The United States’ House of Representatives is, in contrast to the Senate, a majoritarian body – one in which the “dominance of the offense” strongly rules. However, the House minority may enjoy several procedural methods to “flex” their legislative “muscle” – procedures that enable them to voice discontent over, and occasionally impact policy within, legislative measures which reach the House floor for vote. Of these, two are especially important – the procedural “Motion to Recommit,” and the “Suspension of the Rules.” This brief essay explores these two measures and their relationship with minority rights and power within the House.
In general, the “Motion to Recommit” is a procedural right of the minority which affords them one “last chance” to amend or a kill a bill which has reached the House floor. With regard to process – the motion is in order after the third reading of a piece of legislation on the House floor, prior to the House Speaker ordering a vote on the final passage of the legislation. Priority for whom may offer the motion is given to the Minority Leader, then his or her designee, then to Members from the legislation’s reporting committee in order of their committee seniority.
Members may offer two “types” of this motion – “straight,” and those which include instructions. A “straight” motion to recommit proposes to send legislation back to its Committee of jurisdiction with no requirement for further consideration by the full House. A motion “with instructions” proposes to immediately amend a bill on the floor; the bill remains on the floor, and – if the motion passes – the Committee Chair immediately reports the bill back with any amendment (or amendments) contained in the instructions of the motion. The House then votes on agreeing to this/these amendment(s), and then moves to final passage of the measure as it has been amended. Typically (though not always), if such motions have been agreed to, the amendment(s) in its instructions is/are agreed to by voice vote.
The “Motion to Recommit” is rare in the House of Representatives, and when proposed rarely passes – indicative of the body’s partisan and majoritarian nature. Nonetheless, when one does pass, it has various important effects which may benefit the minority. These include amendment to a measure, enabling minority changes to the bill’s language, or its disposure back to one or more committees (including those which were not originally of jurisdiction) – a move which may afford the minority the right to have committee consideration of a bill that wasn’t otherwise considered in the committee process. As the motion can include amendments in policy language, per its specific instructions, it affords Members to go “on record” through their vote as supporting or opposing a specific policy proposal not related to the underlying bill – thereby creating public record that allows the minority to emphasize and socialize its differences in platform and position from those of the majority. Moreover, the motion affords additional time for consideration, or may potentially “kill” the measure all together – as a committee need not report a bill after it has been recommitted.
While the “Motion to Recommit” is a defensive tactic by which the minority can impart its voice and positions, a “Suspension of the Rules” is one through which the minority can find consensus with the majority over non-controversial legislation – including that which is minority-introduced and/or sponsored – of mutual interest and agreement.
Under House Rule XXVII, on Mondays and Tuesdays of each week – and during the last six days of a session – the Speaker of the House may entertain motions to “suspend the rules” and pass legislation. Through a unanimous consent vote or by a special rule reported by the Rules Committee, legislation may be considered under suspension of the rules on other days of the week.
A suspension motion “sets aside” all procedural and other rules that would otherwise prohibit the House from considering a motion. As such, the purpose of the considering bills under a suspension of the rules is to quickly dispose of non-controversial measures which enjoy broad bipartisan support.
Several aspects of the “Suspension of the Rules” enable this expeditious consideration. Under “suspension,” there are only 40 minutes of debate on the motion to suspend and the bill (or other actions) to which it relates. When a bill is considered under suspension, no floor amendments are in order – although the Member making the suspension motion may include amendments as part of that motion. After the 40 minutes of debate has concluded, there is a single vote on suspending the rules and passing the bill – with both questions decided by that vote. A two-thirds vote of the House, a quorum being present, is required to pass a bill under suspension of the rules. There is no requirement that a bill must be reported from a committee of referral before the House can consider it under suspension – enabling legislation to circumvent the usual committee consideration process. Finally, the suspension procedure waives all points of order against a bill and against its consideration.
As noted, the “Suspension of the Rules” is a frequently-used process that allows expeditious consideration and passage of non-controversial and/or bipartisan legislation in the House. This affords the minority party the opportunity to have their introduced or sponsored bills passed – granting them legislative “victories” that they may demonstrate and message to constituents. This is especially salient for bills focused on “district” or “local” issues – such as post office naming or commemorative resolutions – which are commonly taken up under suspension. Given that the suspension of the rules waives points of order against a bill and allows for its floor consideration without the usual committee process, the opportunity for the majority party to derail or “hold” a minority-introduced bill is limited – enhancing, slightly, the power of the minority in a chamber that is otherwise starkly stacked in the majority’s favor.