General Debate in the Committee of the Whole

General Debate in Committee of the Whole
Judy Schneider
Specialist on the Congress
Government and Finance Division
The House considers most important bills (and resolutions) on the floor by resolving
into the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union. This is a committee
on which all Representatives serve and which meets on the House floor. The House acts
on a bill by resolving into Committee of the Whole (as it usually is called) first to debate
the bill as a whole and subsequently to debate and vote on any amendments to the bill.
At the end of this process, the Committee “rises” and reports the bill back to the House
with whatever amendments the Committee of the Whole has approved. Then the House
votes on these amendments and on final passage of the bill. The process of considering
a bill in Committee of the Whole has two distinct stages: first, a period for general
debate; and second, a process of debating and voting on amendments to the bill. What
follows in this report focuses exclusively on the general debate phase; other reports
discuss the amendment process in Committee of the Whole. For more information on
legislative process, see [].1
General debate is a period of time set aside for debating the merits of the bill as a
whole, the state of current law on the subject of the bill, the need for new legislation, the
various provisions of the bill, and possible amendments to it. This is a time for debate
only. No amendments to the bill are in order, nor can Members offer any other motions
that can affect the content of the bill or its fate.
Setting and Allocating the Time for General Debate
The total amount of time available for general debate usually is specified in the
special rule, reported by the Rules Committee and adopted by the House, that brings the
bill to the floor and governs its consideration while on the floor. Typically, the amount
of time set aside for general debate is one hour. That time normally is divided equally
between the control of the chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over the bill and
the ranking minority member of the committee; these two Representatives act as the
majority and minority party floor managers of the bill. There may be more than one hour
provided for general debate on particularly important bills and on bills that touch on the
jurisdiction of more than one House committee. In the latter case, the special rule

1 Stanley Bach, former Senior Specialist at CRS, originally wrote this report. The listed author
updated this report and is available to respond to inquiries on the subject.

typically allocates control over some portion of the time for general debate to each
committee chairman and each ranking minority member.
Not all measures are considered under the terms of a special rule, however. When
a measure is called up for consideration as a privileged matter there is no special rule to
govern the terms of general debate. For example, the chairman of the House
Appropriations Committee can call up a general appropriations bill as a privileged matter
and move that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole to consider it. In that case,
the chairman proposes to limit and divide the time for general debate, and the House
agrees to this proposal by unanimous consent, before Members vote on resolving into
Committee of the Whole. Similarly, there may be statutory provisions that govern House
floor consideration of certain kinds of measures. These provisions usually specify the
amount and allocation of time for general debate. For example, under Section 305 of the
Congressional Budget Act, as amended, a congressional budget resolution may be
considered as a privileged matter with a maximum of 14 hours for general debate.
Engaging in General Debate
Once in Committee of the Whole, the chairman of the Committee of the Whole first
recognizes the majority floor manager to make his or her opening statement. When the
majority floor manager concludes, he or she reserves the balance of the time remaining.
Then the chairman recognizes the minority floor manager for the same purpose. After
these two opening statements, the chairman recognizes each floor manager to yield
portions of the time remaining to him or her to other Members who wish to speak.
Members who want to participate in general debate usually contact their party’s floor
manager in advance to request that time be reserved for them.
A manager may yield one or more minutes at a time to other Members, or sometimes
as little as 30 seconds if many Members want to participate in the debate. If Member A
is one of the floor managers and yields a certain amount of time to Member B, Member
B may use part or all of that time to engage in exchanges with other Members. However,
Member B may not yield specific portions of the time (such as one or two minutes) that
was yielded to him or her. Member B simply may yield or decline to yield to another
Member. If Member B does yield, he or she always has the option of reclaiming the time
whenever he or she chooses.
The chairman of the Committee of the Whole normally alternates in recognition
between the two floor managers in an effort to ensure that they use their time at roughly
the same rate. From time to time, floor managers may ask the chairman how much time
they have remaining, so they can allocate their time carefully. The majority floor manager
has the right to make the closing statement during general debate. If a floor manager has
no need for the remaining time, he or she may “yield back” the balance of that time.
When all the time for general debate has been consumed or yielded back, general
debate ends, and Members may proceed into the second stage of consideration in
Committee of the Whole: the process of offering, debating, and voting on amendments.
Related CRS reports include CRS Report 98-564, Committee of the Whole: Stages
of Action on Measures; CRS Report 98-143, Procedural Distinctions Between the House
and the Committee of the Whole; CRS Report 98-439, The Amendment Process in

Committee of the Whole; and CRS Report 98-870, Quorum Requirements in the House:
Committee and Chamber.