Expedited or "Fast-Track" Legislative Procedures

xpedited or “fast-track” legislative procedures are special procedures that Congress adopts
to promote timely committee and floor action on a specifically defined type of bill or 1
resolution. For example, House and Senate consideration of budget resolutions and E

reconciliation bills are governed by fast-track procedures. Congress includes expedited
procedures in bills that are enacted into law—the Congressional Budget Act, as amended, and the
Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act, for example—instead of
adopting them as part of the standing rules of the House or Senate. However, these procedures
have the same force and effect that they would have if they were incorporated in the standing
rules of the House or Senate. For more information on legislative process, see
http://www.crs .gov/products /guides/guidehome.shtml.
The regular legislative procedures of the House and Senate can be time-consuming, and they
provide no guarantee that every bill or resolution that is introduced will be considered quickly, or
at all, in committee and on the floor. In fact, most bills are never considered, and only a small
fraction are passed by the House and Senate and enacted into law.
Most of the time, most Representatives and Senators consider the slow and selective nature of the
legislative process to be a virtue, in that it protects against enactment of new laws without
adequate scrutiny and debate. Members sometimes decide in advance that it will be important for
Congress to act expeditiously on certain kinds of measures. In these cases, Members devise
special procedures that put those measures on a legislative fast track, and that protect them from
being blocked or unduly delayed by the procedural obstacles that prevent most measures from
completing all the stages of the legislative process.
In addition to the budget measures mentioned above, other kinds of bills and resolutions that

1 This report was originally written by Stanley Bach, formerly a Senior Specialist in the Legislative Process at CRS.

Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress

Congress has singled out for special expedited consideration include resolutions relating to the
use of U.S. armed forces (under the War Powers Act) and measures to implement international
trade agreements (under the Trade Act of 1974, as amended). Other laws give Congress a limited
opportunity to disapprove some action that an executive branch official has taken or proposes to
take—perhaps within 30 or 60 days—by passing a joint resolution of disapproval. The House
Rules and Manual includes the texts of expedited procedures applicable to the House in the 2
section on “Congressional Disapproval Provisions.”
Fast-track procedures often include some or all of the following elements:
• a definition of the kinds of bills or resolutions to which the expedited procedures
are to apply;
• mandatory introduction of such a measure, often promptly after the House and
Senate receive a message that the President is required to submit;
• a requirement for the committee to which the measure is referred to report it
within a certain number of days;
• provision for automatic discharge of a committee, or for a privileged motion to
discharge, if the measure is not reported within a specified time;
• privileged access for the measure to the House and Senate floor for
• limitations on the length of time that each house can debate or consider the
measure on the floor;
• prohibitions against Members proposing floor amendments to the measure and
offering certain other motions during its consideration; and
• automatic “hookup” procedures that ensure prompt floor action in either house
on any companion bill or resolution that the other house has passed.
Not all expedited procedures include all these elements. For example, Congress has enacted fast-
track procedures that provide for expedited floor consideration of certain measures, but only if the
committees to which those measures are referred choose to report them. In other cases, fast-track
procedures are more likely to promote prompt committee and floor action in one house than in the
other. In general, expedited procedures that fail to include one or more of these elements leave
opportunities for delay or inaction in one or both houses. For instance, if fast-track procedures do
not bar all amendments to the measure (in committee and on the floor), there is no way to
guarantee that the House and Senate will reach final agreement on the text of that measure, and
that it will reach the President for possible enactment into law.

2 Available online at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/

Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
cmdavis@crs.loc.gov, 7-0656