How Our Laws Are Made
XIV. Senate Action
- Chamber Procedure
The Parliamentarian, in the name of the Vice President, as the President
of the Senate, refers the engrossed bill to the appropriate standing committee
of the Senate in conformity with the rules of the Senate. The bill is reprinted
immediately and copies are made available in the document rooms of both
Houses. This printing is known as the "Act print" or the "Senate
Senate committees give the bill the same detailed consideration as
it received in the House and may report it with or without amendment. A
committee member who wishes to express an individual view or a group of
Members who wish to file a minority report may do so by giving notice,
at the time of the approval of a report on the measure, of an intention
to file supplemental, minority, or additional views. These views may be
filed within three days with the clerk of the committee and become a part
of the report. When a committee reports a bill, it is reprinted with the
committee amendments indicated by showing new matter in italics and deleted
matter in line-through type. The calendar number and report number are
indicated on the first and back pages, together with the name of the Senator
making the report. The committee report and any minority or individual
views accompanying the bill also are printed at the same time.
All committee meetings, including those to conduct hearings, must
be open to the public. However, a majority of the members of a committee
or subcommittee may, after discussion in closed session, vote in open session
to close a meeting or series of meetings on the same subject for no longer
than 14 days if it is determined that the matters to be discussed or testimony
to be taken will disclose matters necessary to be kept secret in the interests
of national defense or the confidential conduct of the foreign relations
of the United States; will relate solely to internal committee staff management
or procedure; will tend to charge an individual with a crime or misconduct,
to disgrace or injure the professional standing of an individual, or otherwise
to expose an individual to public contempt, or will represent a clearly
unwarranted invasion of the privacy of an individual; will disclose law
enforcement information that is required to be kept secret; will disclose
certain information regarding certain trade secrets; or may disclose matters
required to be kept confidential under other provisions of law or government
The rules of procedure in the Senate differ to a large extent from
those in the House. The Senate relies heavily on the practice of obtaining
unanimous consent for actions to be taken. For example, at the time that
a bill is reported, the Majority Leader may ask unanimous consent for the
immediate consideration of the bill. If the bill is of a noncontroversial
nature and there is no objection, the Senate may pass the bill with little
or no debate and with only a brief explanation of its purpose and effect.
Even in this instance, the bill is subject to amendment by any Senator.
A simple majority vote is necessary to carry an amendment as well as to
pass the bill. If there is any objection, the report must lie over one
legislative day and the bill is placed on the calendar.
Measures reported by standing committees of the Senate may not be
considered unless the report of that committee has been available to Senate
Members for at least two days (excluding Sundays and legal holidays) prior
to consideration of the measure in the Senate. This requirement, however,
may be waived by agreement of the Majority and Minority leaders and does
not apply in certain emergency situations.
In the Senate, measures are brought up for consideration by a simple
unanimous consent request, by a complex unanimous consent agreement, or
by a motion to proceed to the consideration of a measure on the calendar.
A unanimous consent agreement, sometimes referred to as a "time agreement,"
makes the consideration of a measure in order and often limits the amount
of debate that will take place on the measure and lists the amendments
that will be considered. The offering of a unanimous consent request to
consider a measure or the offering of a motion to proceed to the consideration
of a measure is reserved, by tradition, to the Majority Leader.
Usually a motion to consider a measure on the calendar is made only
when unanimous consent to consider the measure cannot be obtained. There
are two calendars in the Senate, the Calendar of Business and the Executive
Calendar. All legislation is placed on the Calendar of Business and treaties
and nominations are placed on the Executive Calendar. Unlike the House,
there is no differentiation on the Calendar of Business between the treatment
of (1) bills raising revenue, general appropriation bills, and bills of
a public character appropriating money or property, and (2) other bills
of a public character not appropriating money or property.
The rules of the Senate provide that at the conclusion of the morning
business for each "legislative day" the Senate proceeds to the
consideration of the calendar. In the Senate, the term "legislative
day" means the period of time from when the Senate adjourns until
the next time the Senate adjourns. Because the Senate often "recesses"
rather than "adjourns" at the end of a daily session, the legislative
day usually does not correspond to the 24-hour period comprising a calendar
day. Thus, a legislative day may cover a long period of time -- from days
to weeks, or even months. Because of this and the modern practice of waiving
the call of the calendar by unanimous consent at the start of a new legislative
day, it is rare to have a call of the calendar. When the calendar is called,
bills that are not objected to are taken up in their order, and each Senator
is entitled to speak once and for five minutes only on any question. Objection
may be interposed at any stage of the proceedings, but on motion the Senate
may continue consideration after the call of the calendar is completed,
and the limitations on debate then do not apply.
On any day (other than a Monday that begins a new legislative day),
following the announcement of the close of morning business, any Senator,
usually the Majority Leader, obtaining recognition may move to take up
any bill out of its regular order on the calendar. The five-minute limitation
on debate does not apply to the consideration of a bill taken up in this
manner, and debate may continue until the hour when the Presiding Officer
of the Senate "lays down" the unfinished business of the day.
At that point consideration of the bill is discontinued and the measure
reverts back to the Calendar of Business and may again be called up at
another time under the same conditions.
When a bill has been objected to and passed over on the call of the
calendar it is not necessarily lost. The Majority Leader, after consulting
the Minority Leader, determines the time at which the bill will be considered.
At that time, a motion is made to consider the bill. The motion is debatable
if made after the morning hour.
Once a Senator is recognized by the Presiding Officer, the Senator
may speak for as long as the Senator wishes and loses the floor only when
the Senator yields it or takes certain parliamentary actions that forfeit
the Senator's right to the floor. However, a Senator may not speak more
than twice on any one question in debate on the same legislative day without
leave of the Senate. Debate ends when a Senator yields the floor and no
other Senator seeks recognition, or when a unanimous consent agreement
limiting the time of debate is operating.
On occasion, Senators opposed to a measure may extend debate by making
lengthy speeches intended to prevent or defeat action on the measure. This
is the tactic known as "filibustering." Debate, however, may
be closed if 16 Senators sign a motion to that effect and the motion is
carried by three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn. Such a motion
is voted on one hour after the Senate convenes, following a quorum call
on the next day after a day of session has intervened. This procedure is
called "invoking cloture." In 1986, the Senate amended its rules
to limit "post-cloture" consideration to 30 hours. A Senator
may speak for not more than one hour and may yield all or a part of that
time to the majority or minority floor managers of the bill under consideration
or to the Majority or Minority leader. The Senate may increase the time
for "post-cloture" debate by a vote of three-fifths of the Senators
duly chosen and sworn. After the time for debate has expired, the Senate
may consider only amendments actually pending before voting on the bill.
While a measure is being considered it is subject to amendment and
each amendment, including those proposed by the committee that reported
the bill, is considered separately. Generally, there is no requirement
that proposed amendments be germane to the subject matter of the bill except
in the case of general appropriation bills or where "cloture"
has been invoked. Under the rules, a "rider", an amendment proposing
substantive legislation to an appropriation bill, is prohibited. However,
this prohibition may be suspended by two-thirds vote on a motion to permit
consideration of such an amendment on one day's notice in writing. Debate
must be germane during the first three hours after business is laid down
unless determined to the contrary by unanimous consent or on motion without
debate. After final action on the amendments the bill is ready for engrossment
and the third reading, which is by title only. The Presiding Officer then
puts the question on the passage and a voice vote is usually taken although
a yea-and-nay vote is in order if demanded by one-fifth of the Senators
present. A simple majority is necessary for passage. Before an amended
measure is cleared for its return to the House of Representatives, or an
unamended measure is cleared for enrollment, a Senator who voted with the
prevailing side, or who abstained from voting, may make a motion within
the next two days to reconsider the action. If the measure was passed without
a recorded vote, any Senator may make the motion to reconsider. That motion
is usually tabled and its tabling constitutes a final determination. If,
however, the motion is granted, the Senate, by majority vote, may either
affirm its action, which then becomes final, or reverse it.
The original engrossed House bill, together with the engrossed Senate
amendments, if any, is then returned to the House with a message stating
the action taken by the Senate. Where amendments have been made by the
Senate, the message requests that the House concur in them.
For a more detailed discussion of Senate procedure, see Enactment
of a Law, by Robert B. Dove, Parliamentarian of the Senate, Senate
Doc. No. 97-20.
Previous Section | Next Section
How Our Laws are Made | Educational Stuff Main | Home