THE RULES COMMITTEE: ROLE AND PROCESS
- ROLE OF THE RULES COMMITTEE
Reporting special rules. The Rules Committee reports special rules that set the terms for debate and amendments on specific measures. Legislation may also reach the House floor by way of:
- unanimous consent;
- special calendar days (Corrections, Private, Wednesday and District of Columbia);
- special procedures such as suspension of the rules; and
- privileged status granted in House rules to general appropriations bills, budget resolutions, special rule resolutions and certain other motions and questions.
Exercising “original jurisdiction.” The Rules Committee has jurisdiction over the standing rules of the House, changes in House rules, and the congressional budget process. Examples of original jurisdiction measures reported by the Committee in previous Congresses include:
- Comprehensive Budget Process Reform Act of 1999 (H.R. 853)
- Establishing a Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China (H.Res. 463);
- Mandates Information Act (H.R. 3534);
- Bipartisan House Ethics Reform Recommendations of 1997 (H.Res. 168);
- House Gift Rule (H.Res. 250);
- Line Item Veto (H.R. 2);
- Unfunded Mandate Reform Act (H.R. 5); and
- House Corrections Calendar (H.Res. 43).
- THE NEED FOR SPECIAL RULES
Arranging the House schedule. Without special rules, measures referred to either the House or Union calendars must be taken up in the order in which they are listed on those calendars.
Resolving the House into the Committee of the Whole. Without adoption of a special rule, the Speaker would not have the authority to resolve the House into the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union, where the procedures allow more Members to participate in debate and offer amendments.
Facilitating consideration of legislation. In addition to making floor consideration of specific legislation in order, special rules are needed to: limit and assign control of general debate time; govern the number and types of amendments to be offered; waive points of order, if necessary, against provisions of a bill or against amendments that violate House rules; and facilitate resolving differences with the Senate.
Arbitrating legislative disputes among committees. When two or more committees report differing versions of a bill, a special rule is needed to determine which committee substitute, or if an alternative negotiated substitute, will be made in order as the original bill for purposes of amendment.
- CATEGORIES OF SPECIAL RULES
Open – Permits general debate for a certain period of time (the amount of time depends on the importance of the legislation and the legislative schedule) and allows any Member to offer an amendment under the five minute rule, provided that the amendment is in compliance with the standing rules of the House and the Budget Act.
Modified Open – Permits general debate and allows any Member to offer a germane amendment under the five minute rule subject only to an overall time limit on the amendment process, and/or a requirement that amendments be pre-printed in the Congressional Record.
Modified Closed/Structured -- Permits general debate for a certain period of time, but the Rules Committee limits the amendments that may be offered to those designated in the special rule or Rules Committee report to accompany the special rule. This type of rule may also preclude amendments to a particular portion of the bill, although the remainder of the bill may be completely open to amendment.
Closed – Permits debate for a certain period of time but permits no amendments to be offered.
- PROCESS FOR REPORTING A SPECIAL RULE
Rules Committee receives a letter from the Chairman of the reporting committee. The letter usually includes a request that a hearing be scheduled, a request for a certain type of special rule desired, the amount of debate time needed, and any waivers of House rules necessary for consideration of the bill.
Rules Committee schedules a hearing. Witnesses are limited to Members of Congress, typically the committee and subcommittee chairmen and ranking Minority members, committee members both supporting and opposing the measure, and Members who wish to offer floor amendments.
Rules Committee marks up a special rule. The Rules Committee, in consultation with the Majority Leadership and the applicable committee chairmen, determines the type of rule to be granted, including the amount of general debate, the amendment process, and waivers to be granted, if any.
Special rule reported and filed. The Majority Leader consults with the Speaker, the Rules Committee Chairman and the applicable committee chairmen to decide upon an appropriate date for consideration of the rule on the House floor.
Consideration in the House. After a one-day layover, special rules may be considered on the House floor at any time. A two-thirds vote is necessary to consider a special rule on the same day that it is reported from the Rules Committee.
Debate under the hour rule. Special rules reported by the Rules Committee are debated under a House rule that permits Members specifically recognized by the Chair to hold the floor for no more than one hour. The hour is managed by the Majority Member of the Rules Committee calling up the rule, not the committee that reported the underlying bill. Out of custom, one-half of the time is yielded to a Minority Member of the Rules Committee. At the end of debate, the previous question is put to a vote in order to cut off further debate, prevent the offering of amendments to the rule, and bring the special rule to an immediate vote.