Committee of the Whole: Stages of Action on Measures

Committee of the Whole:
Stages of Action on Measures
Richard S. Beth
Specialist in the Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
The House gives initial floor consideration to most major legislation in Committee
of the Whole, a parliamentary device that is technically a committee of the House to
which all Members belong. This report describes seven chief stages that occur in
considering a measure under this procedure: resolving into committee, general debate,
amendment under the five-minute rule, reporting to the House, House vote on
amendments, motion to recommit, and final passage. For more information on legislative
process, see [].
House Rule XVIII prescribes procedures in Committee of the Whole, but these may
be modified by a rule for considering a specific measure, reported by the Committee on
Rules. Clause 3 of the Rule requires that revenue, appropriation, and authorization
measures be considered initially in Committee of the Whole. Other measures may be
considered there pursuant to a rule.
Resolving into Committee of the Whole. The House usually takes up a
measure in Committee of the Whole when the Speaker, acting pursuant to a rule for
consideration, declares the House resolved into Committee of the Whole for the purpose
(Rule XVIII, clause 2(b)). For certain privileged measures, such as general appropriation
bills, the majority floor manager may instead move that the House resolve into Committee
of the Whole to consider the measure (clause 2(a)). In either case, the Speaker then leaves
the chair and appoints a chair of the Committee of the Whole (clause 1(a)), usually a
senior Member of the majority party not serving on a committee that handled the measure.
General Debate. A rule for considering a measure normally specifies a time limit
for general debate, often one hour, equally divided and controlled by majority and
minority floor managers. Otherwise, the majority manager obtains unanimous consent
for similar arrangements before the House resolves into committee. If a measure is
reported from several committees, a pair of managers from each usually controls a
separate period for general debate. Each manager yields specified amounts of time to
Members, usually in his or her own party, whom the chair then recognizes for debate.
General debate ends when this time is consumed or the managers yield it back.
Amendment Under the Five-Minute Rule. After general debate, the measure
normally is considered for amendment by section (by paragraph, for appropriation bills).

The rule governing consideration normally provides that each section, when reached, be
considered as read. Pursuant to the rule, or by unanimous consent, the measure may
instead be considered for amendment by title, or may be considered as read and open to
amendment at any point. Each amendment must be offered while the part of the measure
it would amend is pending for amendment.
When an amendment is offered, its reading is often dispensed with by unanimous
consent. Any point of order against it must be made or reserved before debate begins.
The sponsor of the amendment is entitled to open the debate. A Member (often the
majority manager) may then be recognized in opposition. Others may speak by offering
a pro forma amendment to “strike the last word” (or the “requisite number of words”).
Each speaker on an amendment may be recognized once, for five minutes (which may be
extended by unanimous consent). Time for debate on an amendment or section may be
limited by a motion (or unanimous consent) to close debate. Even after debate is closed,
any amendment printed in advance in the Record may be debated for five minutes on each
side (Rule XVIII, clauses 5, 8).
Committee of the Whole Reports. After all portions of a measure have been
considered for amendment, the Committee of the Whole rises and reports the measure
(with any adopted amendments) back to the House. It does so pursuant to either the rule
for consideration or a motion offered by the majority manager. The Speaker then returns
to the chair, and the chair of the Committee of the Whole reports the measure and any
amendments recommended by Committee of the Whole.
House Vote on Amendments. Because it is technically a committee, the
Committee of the Whole can only recommend amendments. When it reports a measure,
the previous question is routinely ordered, either automatically by the terms of the rule,
or by unanimous consent, thereby precluding the offering of any further amendment in the
House. The chair then puts the amendments recommended by Committee of the Whole
to a voice vote en gros. Any Member, however, may obtain a separate vote on any of
these amendments. By this means, the House may reject an amendment adopted in
Committee of the Whole. It may not vote to adopt amendments defeated in Committee
of the Whole, however, for these are not reported back to the House.
Motion to Recommit. Next, the House routinely orders the measure engrossed
(that is, printed as amended) and read a final time (by title). An opponent then has
preference, usually exercised by the minority manager or floor leader, to move to
recommit the measure (Rule XIX, clause 2(b)). No rule governing consideration may
prevent such a motion by the minority leader (Rule XIII, clause 6(c)). A motion to
recommit with instructions that the committee re-report forthwith with specified
amendments is debatable for 10 minutes or, upon demand of the majority floor manager,
for one hour. In the rare case when the House adopts this motion, the committee
chairman immediately reports the measure back to the House with the amendments
specified, on which the House then votes.
Vote on Final Passage. As on other matters, the Speaker initially puts the
question on final passage to a voice vote, but a record vote may take place if requested
from the floor with a sufficient second. After the vote, the chair routinely states that a
motion to reconsider is tabled without objection. This action forecloses any later attempt
to have the House reverse its decision.