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Ben Grove Ken Salomon July 15, 2015

A Representative or Senator appointed by his or her respective chamber to a conference committee tasked with resolving differences on competing versions of legislation.

Say You'll Be There

As featured in our November 2013 Wonkology, a conference committee is a formal meeting among the appointed representatives of both chambers to reconcile differences between similar pieces of legislation. The Senate Presiding Officer (usually the President Pro Tempore) and the Speaker of the House typically exercise discretion in selecting who serves on a conference committee, though it typically consists of senior members of the committees that previously reported the legislation. A "motion to instruct the conferees" on specific policy or procedure can be brought to the floor of either chamber prior to the appointment of conferees, though the conferees are not obligated to abide by this motion.

Two Become One

There is no set limit to the number of conferees that can be named to a conference committee. Individual conferees can be selected to negotiate over the entire bill or just a section relevant to the jurisdiction of the committee on which they serve. Once appointed, conferees can adopt their own rules and elect the chairs. House and Senate rules dictate that conferees may not change any provisions on which both chambers already agree and are not to go beyond the scope of the differences in the legislation. Eventually, a conference report is sent to the full House and Senate for up-or-down approval before a final version of the bill is sent to the President for his signature into law.

I'll Tell You What I Want

Conferees are most often appointed to resolve differences between appropriations bills. Because regular order on spending bills has broken down, Congress has not seen any such conference committees on appropriations bills for the last several years. Authorizing legislation may also be considered via conference committee, and at least one prominent authorization will soon be conferenced. Last month, both chambers passed differing versions of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the law that governs federal K-12 education policy and that was last reauthorized in 2002 as No Child Left Behind. Congress announced last week that it would go to conference to resolve the differences between the House and Senate ESEA bills. House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) will serve as the chair of the conference.

Fun fact: Thompson Coburn partner Senator Kit Bond sat on the conference committee that passed the last reauthorization of the ESEA.