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Suspension of the Rules

Ben Grove Christopher Murray February 6, 2020

Instances when Congress suspends the typical rules that govern legislation so bipartisan bills can forward more quickly.

New Rules

The House and Senate each have their own rules to govern how bills proceed to each chamber's floor, including rules for how long debate occurs and how to structure the amendment process. Bills in the House are typically considered under a "rule" adopted by the House Rules Committee and approved by a vote of the full House. This is done to ensure that the process is orderly given the sheer number of representatives in the House.

For House bills that generate broad support, the rules can be waived by a two-thirds vote of the members present under a procedure known as "suspension of the rules." This allows lawmakers to bypass the Rules Committee and consider non-controversial bipartisan legislation in a more expedited manner. Under suspension, bills can be considered without prior committee consideration, debate is limited, and floor amendments are prohibited.

Rules of Attraction

In the House, the suspension process is controlled by the Speaker, who decides which bills will be brought up and when. Suspension motions can only be brought up on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and during the last six days of a legislative session. Unlike structured rules, which can pass via majority vote, bills under suspension must receive the support of two-thirds of the chamber to pass.

While it is possible to suspend the rules in the Senate, it requires unanimous consent and is infrequently used. The Senate Majority Leader, like the Speaker, wields significant powers in controlling how bills proceed.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

In the 114th Congress (2015-2017), the House considered 62% of bills and resolutions under suspension, and the Senate approved roughly 40% of these. So far in the 116th Congress, over 400 bills have been considered under suspension, with only two failing to achieve a two-thirds majority. While many of these bills are minor (e.g., naming post offices and approving commemorations), others have been used to protect whistleblowers, assess terrorist use of virtual currencies, and permanently fund STEM education at minority-serving institutions.