Committee on Rules Legislative Process Program
WHAT IS A SPECIAL RULE?
RULE, SPECIAL. Also known as a special order, order of business resolution, or rule, a special rule is a simple resolution of the House of Representatives, usually reported by the Committee on Rules, to permit the immediate consideration of a legislative measure, notwithstanding the usual order of business, and to prescribe conditions for its debate and amendment. The authority of the Rules Committee to report special rules can be traced to 1883. Prior to that time, bills could not be considered out of their order on the calendars of the House except by unanimous consent or under a suspension of the rules, which required a two-thirds vote. Since special rules reported from the Rules Committee required only a majority vote in the House, the new practice greatly facilitated the ability of the majority leadership to depart from the regular order of business and schedule major legislation according to the majority's priorities.
In addition to giving a bill privileged status for consideration at any time after the rule's adoption, a special rule establishes the amount of time for general debate on the bill and how that time is to be allocated. Usually the time is equally divided between the chairman and ranking minority member of the committee or the committees reporting the bill. Special rules also provide for the type of amendment process to be followed once general debate has been concluded. Under an open rule, any member may offer germane amendments. Under a close rule, no amendments are permitted. Between open and closed rules are modified open and modified closed rules, which limit the amendment process to only those amendments referred to in the rule. The text of such amendments, who may offer them, and how long they may be debated are often contained in the Rules Committee's report on the resolution. Studies have documented a significant increase, beginning in the 1980s, in the frequency of special rules that restrict the amendment process. This trend has been variously attributed to increasing legislative complexity, member independence, member partisanship, and leaders' desire for predictable results. Special rules are also used to waive points of order against bills or amendments and thereby permit their consideration notwithstanding their violation of House rules. In this regard, special rules are often necessary to waive points of order for matters that would otherwise be privileged for floor consideration without a rule, such as appropriations bills and conference reports.
Special rule resolutions are subject to one hour of debate in the House, controlled by the majority party manager for the Rules Committee. Half this time is traditionally yielded to the minority. The resolutions may not be considered by the House on the same day they are reported from the Rules Committee except by a two-thirds vote of the House. They may not be amended unless the majority manager offers an amendment or yields to another member for that purpose, or unless the previous question (the motion to end debate and proceed to a final vote) is defeated. If the previous question is defeated, its leading opponent is recognized for one hour of debate and the right to amend the rule in a similar fashion.
Bach, Stanley, and Steven S. Smith. Managing Uncertainty in the House of Representatives: Adaptation and Innovation in Special Rules. 1988.
U.S. House of Representatives. Deschler's Precedents of the United States House of Representatives, by Lewis Deschler. 94th Cong., 2nd sess., 1976. H. Doc. 94-661. Vol.6..
Donald R. Wolfensberger - Chief of Staff
Rule, Special by Donald R. Wolfensberger. Used by permission of Macmillan Library
Reference USA, a Division of Simon & Schuster Inc., from THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS, Edited by Donald C. Bacon, Roger H. Davidson, and Morton Keller. Vol. 3, pp. 1741-1742. Copyright c 1995 by The Fund for the Study of Congress. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without the written consent of the publisher.