The Gephardt Rule is a rule of the House of Representatives giving automatic consideration and House passage to an increases in the statutory limit on the public debt. In its original form, when a budget resolution was adopted by both the House and the Senate, it automatically caused a joint resolution increasing the statutory limit on the public debt to be engrossed in the House and sent to the Senate. It was repealed at the beginning of the 112th Congress but then reestablished for the 116th Congress. The rule in its latter form, though, changed the event from a final adoption of a budget resolution to the House-adoption of a concurrent resolution on the budget.
The Rule was first adopted the 96th Congress by a law enacted to increase the public debt limit in 1979 (Pub. L. 96–78) was originally applicable to concurrent resolutions on the budget for fiscal years beginning on or after October 1, 1980 (fiscal year 1981).
When originally adopted, the rule stipulated that when a concurrent resolution on the budget was adopted (agreed to by both Houses of Congress), the Clerk of the House was directed to prepare and send to the Senate a Joint Resolution which changed the debt limit to be consistent with the debt levels called for by the budget resolution. Since no direct vote was taken on that Joint Resolution, no one could be held responsible for supporting it. Such a “Gephardt Bill” has the unique nature of never being introduced, not having a sponsor, not debated, nor voted on, but still a legislative measure.
A notable instance of the use of the Gephardt Rule was the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, which was first engrossed by the Clerk of the House as an increase in the limit on the Public Debt. It was later amended to incorporate the budget process reforms which serve as an important element of the statutory aspect of the Congressional Budget process.
Notably, section 3101(b) of title 31 of the U.S. Code makes reference to the House Rule under its original designation (Rule XLIX), though it has no effect since its repeal.
The Rules and Manual notes for clause 3(f)(2) of rule XXI of the Rules of the House, relating to the treatment of the public debt, gives reference information related to the repeal, reinstatement, then re-repeal of the rule:
[Clause 3 (f)(2)] was amended in the 107th Congress to reflect the repeal of former rule XXIII (“Statutory Limit on Public Debt”) (sec. 2(s), H. Res. 5, Jan. 3, 2001, p. 24), which was reinstated in the 108th Congress as rule XXVII (sec. 2(t), H. Res. 5, Jan. 7, 2003, p. 7), renumbered in the 110th Congress as rule XXVIII (sec. 301, P.L. 110–81), and repealed in the 112th Congress (sec. 2(d)(2), H. Res. 5, Jan. 5, 2011, p. 80).
Debt Limit Increases Since 2011
CRS on the Gephardt Rule
The Congressional Research Service provides an explanation of the rule and its legislative history:
CRS – Debt Limit Legislation – The House “Gephardt Rule” (RL31913) July 27, 2015
Legislative History of the Gephardt Rule
The Gephardt rule, initially codified as Rule XLIX of the Standing Rules of the House of Representatives, was established by P.L. 96-78 (93 Stat. 589-591), an act to provide for a temporary increase in the public debt limit. The House adopted the legislation (H.R. 5369) by a vote of 219-198 on September 26, 1979.
During consideration of the measure, Representative Gephardt explained that the purpose of the new House rule was to place the consideration of the public debt limit within the context of the overall budget policies contained in the annual budget resolution. In addition, it was intended to reduce the amount of time spent and the number of votes in the House and in committees on the issue of raising the public debt limit.
One of the aggregate amounts required to be included in the annual budget resolution is the appropriate level of the public debt.6 The budget resolution, however, does not become law. Therefore, the enactment of subsequent legislation is necessary in order to change the statutory limit on the public debt. The Gephardt rule enables the House to combine the finalization of the budget resolution and the origination of debt limit legislation into a single step.
Representative Gephardt stated that the new automatic engrossment process
puts the consideration of the appropriate level for the debt ceiling where it legitimately and logically belongs. That is in the context of when we vote for the spending that creates the need to change the debt ceiling. 
In its original form, the rule required the engrossment of a joint resolution changing the temporary public debt limit. In 1983, the separate temporary and permanent statutory limits on the public debt were combined into one permanent statutory limit (P.L. 98-34). Subsequently, the House amended the Gephardt rule to reflect this change by agreeing to H.Res. 241 (98th Congress) by voice vote on June 23, 1983.8 Under the modified rule, the automatically engrossed joint resolution would contain a change to the permanent statutory limit. In addition to this modification,
[t]he rules change also provided that where a budget resolution contains more than one public debt limit figure (for the current and the next fiscal year), only one joint resolution be engrossed, containing the debt limit figure for the current fiscal year with a time limitation, and the debt limit figure for the following fiscal year as the permanent limit.9
During consideration of H.Res. 241, Representative Butler C. Derrick explained the limitation of a single joint resolution by stating:
The Committee on Rules … believes that it is unnecessary and confusing to have … a single concurrent resolution on the budget trigger the engrossment and passage of two separate joint resolutions to increase or decrease the public debt [limit].10
At the beginning of the 106th Congress (1999-2000), the House recodified the rule as House Rule XXIII. Certain language was deleted and modified from the existing rule, but the revisions were intended to continue the automatic engrossment process “without substantive change.”11
The House repealed the rule at the beginning of the 107th Congress (2001-2002). On the opening day of the 108th Congress (2003-2004), however, the House reinstated this automatic engrossing process as a new rule, Rule XXVII.13 The reinstated rule contained the same language as Rule XXIII of the 106th Congress.
The rule was redesignated (without change) as Rule XXVIII during the 110th Congress upon the enactment of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (S. 1, P.L. 110-81, September 14, 2007, see Section 301(a)). Finally, as noted above, the House repealed the rule at the beginning of the 112th Congress (2011- 2012).14
5 For the consideration in the House, see Congressional Record, vol. 125 (September 26, 1979), pp. 26337-26350. The Senate passed H.R. 5369 by a vote of 49-29 on September 28, 1979. For the consideration in the Senate, see Congressional Record, vol. 125 (September 28, 1979), pp. 26669-26691. The President signed the legislation into law on September 29, 1979.
6 As the budget resolution has evolved over time from a single-year time frame to a multi-year time frame, the budget resolution has gone from including a debt limit level for only one fiscal year to including debt limit levels for each fiscal year over a multi-year period.
7 Congressional Record, vol. 125 (September 26, 1979), p. 26342.
8 See Congressional Record, vol. 129 (June 23, 1983), pp. 17162-17164.
9 U.S. Congress, Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives of the United States, One Hundred Tenth Congress, 109th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Doc. 109-157 (Washington: GPO, 2007), p. 981.
10 Congressional Record, vol. 129 (June 23, 1983), p. 17163.
11 See Congressional Record, vol. 145 (January 6, 1999), pp. 206-208; or U.S. Congress, House Committee on Rules, The Recodification of the Rules of the House of Representatives, committee print, 106th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO, 1999), pp. 172-174.
12 Section 2(s)(1) of H.Res. 5, adopted on January 3, 2001. See Congressional Record, vol. 147 (January 3, 2001), pp. 24-37.
13 Section 2(t) of H.Res. 5, adopted on January 7, 2003. See Congressional Record, vol. 149 (January 7, 2003), pp. 7- 21.
14 Section 2(d)(2) of H.Res. 5, adopted on January 5, 2011. See Congressional Record, vol. 157, part 1 (January 5, 2011), pp. 80-102.
Text of the Gephardt Rule
The Gephardt Rule was repealed at the beginning of the 112th Congress. The below text is from the Rules of the House of Representatives of the 109th Congress, as it was in force before its repeal.
STATUTORY LIMIT ON PUBLIC DEBT
§1104. Public debt limit.
1. Upon adoption by Congress of a concurrent resolution on the budget under section 301 or 304 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 that sets forth, as the appropriate level of the public debt for the period to which the concurrent resolution relates, an amount that is different from the amount of the statutory limit on the public debt that otherwise would be in effect for that period, the Clerk shall prepare an engrossment of a joint resolution increasing or decreasing, as the case may be, the statutory limit on the public debt in the form prescribed in clause 2. Upon engrossment of the joint resolution, the vote by which the concurrent resolution on the budget was finally agreed to in the House shall also be considered as a vote on passage of the joint resolution in the House, and the joint resolution shall be considered as passed by the House and duly certified and examined. The engrossed copy shall be signed by the Clerk and transmitted to the Senate for further legislative action.
2. The matter after the resolving clause in a joint resolution described in clause 1 shall be as follows: ‘‘That subsection (b) of section 3101 of title 31, United States Code, is amended by striking out the dollar limitation contained in such subsection and inserting in lieu thereof ‘$_____’.’’, with the blank being filled with a dollar limitation equal to the appropriate level of the public debt set forth pursuant to section 301(a)(5) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 in the relevant concurrent resolution described in clause 1. If an adopted concurrent resolution under clause 1 sets forth different appropriate levels of the public debt for separate periods, only one engrossed joint resolution shall be prepared under clause 1; and the blank referred to in the preceding sentence shall be filled with the limitation that is to apply for each period.
3. (a) The report of the Committee on the Budget on a concurrent resolution described in clause 1 and the joint explanatory statement of the managers on a conference report to accompany such a concurrent resolution each shall contain a clear statement of the effect the eventual enactment of a joint resolution engrossed under this rule would have on the statutory limit on the public debt.
(b) It shall not be in order for the House to consider a concurrent resolution described in clause 1, or a conference report thereon, unless the report of the Committee on the Budget or the joint explanatory statement of the managers complies with paragraph (a).
4. Nothing in this rule shall be construed as limiting or otherwise affecting—
(a) the power of the House or the Senate to consider and pass bills or joint resolutions, without regard to the procedures under clause 1, that would change the statutory limit on the public debt; or
(b) the rights of Members, Delegates, the Resident Commissioner, or committees with respect to the introduction, consideration, and reporting of such bills or joint resolutions.
5. In this rule the term ‘‘statutory limit on the public debt’’ means the maximum face amount of obligations issued under authority of chapter 31 of title 31, United States Code, and obligations guaranteed as to principal and interest by the United States (except such guaranteed obligations as may be held by the Secretary of the Treasury), as determined under section 3101(b) of such title after the application of section 3101(a) of such title, that may be outstanding at any one time.
[Notes from the House Rules and Manual, 109th Congress]
This rule was added in the 96th Congress by Public Law 96–78 (93 Stat. 589) and was originally applicable to concurrent resolutions on the budget for fiscal years beginning on or after October 1, 1980 (fiscal year 1981). However, in the 96th Congress (H. Res. 642, Apr. 23, 1980, p. 8800), the provisions of that public law amending the Rules of the House were made applicable to the third concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 1980 as well as the first concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 1981 (H. Con. Res. 307, June 12, 1980, pp. 14505–19; see H.J. Res. 569 and H.J. Res. 570, June 13, 1980, p. 14609). Conforming changes were made in clauses 2 and 5 of this rule with the codification of title 31, United States Code, by Public Law 97–258 (96 Stat. 1066). The rule was amended in the 98th Congress (H. Res. 241, June 23, 1983, p. 17162) to reflect the enactment into law (P.L. 98–34) of a new permanent, rather than temporary, debt limit. Clause 2 was rewritten, and clause 1 modified, to change the form of the joint resolution engrossed pursuant to the rule in order to delete references to a temporary debt limit and to reflect instead changes in a permanent debt limit. The rules change also provided that where a budget resolution contains more than one public debt limit figure (for the current and the next fiscal year), only one joint resolution be engrossed, containing the debt limit figure for the current fiscal year with a time limitation, and the debt limit figure for the following fiscal year as the permanent limit. Another conforming change in clause 1 was made in the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 (P.L. 99– 177, Dec. 12, 1985, p. 36209) to delete reference to a second concurrent resolution on the budget (no longer required under section 310 of the Budget Act). Before the House recodified its rules in the 106th Congress, this provision was found in former rule XLIX. Recodification placed it as rule XXIII (H. Res. 5, Jan. 6, 1999, p. 47). The rule was repealed in the 107th Congress (sec. 2(s), H. Res. 5, Jan. 3, 2001, p. 24), reinstated in the 108th Congress as rule XVII (sec. 2(t), H. Res. 5, Jan. 7, 2003, p. 7), and redesignated in the 110th Congress as rule XXVIII (sec. 301, P.L. 110–81).
This rule has been ordered inapplicable to a conference report on a concurrent resolution on the budget (e.g., H. Res. 131, Mar. 25, 1999, p. 5671; H. Res. 446, Mar. 23, 2000, p. 3442). The date of final House action in adopting the conference report on the concurrent resolution on the budget, rather than the date of final Senate action, when later, is the appropriate date under this rule for deeming the House to have passed the joint resolution (July 14, 1986, p. 16316; Speaker Wright, June 25, 1987, p. 17424).
CRS Report: The House Gephardt Rule
Summary of the Gephardt Rule
Former House Rule XXVIII (commonly referred to as the “Gephardt rule,” named after its author, former Representative Richard Gephardt) allowed the House to pass debt limit legislation without requiring a separate vote on the initial consideration of such legislation. The rule, which first applied in calendar year 1980, provided for the automatic engrossment of a House joint resolution changing the statutory limit on the public debt when the Congress had completed action on the congressional budget resolution. The Senate has never had a comparable procedure; if it chose to consider such a House-passed joint resolution, it did so under its regular legislative process. At the beginning of the 112th Congress (2011-2012), the House repealed House Rule XXVIII.
Debt Limit Legislation: The House “Gephardt Rule”, R41806 (Congressional Research Service, July 27, 2015), p. 1.
Selected Legislation Agreed to By the House Under the Gephardt Rule
H.J. Res. 372 (99th Congress) — the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 (BBEDCDA) was deemed passed by the House of Representatives on August 1, 1985
Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Reaffirmation Act of 1987
Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010
Amending the Gephardt Rule
H. Res. 241 (97th Congress); Amending Gephardt Rule; June 23, 1983
GNP (Gross National Product)