Committee on Rules of the House of Representatives
“How much is the Rules Committee the handmaiden of the Speaker?” said Representative Porter J. Goss of Florida, a senior Republican on the panel. “The answer is, totally.”
The quote above very much describes the Committee on Rules of the House of Representatives. The Committee is quite important in that it controls what bills will come to the House Floor and what the terms of the debate will be.
There is a colloquial saying that the Rules Committee is told what to do by the Speaker and how to do it by the Parliamentarian. With the complexities of the House Rules and the control over floor action by the Speaker, this is a basically true statement.
For any bill coming to the floor “under a rule”, this special resolution is usually considered on a partisan basis — all those Members in the Majority are expected, and usually do, vote in favor and the Minority party opposes it in the same way.
Membership on the Rules Committee is carefully controlled by the Speaker, and the Chairman of the Committee is invariably a staunch ally. The ration of Majority to Minority Members is 9 to 4, which is double plus one, a decidedly lopsided majority, which assures votes on amendments offered by the Minority in Committee will always lose.
An important feature of a “rule” is its ability to amend the bill in question by a procedure known as a self-executing amendment. The language of the amendment the rule makes is “made in order as original text” to the underlying bill. Hence, when the rules is adopted by the House, it automatically changes the bill just before it is taken up for debate. This is referred to in section 315 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which anticipates such amendments will be able to fix a budget violation. If it does, it will then under section 315, the point of order will no longer lie against the bill.
Certain noncontroversial bills are considered under what is known as the “suspension calendar” and are usually quickly debated and passed. These bills do not pass through the Rules Committee and are handled largely outside of the Rules Committee.
Jurisdiction – From Rule X of the Rules of the House:
(o) Committee on Rules.
(1) Rules and joint rules (other than those relating to the Code of Official Conduct) and the order of business of the House.
(2) Recesses and final adjournments of Congress.
This committee, which had existed as a select committee from 1789, became a standing committee in 1880 (IV, 4321; VII, 2047). The jurisdiction defined in this paragraph became effective January 2, 1947, as a part of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (60 Stat. 812). Clerical and stylistic changes were effected when the House recodified its rules in the 106th Congress, including the deletion of a redundant undesignated paragraph permitting the committee to sit during sessions of the House (H. Res. 5, Jan. 6, 1999, p. 47). That undesignated paragraph, originally designated as subparagraph (3) (H. Res. 5, Jan. 5, 1993, p. 49), was derived from section 134(c) of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, even though the committee had authority to sit during sessions of the House since 1893 (IV, 4546). Effective January 3, 1975, however, the authority for all committees to sit and act whether the House is in session or has adjourned rendered this provision obsolete (H. Res. 988, 93d Cong., Oct. 8, 1974, p. 34470).
The Speaker was first made a member of the committee in 1858 (IV, 4321), and ceased to be a member on March 19, 1910 (VII, 2047). However, the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 deleted from the former rule the prohibition against the Speaker serving on the committee. The size of the committee was increased from 12 to 15 members for the 87th Congress (Jan. 31, 1961, p. 1589), and the increase in the committee’s size was incorporated as a part of the rules in the 88th Congress (Jan. 9, 1963, p. 14). Effective January 3, 1975, however, the rules were amended to eliminate prescriptions of committee sizes (H. Res. 988, 93d Cong., Oct. 8, 1974, p. 34470), and in the 94th through the 98th Congresses 16 Members were named to the committee on nominations from the respective party caucuses (see, e.g., H. Res. 76, Jan. 20, 1975, p. 803; H. Res. 101, Jan. 28, 1975, p. 1611), and in the 99th through 101st Congresses, 13 Members were so named to the committee (see, e.g., H. Res. 34, 35, Jan. 30, 1985, pp. 1271, 1273).
The subject of recesses and adjournments was formerly under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Ways and Means. In section 402(b) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (P.L. 93–344, July 12, 1974), the committee was given specific authority to report emergency waivers of the required reporting date for bills and resolutions authorizing new budget authority. That authority was incorporated into this rule, effective January 3, 1975 (H. Res. 988, 93d Cong., Oct. 8, 1974, p. 34470), but was repealed as obsolete in the 102d Congress (H. Res. 5, Jan. 3, 1991, p. 39). Jurisdiction over rules relating to official conduct and financial disclosure was transferred to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (now Ethics) on April 3, 1968 (H. Res. 1099, 90th Cong.), but in the 95th Congress, jurisdiction over rules relating to financial disclosure by Members, officers, and employees of the House was returned to this committee (H. Res. 5, Jan. 4, 1977, pp. 53–70).
The jurisdiction of this committee is primarily over propositions to make or change the rules (V, 6770, 6776; VII, 2047), to create committees (IV, 4322; VII, 2048), and to direct them to make investigations (IV, 4322–4324; VII, 2048). Effective January 3, 1975, however, the authority for all committees to conduct investigations and studies was made a part of the standing rules (clause 1(b) of rule XI), as was the authority to issue subpoenas (clause 2(m) of rule XI) (H. Res. 988, 93d Cong., Oct. 8, 1974, p. 34470). The committee also reports resolutions relating to the hour of daily meeting and the days on which the House shall sit (IV, 4325), and orders relating to the use of the galleries during the electoral count (IV, 4327). The chair of the Committee on the Budget inserted in the Congressional Record a memorandum of understanding between this committee and the Committee on the Budget to clarify each committee’s jurisdiction over the congressional budget process (Jan. 4, 1995, p. 617). The Committee on the Budget has primary jurisdiction, and this committee has additional jurisdiction, over a bill amending the Budget Act to establish new legislative points of order and directing that the President include a specified matter in the budget (Feb. 13, 2001, p. 1817).
§734. Special orders of business.
Since 1883 the Committee on Rules has reported special orders providing times and methods for consideration of individual measures or classes of measures, thereby enabling the House by majority vote to forward particular legislation, instead of being forced to use for this purpose the motion to suspend the rules, which requires a two-thirds vote (IV, 3152; V, 6870; for forms of, IV, 3238–3263).
Special orders may still be made by suspension of the rules (IV, 3154) or by unanimous consent (IV, 3165, 3166; VII, 758); but it is not in order to provide that a subject be made a special order by way of a motion to postpone to a day certain (IV, 3164). Before the adoption of rules, and consequently before there is a rule as to the order of business, the Speaker may recognize a Member to offer for immediate consideration a special order providing for the consideration in the House of a subsequent resolution to adopt rules for the new Congress (H. Res. 5, Jan. 4, 1995, p. 447; H. Res. 5, Jan. 4, 2007, p. 7). A special order reported by the Committee on Rules must be agreed to by a majority vote of the House (IV, 3169).
It is not in order to move to postpone a special order providing for the consideration of a class of bills (V, 4958), but a bill that comes before the House by the terms of a special order merely assigning the day for its consideration may be postponed by a majority vote (IV, 3177–3182). A motion to rescind a special order is not privileged under the rules regulating the order of business (IV, 3173, 3174; V, 5323).
A motion to amend the Rules of the House does not present a question of privilege (VIII, 3377, overruling VIII, 3376; see also §706, supra), and it is not in order by raising a question of the privileges of the House under rule IX to move to direct the Committee on Rules to consider a request to report a special order of business (Speaker Albert, June 27, 1974, p. 21599), or to direct the Committee on Rules to meet, to elect a temporary chair (in the temporary absence of the chair) and consider special orders of business (Speaker Albert, July 31, 1975, p. 26250).
For further discussion of the Committee on Rules, see §§857–863, infra.
Rules Floor Procedure Documents