Conference Reports and Joint Explanatory Statements

Conference Reports and
Joint Explanatory Statements
Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
When a conference committee completes its work successfully, the committee
presents and explains its agreements in two documents: first, a conference report; and
second, a joint explanatory statement, often called a statement of managers.1
The conference report presents the formal legislative language on which the
conference committee has agreed. The joint explanatory statement explains the various
elements of the conferees’ agreement in relation to the positions that the House and
Senate had committed to the conference committee.
Two copies of each document must be signed by a majority of the House conferees
and by a majority of the Senate conferees. One pair of the signed documents is retained
by each house’s conferees. Thus, a conferee who supports the conference agreement signs
four signature sheets, two for the conference report and two for the joint explanatory
statement. Of course, conferees who do not support the agreement are not expected to
sign any of the signature sheets.
The House and Senate create a conference committee to resolve the disagreements
that result when one house passes a bill and the other house then passes the same bill with
one or more amendments. It is those amendments that are in disagreement between the
houses and that are the subjects of conference negotiations. In their conference report, the
conferees propose a way to resolve the disagreement created by each of the amendments.
Assume that the House passed a bill and that the Senate later passed the same bill
with, for example, three discrete amendments. These Senate amendments are numbered
in the order in which they would affect the House bill, and the conference report addresses
each of them in turn. There are essentially three ways in which conferees can propose to
dispose of each amendment: both houses can accept the Senate amendment, both houses
can reject it, or both houses can agree to a compromise between the Senate amendment
and the corresponding provision of the House-passed bill. In this example:

1 This report was written by Stanley Bach, formerly a Senior Specialist in the Legislative Process
at CRS. The listed author updated the report and is available to answer questions concerning its

!With respect to the first amendment in disagreement, the conference
report may propose that the Senate recede from its amendment — in
other words, that the House’s position should prevail;
!With respect to the second amendment in disagreement, the conference
report may propose that the House recede from its disagreement to the
Senate amendment and then concur in it — in other words, that the
Senate’s position should prevail;
!And with respect to the third amendment in disagreement, the conference
report may propose, first, that the House recede from its disagreement to
the Senate amendment and then concur in it with a House amendment,
the text of which is printed in the conference report, and, second, that the
Senate also concur in this House amendment — in other words, that a
compromise between the House and Senate positions should prevail.
The conference report itself only contains formal statements of whatever procedural
actions the conferees propose that one or both houses take, and the formal legislative
language the conferees propose that the two houses approve. Thus, the conference report
is essentially comparable to the text of a bill that a standing committee reports to the
House or Senate. The joint explanatory statement, on the other hand, corresponds to the
written committee report usually prepared to accompany the bill and to explain the
committee’s decisions. Clause 7(e) of House Rule XXII and paragraph 4 of Senate Rule
XXVIII describe the purpose of this statement in similar terms. The Senate rule states in
part that the “statement shall be sufficiently detailed and explicit to inform the Senate as
to the effect which the amendments or propositions contained in [the conference] report
will have upon the measure to which those amendments or propositions relate.”
The joint explanatory statement typically identifies each major matter in
disagreement that was submitted to the conferees. The statement then summarizes the
House position, the Senate position, and the conferees’ recommendation. When the
conferees have negotiated over a series of numbered amendments, the statement of
managers is likely to discuss each of these amendments in sequence. When the conferees
have negotiated over a bill passed by one house and an amendment in the nature of a
substitute approved by the other, a situation that often arises, the statement is likely to
discuss the House, Senate, and conference positions on each of the major issues that the
two versions of the bill address. Like standing committee reports accompanying bills,
joint explanatory statements may prove informative as legislative history. Unlike standing
committee reports, however, joint explanatory statements may not contain statements of
minority or additional views.
Each conference report and joint explanatory statement are printed in the House
portion of the Congressional Record; in addition, they are printed together as a single
House report. Senate Rule XXVIII also requires that the report and statement be printed
as a Senate report. By unanimous consent, however, the Senate normally waives this
requirement because the report and accompanying statement are printed as a House report,
and there is no need for the same documents to be printed twice.