How Special Rules Regulate Calling up Measures for Consideration in the House

How Special Rules Regulate Calling up
Measures for Consideration in the House
Richard S. Beth
Specialist in the Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
A special rule is a House resolution that regulates consideration of a specific
legislative measure named in the resolution. Members and staff commonly refer to a
resolution of this kind simply as “the rule” for considering a measure. A rule has two key
functions: (1) to enable the House to consider the measure specified, and (2) to set terms
for considering it. The House Committee on Rules has jurisdiction to report resolutions
that combine these two functions, and this ability enables the leadership to use rules
effectively to manage the floor agenda. This report discusses how rules accomplish the
first function; on the second, see CRS Report 98-612, Special Rules and Options for
Regulating the Amendmending Process, by James V. Saturno. For more information on
legislative process, see [].
Special Rules and the System of Privilege. In general, the House may bring
to the floor for consideration only measures that have “privilege.” Privilege, in this
context, means this right of a measure to be considered. The general Rules of the House
establish several different means for bills and resolutions to obtain privilege. One way,
commonly used for major legislation, is for the House to adopt a resolution making it in
order to consider the measure. Such a resolution, conferring privilege on a specified
measure and regulating its consideration, is called a “special rule” because the regulations
it prescribes supersede the general rules, but only in application to the measure named.
Special rules can be used in this way only because they are themselves measures to
which House Rules automatically accord privilege. By according this general privilege
to special rules, the House ensures that it will be able to take them up and adopt them.
By exercising this ability to adopt special rules, in turn, the House is able to accord
privilege to specific measures it wishes to consider.
Special Rules, Privilege, and Forms of Consideration. General Rules of
the House establish several different forms of procedure for considering measures. In
general, each means of conferring privilege makes measures privileged for consideration
under a specified procedure. Most special rules make a measure privileged for
consideration in Committee of the Whole. Typical language in which a rule grants
privilege for consideration in Committee of the Whole is “at any time after the adoption
of this resolution the Speaker may, pursuant to clause 2(b) of rule XVIII, declare the

House resolved into the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union for
consideration of the bill [number and official title].”
Alternatively, a rule may provide that a measure be considered in the House under
the one-hour rule, or under another procedure. (Even for authorization and appropriation
bills, for which House Rules require consideration in Committee of the Whole, the special
rule may override this requirement.) Typical language conferring privilege for
consideration in the House is “upon adoption of this resolution it shall be in order to
consider in the House the bill [number and official title].”
A relatively few measures are automatically accorded privileged status by the general
Rules of the House. To enable itself to consider such a measure, the House does not need
to adopt a rule, but in current practice it often does so anyway. For example, the House
may adopt a rule providing that a general appropriation bill be considered in Committee
of the Whole, or that a conference report be considered in the House, even though House
Rules already make any such measure privileged for consideration under those
procedures. The reason for using a rule in these cases may be to waive points of order,
or otherwise alter the terms of consideration from those established by House Rules (the
second key function of special rules). This kind of rule usually retains the language
granting privilege, even though the measure needs no such grant.
Using Rules to Manage the Agenda. When the majority leadership wishes to
schedule a measure for consideration, especially major legislation, it often determines that
a rule is the most appropriate means of conferring privilege. To get privilege conferred
in this way, the leadership requires cooperation from the Committee on Rules, for that is
the committee that possesses jurisdiction to report special rules. When this cooperation
exists, as it normally does in contemporary practice, it enables the leadership to exercise
great flexibility in scheduling.
This function is a principal reason for the importance of the Committee on Rules,
because it puts the Committee in the position of gatekeeper to the floor for many
measures. Rules reported by the Committee on Rules are privileged for consideration in
the House under the one-hour rule. This procedure permits the House to preclude the
offering of any floor amendments by ordering the previous question. As a result, when
the Committee reports a rule that both grants privilege and regulates terms of
consideration, it normally limits the House to the choice of considering a measure under
the terms proposed, or not being able to consider it at all.
Because a special rule is a House resolution, it takes effect only when adopted by the
House. In order to accord privilege to the measures selected, therefore, the leadership and
the Committee on Rules need the support of a voting majority on the floor. The
leadership therefore can regulate the floor agenda effectively through rules when it can
count on the support of the majority party for their adoption, and when the Committee on
Rules can structure them in a way that attracts majority support.