simple majority vote. These debate limitations and
debate-limiting devices generally prevent a minority of the House from using
opportunities for delay to thwart the will of the majority.
House rules also limit debate in other important respects. First, all debate on the
floor must be germane to whatever legislative business the House is conducting.
Representatives may speak on other subjects only in “one-minute” speeches made at
the beginning of each day’s session, “special order” speeches occurring after the
House has completed its legislative business for the day, and during “morning hour”
debates that are scheduled on certain days of the week. Second, all debate on the
floor must be consistent with certain rules of courtesy and decorum. For example,
a Member should not question or criticize the motives of a colleague.
Four Modes of Consideration
There is no one single set of procedures that the House always follows when it
considers a public bill or resolution on the floor. Instead, there are four main modes
of consideration, or different sets of procedural rules, that the House uses. In some
cases, House rules require that certain kinds of bills be considered in certain ways.
By various means, however, the House chooses to use whichever mode of
consideration is most appropriate for a given bill. Which of these modes the House
uses depends on such factors as the importance and potential cost of the bill and the
amount of controversy over it among Members. The differences among these sets
of procedures rest largely on the balance that each strikes between the opportunities
for Members to debate and propose amendments, on the one hand, and the ability of
the House to act promptly, on the other.
Under Suspension of the Rules
The House frequently resorts to a set of procedures that enables it to act quickly
on bills that enjoy overwhelming but not unanimous support. Although this set is
called “suspension of the rules,” clause 1 of Rule XV provides for these procedures
as an alternative to the other modes of consideration. The essential components of
suspension of the rules are (1) a 40-minute limit on debate, (2) a prohibition against
floor amendments, and (3) a two-thirds vote of those present and voting for passage.
On every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and often during the closing days
of a session, the Speaker may, if he chooses, recognize Members to move to suspend
the rules and pass a particular bill (or take some other action, such as agreeing to the
Senate’s amendments to a House bill). Once such a motion is made, the motion and
the bill itself together are debatable for a maximum of 40 minutes. Half of the time
is controlled by the Representative making the motion, often the chair of the
committee with jurisdiction over the bill; the other half usually is controlled by the
ranking minority member of the committee (or sometimes the subcommittee) of

jurisdiction, especially when he or she opposes the motion. The motion may propose
to pass the bill with certain amendments, but no Member may propose an amendment
from the floor.
During the debate, the two Members who control the time yield parts of it to
other Members who wish to speak. Once the 40 minutes is either used or yielded
back, a single vote occurs on suspending the rules and simultaneously passing the
bill. If two-thirds of the Members present vote “Aye” the motion is agreed to and the
bill is passed. If the motion fails, the House may debate the bill again at another
time, perhaps under another mode of consideration that permits floor amendments
and more debate and that requires only a simple majority vote for passage.
The House frequently considers several suspension motions on the same day,
which could result in a series of electronically recorded votes taking place at 40-
minute intervals if such votes are requested. For the convenience of the House,
therefore, clause 8 of Rule XX permits the Speaker to postpone electronic votes that
Members have demanded on motions to suspend the rules until a later time on the
same day or the following day. When the votes do take place, they are “clustered,”
occurring one after the other without intervening debate.
In the House under the Hour Rule
One of the ironies of the legislative process on the House floor is that the House
does relatively little business under the basic rules of the House. Instead, most of the
debate and votes on amendments to major bills occur in Committee of the Whole.
This is largely because of the rule that generally governs debate in the House itself.
The rule controlling debate during meetings of the House (as opposed to
meetings of the Committee of the Whole) is clause 2 of Rule XVII, which states in
part that “[a] Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner may not occupy more
than one hour in debate on a question in the House . . . .” In theory, this rule permits
each Representative to speak for as much as an hour on each bill, on each amendment
to each bill, and on each of the countless debatable motions that Members could
offer. Thus, there could be more than four hundred hours of debate on each such
question, a situation that would make it virtually impossible for the House to function
In practice, however, this “hour rule” usually means that each measure
considered “in the House” is debated by all Members for no more than a total of only
one hour before the House votes on passing it. The reason for this dramatic
difference between the rule in theory and the rule in practice lies in the consequences
of a motion to order what is called the “previous question.”
When a bill or resolution is called up for consideration in the House — and,
therefore, under the hour rule — the Speaker recognizes the majority floor manager
to control the first hour of debate. The majority floor manager usually is the chair of
the committee or subcommittee with jurisdiction over the measure, and most often
supports its passage without amendment. This Member will yield part of his or her
time to other Members, and may allocate control of half of the hour to the minority
floor manager (usually the ranking minority member of the committee or

subcommittee). However, the majority floor manager almost always yields to other
Representatives “for purposes of debate only.” Thus, no other Member may propose
an amendment or make any motion during that hour.
During the first hour of debate, or at its conclusion, the majority floor manager
invariably “moves the previous question.” This non-debatable motion asks the
House if it is ready to vote on passing the bill. If a majority votes for the motion, no
more debate on the bill is in order, nor can any amendments to it be offered; after
disposing of the motion, the House usually votes immediately on whether to pass the
bill. Only if the House votes not to order the previous question can debate on the bill
continue into a second hour, during which the bill may be amended. Thus, Members
who want to amend the measure first must convince the House to vote against
ordering the previous question. If they are successful, then the Member controlling
the second hour of debate may propose an amendment. However, it is very unusual
for the House not to vote for the previous question; so the House disposes of most
measures considered in the House, under the hour rule, after no more than one hour
of debate, and with no opportunity for amendment from the floor.
These are not very flexible and accommodating procedural ground rules for the
House to follow in considering most legislation. Debate on a bill usually is limited
to one hour, and only one or two Members control this time. Before an amendment
to the bill can even be considered, the House first must vote against a motion to order
the previous question. For these reasons, most major bills are not considered in the
House under the hour rule. Instead, they are considered under a third and more
complicated mode of consideration, a set of procedures involving the Committee of
the Whole.
In Committee of the Whole and the House
Clause 3 of Rule XVIII requires that most bills affecting federal taxes and
spending be considered in Committee of the Whole before the House votes on
passing them. Most other major bills also are considered in this way. Most
commonly, the House adopts a resolution, reported by the Rules Committee, that
authorizes the Speaker to declare the House “resolved” into Committee of the Whole
to consider a particular bill.
General Debate. There are two distinct stages to consideration in Committee
of the Whole. First, there is a period for general debate, which routinely is limited
to an hour.3 Each of the floor managers usually controls half the time, yielding parts
of it to other Members who want to participate in the debate. During general debate,
the two floor managers and other Members discuss the bill, the conditions prompting
the committee to recommend it, and the merits of its provisions. Members may
describe and explain the reasons for the amendments that they intend to offer, but no
amendments can actually be proposed at this time. During or after general debate,

3 The length of general debate on a bill is determined either by unanimous consent or by
adoption of a procedural resolution reported by the Committee on Rules, that typically
affects various aspects of the procedures for considering that bill. These resolutions are
discussed in the section of this report on the Rules Committee and special rules.

the majority floor manager may move that the Committee “rise” — in other words,
that the Committee transform itself back into the House. When the House agrees to
this motion, it may resolve into Committee of the Whole again at another time to
resume consideration of the bill. Alternatively, the Committee of the Whole may
proceed immediately from general debate to the next stage of consideration, the
amending process.
Amending Process. The Committee of the Whole usually considers a bill
for amendment section by section or, in the case of appropriations measures,
paragraph by paragraph. Amendments to each section or of the bill are in order after
the part they would amend has been read or designated, and before the next section
is read or designated. Alternatively, the bill may be open to amendment at any point,
usually by unanimous consent. The first amendments considered to each part of the
bill are those (if any) recommended by the committee that reported it. Thereafter,
members of the committee usually are recognized before other Representatives to
offer their own amendments. All amendments must be germane to the text they
would amend. Germaneness is a subject matter standard more stringent than one of
relevancy and reflects a complex set of criteria that have developed by precedent over
the years.
The Committee of the Whole only votes on amendments; it does not vote
directly on the bill as a whole. And like the standing committees of the House, the
Committee of the Whole does not actually amend the bill; it only votes to
recommend amendments to the House. The motion to order the previous question
may not be made in Committee of the Whole, so Members usually may offer
whatever germane amendments they wish, unless prevented from doing so by the
terms of a special rule. After voting on the last amendment to the last portion of the
bill, the Committee rises and reports the bill back to the House with whatever
amendments it has agreed to.
An amendment to a bill is a first-degree amendment. After such an amendment
is offered, but before the Committee votes on it, another Member usually may offer
a perfecting amendment to make some change in the first degree amendment. A
perfecting amendment to a first-degree amendment is a second-degree amendment.
After debate, the Committee first votes on the second-degree perfecting amendment
and then on the first-degree amendment as it may have been amended. Clause 6 of
Rule XVI also provides that a Member may offer a substitute for the first-degree
amendment, before or after a perfecting amendment is offered, and this substitute
may also be amended. Although a full discussion of these possibilities is beyond the
scope of this report, it is important to note that the amending process can become
complicated, with Members proposing several competing policy choices before the
Committee of the Whole votes on any of them.
Debate on amendments in Committee of the Whole is governed by the five-
minute rule, not the hour rule that governs debate in the House. The Member
offering each amendment (or the majority floor manager, in the case of a committee
amendment) first is recognized to speak for five minutes. Then a Member opposed
to the amendment may claim five minutes for debate. Other Members also may
speak for five minutes each by offering a motion “to strike the last word.”
Technically, this motion is an amendment that proposes to strike out the last word of

the amendment being debated. But it is a “pro forma amendment” that is offered
merely to secure time for debate, and so is not voted on when the five minutes expire.
In this way, each Representative may speak for five minutes on each amendment.
However, a majority of the Members can vote (or agree by unanimous consent) to
end the debate on an amendment immediately or at some specified time.
Final Passage. When the Committee finally rises and reports the bill back
to the House, the House proceeds to vote on the amendments the Committee has
adopted. It usually approves all these amendments by one voice vote, though
Members can demand separate votes on any or all of them as a matter of right. After
a formal and routine stage called third reading and engrossment (when only the title
of the bill is read), there is then an opportunity for a Member, virtually always from
the minority party, to offer a motion to recommit the bill to committee. If the House
agrees to a “simple” or “straight” motion to recommit, which only proposes to return
the bill to committee, the bill is taken from the floor and returned to committee.
While in theory the committee might re-report the bill, in practice, the adoption of
a straight motion to recommit is often characterized as effectively killing the bill.
Alternately, motions to recommit frequently include instructions that the
committee report the bill back to the House with an amendment that is stated in the
motion. Such motions to recommit with amendatory instructions could direct the
committee to report the measure back “forthwith.” If the House agrees to such a
motion, it then immediately votes on the amendment itself, so a motion to recommit
with instructions of this type is really a final opportunity to amend the bill before the
House votes on whether to pass it. On the other hand, the adoption of a motion to
recommit with instructions that direct a committee to report a measure back to the
House “promptly” (or take any action other than to report back forthwith, such as to
hold additional hearings) results in the measure being taken from the House floor
before final passage, and, like a straight motion to recommit, is often characterized
as “killing” the bill.
Thus, this complicated mode of consideration, which the House uses to consider
most major bills, begins in the House with a decision to resolve into Committee of
the Whole to consider a particular bill. General debate and the amending process
take place in Committee of the Whole, but ultimately it is the House that formally
amends and then passes or rejects the bill.
In the House as in Committee of the Whole
A fourth mode of consideration, which the House does not use very often, is a
hybrid form that combines features of the procedures that apply in the House under
the hour rule and those that apply in the Committee of the Whole. This set of
procedures, known as the House meeting “as in Committee of the Whole,” has
evolved by precedent, and no House rules explicitly define its elements. It may be
used to consider private bills, and it was used routinely, although only by unanimous
consent, to consider bills reported by the Committee on the District of Columbia
before the House abolished that committee in 1995.
A measure considered in this way is debated under the five-minute rule; the
hour rule does not apply, nor is there a period for general debate. The majority floor

manager secures time to make his opening statement on the bill by moving to strike
the last word that is, the last word of the bill. All other Members who want their own
time to speak use the same device. The bill is open to amendment at any point; it is
not read for amendment, as are bills being amended under the five-minute rule in
Committee of the Whole. But like procedures in the House under the hour rule, the
majority floor manager may move the previous question on an individual amendment
or on the bill and all amendments to it. Votes on amendments are final because they
occur in the House itself. After acting on the last amendment and ordering the bill
engrossed and read the third time (by title only), the House votes on final passage.
The Calendars and the Order of Business
When a House committee reports a public bill or resolution that had been
referred to it, the measure is placed on the House Calendar or the Union Calendar.
In general, tax, authorization, and appropriations bills are placed on the Union
Calendar; all others go to the House Calendar. In effect, the calendars are catalogues
of measures that have been approved, with or without proposed amendments, by one
or more House committees, and now are available for consideration on the floor.4
Because it would be impractical or undesirable for the House to take up measures in
the chronological order in which they are reported and placed on one of the calendars,
there must be some procedures for deciding the order in which measures are to be
brought from the calendars to the House floor — in other words, procedures for
determining the order of business.
Clause 1 of Rule XIV lists the daily order of business on the floor, beginning
with the opening prayer, the approval of the Journal, which is the official record of
House proceedings required by the Constitution, and the Pledge of Allegiance. Apart
from these routine matters, however, the House never follows the order of business
laid out in this rule. Instead, certain measures and actions are privileged, meaning
that they may interrupt the regular order of business. In practice, all the legislative
business that the House conducts comes to the floor by interrupting the order of
business under Rule XIV, either by unanimous consent or under the provisions of
another House rule. Every bill and resolution that cannot be considered by
unanimous consent must become privileged business if it is going to reach the floor
at all.
Measures considered under some of the modes of consideration discussed above
are privileged on certain days. For example, on any Monday, Tuesday, or
Wednesday, the Speaker can recognize Members to move to suspend the rules and
pass bills. As has been noted, suspension motions are privileged on those days and
so the bills they involve may be considered. Private bills are privileged for
consideration on the first and third Tuesdays of each month (under clause 5 of Rule
XV). Clause 4 of the same rule makes bills relating to the District of Columbia, if

4 Committees also may report measures unfavorably or without recommendation, but they
rarely do so. Instead, committees usually do not report the bills and resolutions they do not

reported by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in order on the
second and fourth Mondays.
In addition, clause 5(a) of Rule XIII grants certain committees the right to report
certain kinds of measures at any time, meaning that those measures may be called up
on the floor as privileged business whenever another matter is not already pending.
These privileged measures include general appropriations bills (from the
Appropriations Committee), budget resolutions and reconciliation bills (from the
Budget Committee), resolutions to fund House committees (from the Committee on
House Administration), and measures changing House rules (from the Rules
Committee). However, most major bills do not fall into one of these categories, nor
do they usually enjoy enough support to pass under suspension of the rules. Another
approach is necessary for them to become privileged for floor action. This approach
is based on the Rules Committee’s jurisdiction over measures affecting the order of
business on the floor.
The Rules Committee and Special Rules
Clause 1(m) of Rule X authorizes the Rules Committee to report resolutions
affecting the order of business. Such a resolution — which is called a “rule” or
“special rule” — usually proposes to make a bill in order for floor consideration so
that it can be debated, amended, and passed or defeated by a simple majority vote.
In effect, each special rule recommends to the House that it take from the Union or
House Calendar a measure that is not otherwise privileged business and bring it to
the floor out of its order on that calendar. Typically, such a resolution begins by
providing that, at any time after its adoption, the Speaker may declare the House
resolved into the Committee of the Whole for the consideration of that bill. Because
the special rule itself is privileged, under clause 5(a) of Rule XIII, the House can
debate and vote on it promptly. If the House accepts the Rules Committee’s
recommendation, it proceeds to consider the bill itself.
One fundamental purpose of most special rules, therefore, is to make another
measure privileged so that it may interrupt the regular order of business. Their other
fundamental purpose is to set special procedural ground rules for considering that
measure; these ground rules may either supplement or supplant the standing rules of
the House. For example, the special rule typically sets the length of time for general
debate in Committee of the Whole and specifies which Members are to control that
time. In addition, the special rule normally includes provisions that expedite final
House action on the bill after the amending process in Committee of the Whole has
been completed. Special rules also may waive points of order that Members
otherwise could make against consideration of the bill, against one of its provisions,
or against an amendment to be offered to it.
The most controversial provisions of special rules affect the amendments that
Members can offer to the bill that the resolution makes in order. An “open rule”
permits Representatives to propose any amendment that meets the normal
requirements of House rules and precedents — for example, the requirement that
each amendment must be germane. At the other extreme, a “closed rule” prohibits

all amendments, except perhaps for committee amendments and pro forma
amendments (to strike the last word) offered only for purposes of debate. The Rules
Committee also has proposed a variety of restrictive special rules, most often called
“structured” or “modified open” rules, that either permit only certain amendments or
require Members to pre-print their amendments in the Congressional Record before
they can be considered on the floor. These provisions are very important because
they can prevent Representatives from offering amendments as alternatives to
provisions of the bill, thereby limiting the policy choices that the House can make.
However, like other committees, the Rules Committee only makes
recommendations to the House. Members debate each of its procedural resolutions
in the House under the hour rule and then vote to adopt or reject it. If the House
votes against ordering the previous question on a special rule, a Member may offer
an amendment to it, proposing to change the conditions under which the bill itself is
to be considered. Because the adoption of a special rule is often viewed as a “party
loyalty” vote, however, such a development is exceedingly rare. All the same, it is
important to remember that while the Rules Committee is instrumental in helping the
House formulate its order of business and in setting appropriate ground rules for
considering each bill, the House retains ultimate control over what it does, when, and
Senate Amendments and Conference Reports
Before any bill can become law, both the House and the Senate must pass it, and
the two houses must agree on each and every one of its provisions. This basic
constitutional requirement means that the House must have procedures to respond
when the House and Senate pass different versions of the same bill. For example, the
House may pass a Senate bill with House amendments, or the Senate may pass a
House bill with Senate amendments and then send its amendments to the House. In
either case, the two houses must resolve their differences over these amendments
before the legislative process is completed.
There are essentially two ways to approach this stage of the process: either (1)
by dealing with the amendments individually, through a process of exchanging
amendments between the chambers, with the bill being sent back and forth between
the House and Senate, or (2) by dealing with the amendments collectively, through
a conference committee of Representatives and Senators who negotiate a series of
compromises and concessions that are compiled in a conference report that the two
houses can vote to accept. Because the process of resolving differences between the
houses can be quite complicated, only some of its basic elements are summarized
The House normally considers Senate amendments to a House bill by
unanimous consent or by suspension of the rules; the House may accept the
amendments (concur in them) or amend them (concur in them with House
amendments). Alternatively, the committee with jurisdiction over the bill may
authorize its chair to move that the House disagree to the Senate’s amendments and
send them to a conference committee. When the House amends and passes a Senate

bill, it may request a conference with the Senate immediately, or it may simply send
its amendments to the Senate in the hope that the Senate will accept them. If the
Senate refuses to do so, it may request a conference with the House instead. On the
other hand, if the House and Senate can reach agreement by proposing amendments
to each other’s positions, the bill can be sent to the President for his signature or veto
without the need to create a conference committee.
If the House and Senate agree to send their versions of the bill to a conference
committee, the Speaker appoints the House conferees. These conferees usually are
drawn from the standing committee (or committees) with jurisdiction over the bill,
although the Speaker may appoint some other Representatives as well. When the
House and Senate conferees meet, they are to deal only with provisions of the bill on
which the two houses disagree. They should not insert new provisions or change
provisions that both houses already have approved. Furthermore, as the conferees
resolve each provision or amendment in disagreement, they should accept the House
position, the Senate position, or a compromise between them. Like almost all other
House rules, the rules limiting the authority of conferees are enforced only if
Members make points of order at the appropriate time. The House also may adopt
a special rule, reported by the Rules Committee, waiving points of order against a
conference report.
To complete their work successfully, a majority of the House conferees and a
majority of the Senate conferees must sign a report that recommends all the
agreements they have reached.5 The conferees also sign a “joint explanatory
statement” that describes the original House and Senate positions and the conferees’
recommendations, and which is the functional equivalent of a committee report.
After Representatives have had three days to examine a conference report, it is
privileged for floor consideration; it may be called up at any time that the House is
not already considering something else. The report may be debated in the House,
under the hour rule, so the vote almost always occurs after no more than one hour of
debate. No amendments to the report are in order. In practice, however, the House
almost always considers conference reports under the terms of a special rule which
waives points of order against the report and its consideration.
The conference report is a proposed package settlement of a number of
disagreements, so the House and Senate may accept it or reject it but they may not
change it.6 If the two houses agree to the report, by simple majority vote, all their

5 There are other procedures for the conferees to follow if they cannot reach full agreement
or if they want to propose something that is not within the scope of the differences between
the original House and Senate positions.
6 However, the first house to consider a conference report also has the option of
recommitting it to the conference committee in the hope that the conferees can reach a
different and more acceptable agreement. House rules also include provisions for voting
separately on conference report provisions, originating in the Senate, that would not have
been germane if offered as House floor amendments to the bill. But these are often dealt
with instead by a waiver in a special rule.

differences have been resolved and the bill is then “enrolled,” or reprinted, for formal
presentation to the President.
In rare instances, conferees cannot reach agreement on one or more of the
amendments in conference, or they may reach an agreement that they cannot include
in their conference report because their proposal exceeds the scope of the differences
between the House and Senate positions (and thus violates the rules governing the
content of conference reports). In either case, the conferees may report back to the
two houses with an amendment (or amendments) in disagreement. After acting on
the conference report, dealing collectively with all the other amendments that were
sent to conference, the House acts on each of the amendments in disagreement by
considering motions such as a motion to accept the Senate’s amendment or a motion
to amend it with a new House amendment. The Senate takes similar action until the
disagreements on these amendments are resolved, or until the two houses agree to
create a new conference committee only to address the remaining amendments that
are still in disagreement. The bill cannot become law until the two houses resolve
all the differences between their positions.
Voting and Quorum Procedures
Whenever Representatives vote on the floor, there first is a “voice vote,” in
which the Members in favor of the bill, amendment, or motion vote “Aye” in unison,
followed by those voting “No.” Before the Speaker (or the chair of the Committee
of the Whole) announces the result, any Representative can demand a “division
vote,” in which the Members in favor stand up to be counted, again followed by those
opposed. But before the result of either a voice vote or a division vote is announced,
a Member may try to require another vote in which everyone’s position is recorded
This vote is taken by using the House’s electronic voting system. In Committee
of the Whole, an electronic vote is ordered when 25 Members request it. In the
House, such a vote occurs when demanded by at least one-fifth of the Members
present. Alternatively, any Member can demand an electronically recorded vote in
the House if a quorum of the membership is not present on the floor when the voice
or division vote takes place.
The Constitution requires that a quorum must be present on the floor when the
House is conducting business. In the House, a quorum is a majority of the
Representatives; in Committee of the Whole, it is only 100 Members. However, the
House traditionally has assumed that a quorum is always present unless a Member
makes a point of order that it is not. The rules restrict when Members can make such
points of order, and they occur most often when the House or the Committee of the
Whole is voting. In the House, for example, a Representative can object to a voice
or division vote on the grounds that a quorum is not present, and make that point of
order. If a quorum is not present, the Speaker automatically orders an electronically
recorded vote during which Members record their presence on the floor by casting
their votes. The issue is decided and a quorum is established at the same time. A
voice or division vote is valid even if less than a quorum participates in the vote, so

long as no one makes a point of order that a quorum is not present. For this reason,
Members can continue to meet in their committees or fulfill their other
responsibilities off the floor when the House is doing business that does not involve
publicly recorded votes.
The Daily Order of Business
After the opening prayer on each day, the Speaker announces his approval of the
Journal of the previous day’s proceedings. A Member may require a recorded vote
on agreeing to the Speaker’s approval of the Journal — not because of any question
about the accuracy of the Journal, but to determine which Representatives may not
be in the Capitol or the House office buildings that day. Following the Pledge of
Allegiance, some Members then ask unanimous consent to address the House for one
minute each on whatever subjects they wish, including subjects unrelated to the
scheduled legislative business of the day.
Generally speaking, to the extent possible, the majority party leaders and the
committee chairmen arrange the legislative schedule for each week in advance.
During the last floor session of the week, the Majority Leader normally announces
the expected schedule for the coming week in a “wrap-up” colloquy with a minority
party leader. Changes in the schedule may be announced as they are made. To be
considered, a bill or resolution must enjoy the privilege to interrupt the regular order
of business. Various kinds of legislative business are privileged, however. So the
Speaker enjoys considerable discretion in deciding the order in which privileged
matters should be considered, and, therefore, the order in which she recognizes
Members to call them up on the floor. On the other hand, the Speaker’s discretion
is limited by rules such as the ones that set aside specific days for considering certain
kinds of business, such as bills concerning the District of Columbia.
As each item of business is completed, the Speaker anticipates which Member
should be seeking recognition to call up the next bill or resolution. If another
Representative requests to be recognized instead, the Speaker may ask, “For what
purpose does the gentleman rise?,” and she may decline to recognize that Member
if he wants the House to consider another privileged bill, motion, or conference
report. If a bill is to be considered in Committee of the Whole, the majority party
leaders and the committee chair may decide in advance whether the Committee
should only complete general debate on that day or whether to proceed with the
amending process as well. The ability to set the House’s floor schedule is one of the
primary powers and responsibilities of the majority party leaders, though they often
consult with the minority party leaders. On rare occasion, however, a majority of the
Members have voted against a special rule — and, therefore, against considering a
bill — even when the Speaker and his leadership colleagues wish the House to
debate and pass it.
At the end of legislative business on most days, some Members address the
House for as much as an hour each on subjects of their choice. These “special order”
speeches are arranged in advance by unanimous consent and organized by the parties.
In this way, Representatives can comment at length on current national and

international issues, and discuss bills that have not yet reached the House floor. The
House often adjourns by late afternoon, although it may remain in session throughout
the evening when an emergency arises or when the end of the annual session or some
other deadline approaches.
Sources of Additional Information
The House rules for each Congress are published in a volume often called the
House manual, but officially entitled Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual and Rules of
the House of Representatives. A new edition of this collection is published each
Congress. The precedents of the House established through 1935 have been
compiled in the 11-volume set of Hinds’ and Cannon’s Precedents of the House of
Representatives. More recent precedents are in the process of being published as
Deschler’s or Deschler-Brown Precedents of the U.S. House of Representatives; 16
volumes of this set now are available. The House’s procedures are explained in
House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House, by
Wm. Holmes Brown, Parliamentarian Emeritus of the House, and Charles W.
Johnson, Parliamentarian of the House. The latest version of House Practice was
published in 2003. The Parliamentarian and his assistants welcome inquiries about
House procedures and offer expert assistance compatible with their other
CRS Reports
CRS Report 98-995. The Amending Process in the House of Representatives, by
Christopher M. Davis.
CRS Report RS20147. Committee of the Whole: An Introduction, by Judy
CRS Report RL32200. Debate, Motions, and Other Actions in Committee of the
Whole, by Bill Heniff Jr., and Elizabeth Rybicki.
CRS Report 96-708. Conference Committees and Related Procedures: An
Introduction, by Elizabeth Rybicki.
CRS Report 97-552. The Discharge Rule in the House: Principal Features and
Uses, by Richard S. Beth.
CRS Report RL30787. Parliamentary Reference Sources: House of Representatives,
by Richard S. Beth and Megan Suzanne Lynch.
CRS Report 98-696. Resolving Legislative Differences in Congress: Conference
Committees and Amendments Between the Houses, by Elizabeth Rybicki.
CRS Report 97-780. The Speaker of the House: House Officer, Party Leader, and
Representative, by James V. Saturno.

CRS Report 98-314. Suspension of the Rules in the House of Representatives:
Principal Features, by Elizabeth Rybicki.
CRS Report 98-870. Quorum Requirements in the House: Committee and Chamber,
by Christopher M. Davis