Rules of the House

Task Force on House Rules Recodification

Task Force on Recodification of House Rules

[Excerpt from Report of the Committee on Rules, Survey of Activities of the House Committee on Rules (105th Congress) H. Rept. 105-840; January 2, 1999.]

On January 8, 1997, the Rules Committee established a bipartisan, ad hoc task force on the recodification of House Rules. The purpose of the task force was to recommend, at the earliest practicable date, a more logical, orderly and comprehensive set of House rules without substantive policy changes.

The House of Representatives has not undertaken a comprehensive revision of its rules since the 1880s. However, there have been sporadic bipartisan efforts in recent years to recodify House rules to make them more rational, comprehensible and usable by Members and committees. In 1984, for example, House Speaker Tip O’Neill established a bipartisan group of four Members to review a draft recodification proposal presented by the House Parliamentarian. The group’s effort to present a final package to the Rules Committee and the full House stalled when a group of committee chairmen reacted negatively to some of the proposed changes.

While the recodification project was mentioned in succeeding Congresses, it was never fully pursued to the point of presentation to either the House or to the Rules Committee. Most notably, in the 103rd Congress, the House Members of the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress recommended the following in their final report:

The Parliamentarian of the House should prepare a recodification of the Rules of the House * * * with the goal of completing the project by the beginning of the 105th Congress. (House Report 103-413, Vol. I, p. 18.)

At the beginning of the 105th Congress, the Speaker of the House agreed that the Rules Committee should proceed with the recodification effort on a bipartisan basis. Consequently, the Rules Committee approved the establishment of the bipartisan ad hoc task force consisting of Representatives David Dreier, Deborah Pryce, Martin Frost and Louise Slaughter. Representative Dreier was designated chairman of the task force.

After nearly two years of work at the staff level and with the assistance of the Office of the Parliamentarian, the bipartisan task force developed a preliminary draft proposal to significantly revise the content and structural format of the rules of the House to make them user friendly. The staff proposal cleansed the rules of obsolete and archaic provisions and reorganized them to bring related provisions together in an orderly fashion. Without altering the interpretation or content of any rule, the proposal revised some rules to clarify their meaning and to minimize obscurities and ambiguities.

Others were modified to bring about conformity with accepted and established House practices. As a result of this process, the staff proposal pared the number of House rules from 52 to 28 by combining several existing rules and by creating several new rules from parts of existing rules. The draft also minimized the change of certain major rules citations in order to retain consistency with precedent and practice volumes already published, (e.g. germaneness remained as clause 7 of rule XVI and general appropriation bill matters remain clause 2 of rule XXI).

In October of 1998, the document was presented to all elected Republican and Democratic leaders in the House, as well as to all committee chairmen and ranking minority members, for further discussion and review. The goal is to adopt the rules of the House in a recodified format on the opening day of the 106th Congress.

[Back to House Rules Recodification]