Posts tagged ‘unanimous consent’

Refer / Referral (

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms

Refer / Referral

Once introduced in the House or Senate, or passed by one chamber and sent to the other, most measures are referred to committee. Referral to committee occurs so that a committee can scrutinize the legislation by holding hearings and gauging sentiment for its enactment, and, if the committee proceeds to markup, proposing amendments to the parent chamber or writing, introducing, and reporting a new measure. To which committee(s) a measure is referred can have a significant impact on its fate. Referral of a measure is based on a committee’s jurisdiction, which, in turn, is determined by a variety of factors.

The principal factor in making a referral is Rule X in the House or Rule XXV in the Senate. Each rule lists the broad subject matter within the purview of each standing committee, although not all issues within a committee’s jurisdiction are identified. In addition, these jurisdictional descriptions do not explicitly identify jurisdiction over particular measures, executive-branch departments and agencies, or programs operated within those departments. Accordingly, the formal provisions of the rules are supplemented by an intricate series of precedents and informal agreements. A referral decision is formally the responsibility of the Speaker for the House and the presiding officer for the Senate. In practice, however, the parliamentarian in each chamber advises these officials on an appropriate referral.

A very important function of the parliamentarian in the House and the Senate is to advise the Speaker / presiding officer on referral of measures.

In the House, in addition to House Rule X, precedents and agreements affect referral decisions. In general, these precedents dictate that once a measure has been referred to a given committee, the measure’s subject matter remains the responsibility of that committee. The precedents further presume that amendments to laws that originated in a committee are within the purview of that committee as well.

Referral is determined primarily by committee jurisdiction. Several other factors may influence the referral of a measure. The committee assignment of the sponsor often serves as a signal that a bill should be referred to a committee on which the sponsor serves. The timing of a measure’s introduction can also influence its referral; for example, introduction following a series of issue hearings held by a committee could signal that the panel wants to legislate on the issue it recently studied. Under House Rule X, the Speaker usually designates a “primary” committee to receive a referral. If other panels have jurisdictional responsibilities over some of the issues in the measure, they may receive a sequential referral.

A referral can also designate specific titles or sections of a measure within each committee’s responsibility. More common, however, is a referral for “issues within the jurisdiction of the committee.” Referral without designation of a primary committee can be made under “exceptional circumstances.” A sequential referral may be made after a measure’s introduction or after the primary committee reports the measure.

The Speaker has authority to impose a time limit on committees receiving a referral. Sometimes the time limit is determined at the time of referral; sometimes a time limit is imposed after a measure has been referred.

In the Senate, under Senate Rule XVII measures are referred to committee based on “the subject matter which predominates” in the legislation, commonly referred to as predominant jurisdiction. The Senate generally refers a measure to a single committee based on this rule and the jurisdictions enumerated in Senate Rule XXV.

Predominant jurisdiction allows a measure to be guided to a specific committee, so that the referral predetermines its fate. Many senators, as well as lobbyists, understand that they can influence the legislative agenda by learning how creative drafting of a measure can possibly affect its referral. For example, is tobacco an agricultural issue within the purview of the Agriculture Committee, generally friendly to tobacco? Or, is tobacco a health risk, an issue within the predominant purview of a less friendly Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee? Or, is the issue about tobacco advertising, and thus within the predominant purview of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee? The drafting of a measure on tobacco is not simple if one wants a specific committee to obtain the referral.

The rule further allows a measure to be referred to more than one panel if an issue crosses jurisdictional boundaries or predominance is not clear-cut. Such multiple referrals are not common, in part because they are typically made by unanimous consent after negotiations among affected committee chairs. A joint motion made by the majority and minority leader for multiple referrals is also allowed under Senate Rule XVII, but it has never been used.

Finally, under Senate Rule XIV, the majority leader, his designee, or any senator may follow a set of procedures that allow a measure to be placed directly on the Senate’s legislative calendar without referral to committee. Placement there, however, does not guarantee that floor action will ever be scheduled.

Also see Joint Resolution / H. J. Res. / S. J. Res.; Parliamentarian; Presiding Officer; Speaker; Unanimous Consent; § 6.30 Referral of Legislation to Committee, in Congressional Deskbook.




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Senate Amendment Procedure

Amendments to a measure in the Senate can be offered at almost any time while the measure is under consideration. In addition, an amendment can be debated for an unlimited amount of time. In most cases, an amendment can relate to any subject, even if it is unrelated to the measure that is actually being amended.

The United States Senate, 1850, by Robert E. Whitechurch

Whenever a measure is under consideration on the floor of the Senate, committee amendments are always considered first. The Senate typically agrees by unanimous consent to committee amendments as part of a package. These are known as en bloc amendments.

Amendments may be printed or unprinted. Printed amendments are offered in advance of floor consideration of a measure and they are printed in the Congressional Record. While a bill’s sponsor will typically call up his own amendment, it is possible for any senator to call up a printed amendment. Unprinted amendments are not available in advance. They may be drafted on the floor while the measure is being considered.

Usually, Senate amendments do not need to Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneiderrelevant, or germane, to the measure. Amendments that are non-relevant are referred to as riders. Measures may contain several non-relevant amendments. These are often referred to as Christmas-tree bills.

Relevancy is necessary for general appropriations bills. These include bills on which cloture has been invoked as well as concurrent budget resolutions and measures that are regulated by unanimous consent time agreements.

An amendment may also be classified as either a first degree or second degree amendment. A first degree amendment changes the text of the measure that is under consideration. A second degree amendment proposes changes to the text of a first degree amendment.

There can also be perfecting amendments and substitute amendments. Perfecting amendments modify or change language. Substitute amendments add new language to existing text. A perfecting amendment is considered to be a second degree amendment, and they are always voted on prior to substitute amendments.

A motion to table is often used in order to avoid voting directly on an amendment. Table refers to killing a provision. Any Senator may choose to make a motion to table that is non-debatable. A Senator may announce that they will offer a motion to table an amendment but will not actually do so until debate has taken place. By agreeing to a motion to table, the Senate will not vote directly on the amendment and as a result will avoid having to vote against it.

To learn more about the amendment process, consider signing up for TheCapitol.Net’s 3-day workshop Advanced Legislative Strategies.

Source: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 8.220 Senate Amendment Procedure.

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Understanding Filibusters in Congress

Filibusters are made possible in part due to Senate rules providing that when a senator is recognized to speak regarding a pending measure there are few limitations. Debate is typically unlimited regarding pending measures. Once a senator is recognized, she can yield to another senator for the purpose of a question, but the senator that has been recognized still controls the floor. When a senator continues to speak for an extended period of time it is known as a filibuster.

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Throughout the history of America, there have been some notable instances in which extended filibusters occurred in the Senate. The longest filibuster to date is credited to Strom Thurmond, who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes on the civil rights bill in 1957. Wayne Morse spoke for 22 hours and 26 minutes on the Tidelands oil bill in 1953. William Proxmire actually held the floor for more than 25 hours in 1961; however, he yielded the floor to other senators for several hours during that time period.

The modern approach to filibusters is often referred to as the tag-team approach. In this approach a senator will speak for a period of time and then yield to another senator. In a situation in which several senators participate in an extended period of debate it can actually take some time for the Senate to recognize that a filibuster isCongressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider being conducted. As a result, the mere threat of a filibuster carries significant weight in the Senate.

Debate within the Senate is limited only under certain situations. These situations include when:

  • Cloture is invoked
  • Debate is limited by unanimous consent
  • The Senate operates under a unanimous consent time agreement
  • The Senate considers a motion to table
  • The Senate considers a measure governed by a rule-making statute

Each senator is prohibited from speaking more than twice on the same subject on the same legislative day under Senate rules. Due to the fact that each amendment is considered to be a different subject, the two-speech rule is actually not a practical limit on debate.

To learn more about how Congress works, consider these courses held in DC: Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, Advanced Legislative Strategies, or our Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 8.210 Consideration and Debate on the Senate Floor-Filibusters

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Understanding Cloture in Senate Floor Proceedings

Filibusters may be ended by one of two ways: either through negotiation among senators or through a process known as invoking cloture. Cloture is the only procedure by which the Senate can end debate without rejecting the measure under consideration at the same time.

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Several stages for invoking cloture are described under Senate Rule XXII, Precedence of Motions. For the process to begin, a minimum of sixteen senators must sign a cloture motion–this motion is also sometimes referred to as a cloture petition. When the required number of signatures is received, the motion is then presented on the Senate floor. The clerk then reads the motion.

Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy SchneiderBefore the motion can be considered, the motion must be allowed to “mature” or “ripen.” This means that it must lie over until the second calendar day on which the Senate is in session. For instance, if the petition is filed on a Monday, then it will not ripen until Wednesday.

On the day the motion is ready for consideration, a vote on cloture is required under Senate rules one hour after the Senate has convened and after a quorum call establishes the presence of a quorum. The quorum call can be waived and the time requirement can be changed by unanimous consent, which is not uncommon.

When the vote takes place, it typically requires three-fifths of the senators chosen and sworn. This amounts to 60 votes, provided there are no vacancies. In order to invoke cloture on a motion for the purpose of amending Senate rules, a 2/3 vote or 67 senators is required.

No limits apply to the number of cloture petitions that can be filed on any single measure or amendment. In many cases, petitions are filed on a daily basis by senators in order that a vote can occur daily.

There are limitations following cloture, the most important being the limit of 30 hours of time for the Senate to continue consideration of the measure. The time for recorded votes, all debate time, points of order and quorum calls count within that 30 hour limit. Each senator is guaranteed a minimum of ten minutes to speak within the 30 hour limit, however, no senator may speak for more than one hour. Time can be yielded to other senators.

To learn more about how Congress works, consider these courses held in DC: Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, Advanced Legislative Strategies, or our Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 8.230 Cloture in Senate Floor Proceedings

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Guide to Scheduling and Privilege on the House Floor

In the House, after a measure has been reported from committee, it is placed on a calendar. Whether the measure comes off its respective calendar and receives floor consideration is the responsibility of the majority-party leadership. Leadership is also responsible for influencing the way in which a measure is considered.

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There are specific procedures defined by House rules that determine how a measure comes to the floor of the House. As a result, the kinds of measures that can actually go to the House floor are limited. Privileged business refers to measures and matters that members may bring up for consideration on the floor, which are privileged for the interruption of regular business.

Some measures on specific House calendars or measures brought up for consideration subject to specific procedures are privileged on different days. These procedures and calendars are the Discharge and Private Calendars, District Day, Calendar Wednesday and suspension of the rules.

Business that may be privileged on any day the House meets includes privileged reports from committees that have the option to report any time, general appropriations bills, and reported resolutions of inquiry. The daily starting times for the House are generally announced by the majority-party leadership at the beginning of each session.

A measure can be brought to the House floor for debate, vote on passage and possible amendment in a variety of ways. A measure can come to the floor because it was placed on a calendar or because it is Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneidera particular day of the week or the month. In other instances, a measure might come to the floor because it has made its way through a series of rather complex negotiations. Unanimous consent can be used to bring matters to the floor when they are noncontroversial in nature and when they have been cleared by party leaders. A suspension of the rules can also be used for matters that are largely noncontroversial. More than half of all of the measures that are considered by the House come to the floor by the suspension of the rules procedure. If a measure is even slightly controversial, it will not be considered under this procedure.

To learn more about legislative matters, see our Advanced Legislative Strategies and our Capitol Hill Workshop, the definitive three-day overview of how Congress works.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 8.70 House Floor: Scheduling and Privilege

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