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Committee on Rules Legislative Process Program
110th Congress

Functions/Features of a Special Rule

(Numbers in parentheses correspond with numbers on attached example special rule.)


Debate in the full House. Some special rules provide for debate in the full House to preclude or severely restrict amendments. Such rules generally provide at least one-hour of debate and order the previous question to prevent amendments, except those contained in a motion to recommit with instructions.

Resolving the House into Committee of the Whole (1). Clause 2(b) of Rule XVIII gives the Speaker the authority, after adoption of a special rule, to declare the House resolved into the Committee of the Whole, where the procedures allow more Members to participate in debate and offer amendments. This rule is generally repeated in special rules to underscore that it is not necessary to consider and adopt a motion that the House resolve into the Committee of the Whole. The Rules Committee will ordinarily provide for consideration of bills in the Committee of the Whole where the offering of amendments is contemplated.

Dispensing with the First Reading (2). Clause 8 of Rule XVI requires bills and joint resolutions to be read three times before being passed. The first reading is routinely waived by special rules to avoid the first reading of a bill in full before general debate begins.

Relevancy of debate (3). A special rule will require that general debate in the Committee of the Whole be confined to the bill, and sometimes to non-germane amendments protected by the rule. Otherwise, anything relevant to the "State of the Union" would be relevant during general debate. However, the rule of relevancy applies when germane amendments are under consideration.



Reading for amendment (4). A bill is read for amendment one section at a time (or one paragraph at a time for appropriations bills) unless a special rule provides otherwise. A special rule may provide that a bill be read by broader portions, such as by title, or that it be open for amendment at any point.

Five Minute Rule (4). Unless otherwise provided in a special rule, a proponent and opponent of each amendment may speak for five minutes each, after which other Members may gain the floor for five minutes apiece by moving to strike the "last word" or the "requisite number of words" (pro-forma amendments).

Self-executing provisions. If specified, the House's adoption of a special rule may also have the effect of amending the underlying bill (or occasionally of approving other, unrelated actions, such as adopting a simple resolution or passing an unrelated conference report).

Perfecting amendments. These are simply first degree amendments to bills or second degree amendments to other amendments that do not replace the entire texts that they amend.

En bloc amendments. With the exception of appropriations bills (which permit en bloc amendments that do not increase budget authority or outlays in the bill), unless a special rule authorizes several amendments to be offered and considered as a group, a Member seeking to offer amendments en bloc must obtain unanimous consent if they amend portions of the bill not yet open to amendment. If not precluded by a special rule, an amendment to insert or strike may be divided into two or more parts and voted on separately (demand for a division of the question) if each part represents a separate stand-alone proposition. House rules permit separate grammatical and substantive provisions in an amendment to be divided or separated for voting. Often if a rule makes in order en bloc amendments as a single proposition, it will preclude a demand for division of the question to prevent separate votes.

Amendment in the nature of a substitute as an original bill for purposes of amendment (5). A special rule may provide that the committee substitute (or an alternative negotiated substitute) is considered as an original bill for purpose of amendment. This is done to permit second degree amendments to be offered. Otherwise, the substitute would be considered a first degree amendment, and would only be subject to further non-amendable amendments.

Priority recognition (6). Open rules customarily grant the Chair discretion to give priority recognition to Members who have pre-printed their amendments in the Congressional Record. The Chair will likely still recognize a Member of the reporting committee over a non-Member, even if the former's amendment is not pre-printed. But absent this provision, the Chair would follow the custom of giving preferential recognition to Members, based on seniority, who serve on the reporting committee, alternating between the parties.

Postpone Votes. Clause 6 of rule XVIII allows the Chair to reduce to 5 minutes the time for electronic voting on a postponed question, provided that the voting time on the first in any series of questions is not less than 15 minutes.

Most votes win. This is a descendent of the King-of-the-Hill procedure (last substitute to gain a majority vote wins). A special rule may permit Members to vote on two or more amendments in the nature of a substitute to the same bill, or parts of the same bill. If more than one substitute attracts a majority of votes, the Committee of the Whole reports only the one that receives the largest number of votes.



A special rule may waive specific points of order, or all points of order (7), against a bill and its consideration, or against specified amendments, for failure to comply with specified provisions of House rules. Absent such protection, a bill or amendment may be blocked from further consideration if a point of order is raised and sustained by the Chair. The following are among the more commonly waived rules of the House:

Requirements for Committee Reports on Measures

  • Rule XIII, clause 3(b) -- Record votes, by name.
  • Rule XIII, clause 3(c)(2) -- Statement on budget matters (new budget authority).
  • Rule XIII, clause 3(c)(3) -- CBO cost estimate.
  • Rule XIII, clause 3(e) -- Ramseyer (comparative print).
  • Rule XIII, clause 3(f) -- Changes in existing law and unauthorized appropriations.


Requirements Involving Committee Procedures

  • Rule XI, clause 2(g) -- Open meetings and hearings.
  • Rule XI, clause 2(h) -- Majority present when reporting a measure.


Layover Requirements

  • Rule XIII, clause 4(a) -- Three-day layover of reports.
  • Rule XIII, clause 4(c) -- Three-day availability of appropriations hearings and reports.
  • Rule XXII, clause 8 -- Three-day layover of conference reports.


Concerning the Substance of Measures

  • Rule XVI, clause 7 -- Nongermane amendments.
  • Rule XXI, clause 2(a)(1) -- Unauthorized appropriations.
  • Rule XXI, clause 2(b) -- Legislation in general appropriations bills.
  • Rule XXI, clause 2(e) -- Non-emergency amendments to emergency appropriations.
  • Rule XXI, clause 4 -- Appropriations in authorization bills.
  • Rule XXI, clause 2(a)(2) -- Reappropriations.

Budget Act Waivers: Common Types

  • Section 302(c) -- Prohibits new budget authority until the committee files its 302(b) report.
  • Section 302(f) -- Budget may not exceed 302(b) allocation.
  • Section 303(a) -- Prohibits considering tax and spending measures before budget resolution.
  • Section 306 -- Requires budget legislation to be referred to or reported by the Budget Committee.
  • Section 308(a) -- Reports to include CBO cost estimates on entitlement changes.
  • Section 311(a) -- Prohibits exceeding spending and revenue targets in budget resolution.
  • Section 401(a) -- Prohibits contract and borrowing authority beyond appropriated limits.
  • Section 401(b) -- Consideration of new entitlements.


Tax or Tariff Measures

  • Rule XXI, clause 5(a) -- Tax or tariff matter not reported by Ways & Means.
  • Rule XXI, clause 5(b) -- Three-fifths vote on federal income tax increase.



Rise and Report (8). With the exception of appropriations bills, special rules generally make this automatic upon completion of the amendment process to avoid a vote on a motion to rise and report to the House with amendments adopted in the Committee of the Whole.

Separate votes on amendments (9). House rules require the House to vote on each amendment that the Committee of the Whole has approved. But when a special rule makes in order a committee substitute as an original bill for purposes of amendment, it provides that separate votes may be demanded on the substitute and any amendment to the substitute. Otherwise, the only separate vote allowed under House rules would be on the substitute.

Ordering the previous question (10). Special rules automatically impose the previous question on a measure reported from the Committee of the Whole. This precludes the offering of intervening debate or motions which could delay or prevent passage of the bill.

Motion to recommit (11). House rules prohibit the Rules Committee from reporting a special rule that denies the minority a motion to recommit, with or without amendatory instructions. However, special rules that make in order a committee substitute as an original bill provide explicitly for such motion to recommit with or without instructions because the substitute amends the bill in every respect and, like other amendments, recommittal instructions may not re-amend text that has already been amended.

Engrossment. The measure is reprinted in the form in which it is passed by the House.

Lay on the table. A special rule may permanently dispose of consideration of an alternative to the measure passed by the House without a direct vote on its substance.



Taking bill from Speaker's table. To facilitate the resolution of differences with the Senate, special rules sometimes contain provisions that expedite the convening of a conference committee or make in order amendments to Senate-passed bills or Senate amendments to House-passed bills.

Waive Reading of Conference Reports. Special rules on conference reports sometimes waive reading of the conference report (and Senate amendments reported in disagreement on appropriations bills and motions to dispose of them) when it is called up for consideration. This provision insures expedited consideration of the conference report. The reading requirement is automatically met when conference reports are available under the 3-day layover rule.

Scope Violations. Points of order will lie against a conference report if the conferees have gone beyond their authority. Unless these points of order are waived by a special rule, the entire conference report could be ruled out of order. Common scope violations include: changing text that has already been agreed to; including new subject matters; and going beyond the scope of differences committed to conference.

Nongermane Senate Matter. Special rules may waive clause 10(a)(2) of Rule XXII, which permits Members to raise a point of order against language in a conference report that originated in the Senate but would have been considered as not germane if offered in the House and thereby obtain a separate vote on rejecting the language.


107th Congress
1st Session
H. RES. _______

Providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 350) to improve congressional deliberation on proposed Federal private sector mandates, and for other purposes.




February 3, 1999 Mr. Linder, from the Committee on Rules, reported the following resolution which was referred to the House Calendar and ordered to be printed.




Providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 350) to improve congressional deliberation on proposed Federal private sector mandates, and for other purposes. (1) Resolved, That at any time after the adoption of this resolution the Speaker may, pursuant to clause 2(b) of rule XVIII, declare the House resolved into the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union for consideration of the bill (H.R. 350) to improve congressional deliberation on proposed Federal private sector mandates, and for other purposes. (2) The first reading of the bill shall be dispensed with. (7) Points of order against consideration of the bill for failure to comply with clause 4(a) of rule XIII or section 306 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 are waived. (3) General debate shall be confined to the bill and shall not exceed one hour equally divided and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Rules. (4) After general debate the bill shall be considered for amendment under the five-minute rule. (5) It shall be in order to consider as an original bill for the purpose of amendment under the five-minute rule the amendment in the nature of a substitute recommended by the Committee on Rules now printed in the bill. Each section of the committee amendment in the nature of a substitute shall be considered as read. (7) Points of order against the committee amendment in the nature of a substitute for failure to comply with section 306 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 are waived. During consideration of the bill for amendment, the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole may accord (6) priority in recognition on the basis of whether the Member offering an amendment has caused it to be printed in the portion of the Congressional Record designated for that purpose in clause 8 of rule XVIII. Amendments so printed shall be considered as read. (8) At the conclusion of consideration of the bill for amendment the Committee shall rise and report the bill to the House with such amendments as may have been adopted. (9) Any Member may demand a separate vote in the House on any amendment adopted in the Committee of the Whole to the bill or to the committee amendment in the nature of a substitute. (10) The previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill and amendments thereto to final passage without intervening motion except (11) one motion to recommit with or without instructions.