"Sense of" Resolutions and Provisions

Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress

ne or both houses of Congress may formally express opinions about subjects of current
national interest through freestanding simple or concurrent resolutions (called generically
“sense of the House,” “sense of the Senate,” or “sense of the Congress” resolutions). O

These opinions may also be added to pending legislative measures by amendments expressing the 1
views of one or both chambers. This report identifies the various forms these expressions may
take and the procedures governing such actions. See http://www.crs.gov/products/guides/
guidehome.shtml for more information on legislative process.
Sense of the House or Senate resolutions take the form of simple resolutions because they only
require the approval of one chamber. A sense of Congress resolution, on the other hand, must be a
concurrent resolution as both the House and Senate must approve such measures. Joint
resolutions are not typically used for expressions of congressional opinion because joint
resolutions generally require presidential approval.
“Sense of” resolutions are considered under the normal legislative processes of each chamber
applicable to any other legislative vehicle. Because “sense of” resolutions do not involve the
expenditure of public funds, such resolutions when reported from House committees are placed
on the House calendar. Typically, the House considers them through suspension motions, by
unanimous consent request, or under the terms of a special rule reported from the Committee on
Rules. The Senate normally takes up “sense of” resolutions by unanimous consent or, more
infrequently, they are automatically laid before the Senate under the “resolutions ... over, under
the Rule” process (Senate Rule XIV).
A “sense of” resolution is not legally binding because it is not presented to the President for his
signature. Even if a “sense of” provision is incorporated into a bill that becomes law, such
provisions merely express the opinion of Congress or the relevant chamber. They have no formal
effect on public policy and are not considered law.
Besides expressing such views through simple or concurrent resolutions, Congress may attach
such provisions to a bill by way of floor or committee amendment. In the House, a “sense of”
amendment must be germane to the overall measure and to the particular portion of the bill to
which it is added. Violations of the germaneness rule can be overcome through motions to
suspend the rules or by provisions in a special rule waiving certain points of order.
Senate rules give more latitude to Senators to offer “sense of” amendments in committees or on
the floor. In general, the rules of the Senate normally do not require amendments to be germane to
the pending bill. Germaneness of amendments is required once the Senate invokes cloture. “Sense
of Congress” or “sense of the Senate” amendments offered post-cloture are germane if the subject
of the “sense of” amendment falls within the jurisdiction of the committee reporting the
underlying bill. “Sense of Congress” or “Sense of the Senate” amendments offered to budget

1 This report was written by Paul S. Rundquist, formerly a Specialist in American National Government at CRS. Dr.
Rundquist has retired, but the listed author updated the report and is available to answer questions concerning its

resolutions or reconciliation bills are out of order, even if germane, pursuant to language 2
contained in the conference report on the budget resolution for FY2001. Formerly, the Senate
permitted “sense” amendments on appropriations bills. However, in May 2000, the Senate voted
to overturn a ruling of the chair so that the Senate’s presiding officer now has the authority to rule
on the germaneness of “sense of the Senate” or “sense of Congress” amendments offered to 3
appropriations bills, and to declare any non-germane “sense” amendments out of order.
“Sense of” resolutions and amendments expressing the sense of one or both houses of Congress
have been offered on many subjects. A survey of “sense of” resolutions and amendments adopted th
during the 109 Congress shows that many of them focused on foreign policy matters,
particularly resolutions that express the sense of the Senate. However, “sense of” proposals were
forwarded on a wide range of other subjects, including stressing a particular domestic policy
priority, recognizing a historic milestone or figure, honoring a former Senator and calling for
certain federal agencies or officials to take, or refrain from taking, a specified action.
Although “sense of” proposals have no force in law, foreign governments pay close attention to
them as evidence of shifts in U.S. foreign policy priorities. On domestic issues, agencies also
monitor “sense of” provisions because they may be an early signal that Congress will alter formal
statutory provisions, if the informal nature of “sense of” provisions does not influence agency
Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
cmdavis@crs.loc.gov, 7-0656

2 U.S. Congress, Conference Committees, 2000, Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2001, conference
report to accompany H.Con.Res. 290, 106th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Rept. 106-577 (Washington, GPO: 2000), sec. 204(g),
pp. 15-16.
3 Sen. Trent Lott,Military Construction Appropriations,” remarks in the Senate, Congressional Record, daily edition
(electronic version), vol. 146 (May 17, 2000), pp. S4062-S4063.