Sufficiency of Signatures on Conference Reports

CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS W eb
Sufficiency of Signatures
on Conference Reports
Specialist i n the Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
Elizabeth R ybicki
Analys t i n American N ational Government
Government and Finance Division
The House and Senate both require that a c onference report be s igned by a majority
of House conf e rees and a majority of Senat e conferees. W hen s om e conferees are
appointed only for limited purposes, t he two chambers h ave d ifferent ways of counting
t o det erm i n e w het h er t h e conferees’ report carri es suffi ci ent s i gnat u res. The S enat e asks
whether t he report i s s igned b y a majority of all t he conferees from each house, without
regard to whether t hose conferees were appointed for all or for limited purposes. The
House asks whet h er t h e report i s s i gned b y a m aj o ri t y of al l t he c o n f e r e e s from each
house who were appointed to consider each of the m atters that wer e submitted t o t he
conference committee. This report will be updated i f p rocedural changes w arrant.
Gener a l a nd Li mi ted P ur pose Confer ees
A valid conference report m ust carry the s ignatures of a majority of t h e c o n f erees
appointed by each chamber. 1 House p recedent s st at e t hat “t o be val i d i n t h e House, a
conference report m ust b e s igned b y a majority of the m anagers o f t he House an d by a
majority of the m anagers of t he Senate.”2 Similarly, Senate precedents provide that “[ a]

1 T his report s upersedes archived CRS Repor t RS20304, by Stanley Bach, a f o r me r Senior
Specialist i n t he Legi slative Process. Si gnificant portions of the t ext presented here were wr itten
by Dr. Bach f or this predecessor r eport.
2 Wm. Holme s Brown and Charles W. J ohnson, House Practice: A Guide to t h e R u l e s ,
Precedents and Procedures of the House, 108th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO, 2003), c h. 13,
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

conference r e port t o b e v al i d m u st be si gn ed by a m aj ori t y of t h e conferees of each
In most cas es , no problem s arise in determining whether this requirement has been
met. Under certain circumstances, however, questions ma y a r i s e a bout whether a
conference report carri es s u ffi ci ent s i gnat u res. These quest i ons m ay ari se especi al l y i n
the House, and when one or both chambers appoint some of their conferees o n l y for
limited purposes. Usually, each house authoriz es at l e a s t s ome o f its conferees to
nego tiate on all t he matters in disagreemen t b etween the t wo houses. C onferees with this
blanket authority may b e called “general conferees.” Either house o r both, however, also
may authorize some of its conferees to negotiate only on certain of the m atters committed
to conference. Fo r ex ample, one chamber might appoint certain of its conferees only t o
consider title II of the S enate s ubstitute an d t h e corresponding provisions of the House
bill. Conferees with this form of authority may be called “limited purpose conferees .”
Many limited purpose conferees are nam ed as “additional” conferees , t o negotiate
al ong wi t h t h e general conferees on t h e s peci fi ed m at t ers. S om e, however, m ay be nam ed
as t h e “sol e” conferees on t h e m at t ers speci fi ed (i n w hi ch case t he aut hori t y of al l o t h er
conferees al so must be limited, so that they are not to negotiate on thes e m atters). When
limited purpose conferees are p resent, t he matters before the conference may b e t hought
of as di vi ded i nt o s e v e r a l p o r t i ons, o n each of whi ch a di fferent group of conferees i s
authorized to negotiate. The memberships of t hese different panels of conferees, o f
course, m ay overlap.
Val i di t y of Confer ence Repor ts i n House a nd Senate
When limited conferees are present, t h e H ouse and Senate determine whether a
conference report carri es a s uffi ci ent number o f s ignatures i n d ifferent ways .
Senate Standard. The S enate does n o t o f ten appoint conferees for limited
purposes. One reason may lie in how the S enate counts t o d etermine t he sufficiency of
si gn at ures on conference report s . In the S enate, a valid conference report must carry the
signatures of a majority of the Members from each chamber w ho were appoi nt ed as
conferees, w ithout regard t o w hether or not any of those Members were app o i n t e d as
conferees only f or limited purposes. The House P arliamentar ian’s h andbook of current
precedent , House Practice, s tates t hat “[ U] nder S enate p ractice, sign atures are counted
strictly per capita.”4
House S tandard. The House i s m ore likely t han t he Senate to appoint conferees
for limited purposes , and the House has a different standard for det ermining whether there
is a s ufficient number o f s ignatures o n a conference r e p o r t . In the House, a valid
conference report must carry the s ignatures of a majority of the Members f r o m each
chamber who were appointed to consider each provision or amendment in conference.
“In t he House,” accordi n g t o House P ract i ce: A Gui de t o t h e R ul es, P recedent s and

3 FloydM.RiddickandAlanS.Frumin, Riddick’s Senate Procedure: Precedents and Practices,
S.Doc. 101-28, 101st Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, 1992), p. 490.
4 House Practice, c h. 13, sec. 18.

Procedures of the House, “each provi si on m u st recei ve si gn at ure s o f a m aj ori t y of t h e
Members appointed for that provision only (in cluding general and additional conferees).”5
Application. E a c h c h a m ber u ses its standard not only t o d etermine whether a
majority of its own Members have sign ed a conference report, but also t o determine
whether t he report carries the requisite number o f s ignatures from Members o f t he other
chamber . For ex ample, co n s i d er a t yp ical case, in which t he House appoints limited
purpose conferees and t he Senate does not.
In th e House, whether a sufficient number o f R epresent at i v es have si gn ed t h e
conference report depends on a separate determination for each portion of the bill and
amendment (or amendments) committed t o conference. For each portion o f t he matters
in disagreement, it will be necessary to count how many Representatives were appointed
to consider that portion, and t hen t o d etermin e whether a m ajority of that number s igned
the report. If a m ajority of those appointed to consider any one portion o f t he matters in
disagreem ent fai l t o s ign t he report, the report i s not valid even if it carries the s ignatures
of all t he other House conferees.
In the S enate, however, i t i s s ufficient t o count the number o f R epresentatives who
were appointed as conferees for any purpose — that is, t he total number o f both general
and limited purpose conferees — and as certain whet her a majority of that number s igned
t h e conference report .
Recent Insta nce. To illustrate the application of t he House and Senate standards,
consider the rosters of Representatives an d S enators appointed as conferees on H.R. 1000th
of the 106 Congress, the W endell H. Ford Aviatio n Investment and R eform Act for t he

21st C entury. In t his ex ample, both t he Hous e and the S enate appointed both general and6

limited purpose conferees .
The S enate appointed 14 Senators from t wo committees. Nine S enators from t he
Committee o n C ommerce, Science, and T ransportation were appointed for t he
consideration o f t he entire b ill. The S enate also appointed five Senators from t he
Committee on t he Budget to consider only title IX of the bill.
The House appointed 29 Representatives, 2 0 o f t hem for all purposes and n ine for
only limited purposes. In addition t o t he 20 managers appointed to consider the entire
bill, the S p eak er appointed three conferees from t he Committee o n t he Budget for t he
consideration of titles IX and X of t he House bill, three conferees from t he Committee on
Ways and M eans for the consideration of title XI of the House bill, and t hree conferees
from the Committee on S cience for the consideration of title XIII of the Senate
am endment and modifications committed t o conference.

5 Ib i d .
6 Calendar of the United States House of Represe ntatives and History of Legislation, Final
Edition, 106th Cong., p. 18-8.

In the S enate, the conference report would not be valid unless a majority of all t he
conferees from each cham ber s i gned i t . In ot her w ords, i f any ei gh t S enat ors and any 1 5
R epresent at i v es si gn ed t h e report , t h en t h e report w o u l d h ave a s uffi ci ent num ber o f
sign atures for t he Senate to consider it.
The H o u s e , however, woul d d et erm i n e whether a s ufficient number o f
R epresent at i v es si gn ed t h e c o n f e rence report accordi n g t o i t s own s t andard. In our
ex ample, the s ignatures o f a majority of the n ine S enators appointed to consider the whole
bill would be required for al l titles ex cept title IX. In other words, five Senators would
need to sign the report for those titles. For t he report t o be valid in the House with respect
to title IX, however, a majority of the full 1 4 S enators appointed would n eed to sign for
t h e report , or ei gh t S enat ors.
Similarly, for t he report t o be valid in the House, 11 Repres entatives , or a majority
of the 2 0 general conferees appointed, w o u l d n eed t o sign the report for all t he titles
e x c e p t IX , X , X I a n d X III. F o r titles IX and X, sign at ures would h av e t o b e gat hered from
any 1 2 o f t he 23 Representatives appointed fo r t he consideration o f t hose titles. In other
words, a m aj ority of the 23 conferees (20 general conferees plus the t hree limited purpose
conferees from t he Committee o n t he Budget) appointed to consider titles IX and X would
need to sign the report. In the s ame way, a majority of the 2 3 House conferees appointed
to consider title XI, and a m ajority of the 2 3 House conferees appointed to consider title
X III, w o u l d a l s o n e e d t o s i g n t h e r e p o r t . Table 1 graphically displays the i nformation i n
the above paragraphs.
Table 1: Illustration of House and Senate Standards,
Conference Report o n H .R. 1000, 106 th Congress
House Conf e rees Senate Conf erees
Limited purposea 3 to consider titles IX 5 to consider title IX
3 to consider title XI
3 to consider title XIII
Maj ority under House s tandard 12 for titles IX and X 8 for title IX
12 for title XI 5 for all titles ex cept title IX
11 for all titles except
Maj ority under Senate standard 15 8
a. Fo r d etails co ncer ning the a utho r ity o f the limited p ur p o se c o nfe r ees, see Calendar of the United States
Ho u se o f R ep resen ta tives a n d Histo ry o f Leg isla tio n , Fin a l Ed itio n, 106th Congress, p. 18-8.

Recent Complex Instance. The d ifference b etween H ouse and Senate standards
for t he suffi ci ency of si gn at ures becam e an i ssue i n t he 106 th Congress when S. 900, the
Fi nancial S ervices Moderniz ation Act of 1999, went to conference. The S enate appointed
20 conferees, 1 1 R epublicans and nine De m o c r a t s , all with no restrictions on their
authority. The House i nitially appointed 42 conferees, d rawn from four different House
c o mmittees, each of which h ad jurisdiction over s ome p rovision or provisions o f t h e
Senate bill or the House amendment i n t he nature of a s ubstitute. Of t hese 42, 23 were
appointed as general conferees to consider the entire S enate b ill and t he entire House
substitute. All the o ther House conferees were appointed f o r limited purposes, s ome
much more limited t han others. 7
T h e m ost complex appointments were f or members o f t he House C ommittee o n
Banking and Financial Services. Eight Republ icans and two Democrats from t hat
committee were appointed to the c o n f er en ce committee for all purposes. Eleven o ther
Democrat s from t he committee were appoi nt ed in fi ve overl apping groups, each
consisting of four limited purpose conferees authorized to consider one or more titles of
the House and Senate versions of the b ill. As a result, each group of conferees from t he
Committee o n Banking and Financial Services consisted o f e i g h t Republicans and six
R e p ublicans constituted a majority of each panel o f House conferees. The w a y i n
which t he separate panels of limited purpose Dem ocratic conferees from t he Committee
on Banki ng and Fi n anci al S ervi ces were m ade up, however, m eant t hat t he total number
of House M embers appointed as conferees in cluded 2 0 R epublicans and 22 Democrats.
Some Senate conferees object ed that this confi gu r at i o n opened up t he possibility of a
conference report t hat could b e h eld v alid for consideration i n t he Sena t e , u nder t he8
Senate standard, even t hough n o House R epublicans h ad sign ed it.
Subsequently, t he Speaker appointed four additi onal R epublican members as limited
purpose conferees, and co rres p o ndingly restrict ed the role of four Republicans i nitially
appointed as general conferees. T he fo u r new conferees were authoriz ed to nego tiate
only on certain narrowly s peci fied provisions of the bill. The authority of the four initial
appointees was restricted t o t he remaining portions of the b ill, so that they became limited
purpose conferees as wel l . Thi s change reduced t h e t ot al num ber o f House general
conferees from 2 3 t o 19. More sign ificantly, however, t he four new appointments b rought
the t otal number o f House conferees t o 46, made up of 24 Republicans and 229
Addi ti onal I nfor mati on
For rel at ed i n form at i o n from C R S on conference procedures i n C ongress, see t he
following products. The first four are fact sh eets also available o n t he CRS website, under
“Congressional P rocesses,” at [] .

7 Congressional Record, daily edition ( J uly 30, 1999), p. H6738.
8 “Roster D i s p u t e M arks Begi nning of C onference,” Congressional Quarterly, 1999 Almanac
(Washington: CQ Press, 2000), pp. 5-19.
9 Congressional Record, daily edition ( Sept. 14, 1999), p. H8286.

CRS Report R S20454, Goi n g t o C onf erence i n t h e S enat e, b y E l i z abet h R yb i cki and
C R S Report 98-380, Senate C onferees: T heir Selection and Authority, by El i z abet h
R ybi cki and S t anl ey Bach.
CRS Report R S20227, House C onf erees: S el ect i o n , by R ichard S. Beth.
CRS Report 98-382, Conference Reports and Joint Explanatory S tatements ,byStanley
Bach and C hristopher M . Davis.
CRS Report 96-708, Conference Committees and Relate d Procedures: An Introduction,
by El i z abet h R yb i cki and S t anl ey Bach.
CRS Report 98-696, Resolving L egis l a t i ve Differences in Congress: Conference
C o mmi t t ees and Amendment s Bet w een the Houses, by E l i z abet h R yb i cki and S t anl ey