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The House of Representatives has a regular order of business as follows: (1) prayer; (2) reading and approval of the journal; (3) correction of reference of public bills; (4) disposal of business on Speaker's table, such as presidential messages and Senate bills which can be referred immediately to committees or are similar in character to some already approved by the House; (5) unfinished business.
Then follows (6) what is now known as the "morning hour," which may last more than sixty minutes unless interrupted. To this morning hour are assigned by rule certain public measures relating to such matters as the judiciary and interstate and foreign commerce, and carrying no appropriations. It is the custom to call the committees in alphabetical order, and the chairmen of the committees in their turn have the right to be recognized by the Speaker. The extent of the consideration which the measure presented by the chairman receives depends upon circumstances, but the way in which business is done under this rule is illustrated by this extract from the Congressional Record :
THE SPEAKER. The Clerk will call the next committee. The Committee on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries was called.
MR. LITTLEFIELD. Mr. Speaker, by direction of the Committee on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries, I call up the bill to remove discriminations against American sailing vessels in the coasting trade.
THE SPEAKER. The gentleman from Maine, on behalf of the Committee on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries, calls up the following bill, which the Clerk will report.
The Clerk reads as follows: (the bill].
MR. LITTLEFIELD. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that we may be allowed two hours on a side for debate, the time on the other side to be controlled by the gentleman from Kentucky and the time on this side to be controlled by myself.
THE SPEAKER. The gentleman from Maine asks unanimous consent that debate upon this bill close in four hours, two hours to be controlled by himself and two hours by the gentleman from Kentucky. Is there objection?
There was no objection.
MR. LITTLEFIELD. Mr. Speaker, I yield fifteen minutes to the gentleman from Washington (and the debate proceeds).?
1 Readings, p. 263. Congressional Record, Vol. XLI, part 1, p. 108; 59th Cong., 2d Sess.
After the "morning hour" (7) the seventh stage of business, a motion to go into the committee of the whole house on the state of the Union, is in order, and the Speaker must entertain it. In the committee of the whole House, one hundred constitute a quorum, and the Speaker resigns the chair to some other member. In this form, the House debates, passes upon, and reports to itself important measures relating to revenue and appropriations. A matter favorably reported by this committee, of course, is adopted in due form by the House.
After the committee has resolved itself into the House again, the last order of business (8) is the order of the day — now obsolete.
But the regular order of business, as a wag once remarked, “is not regular and not an order.” It may be interrupted at any time by the chairman of a committee in charge of what is called privileged business, such as a contest over the right of a member to his seat, appropriation and revenue bills, improvements of rivers and harbors, the admission of new states, and other important matters.' Reports of conference committees of the two houses are likewise highly privileged.?
There are also a number of bills relating to subjects of great public interest which are made special orders for certain days by the committee on rules with the approval of the House. It is here that the Speaker and “his six assistants" manifest their power in selecting such measures as they wish to bring up for special order, and in determining the amount of time that may be given to each of them. This, of course, must be submitted to a vote of the House; but, as has been indicated, the majority always approves the policy of the committee on rules.
The way in which the committee operates may be illustrated by the following extract from the Congressional Record (1908):
MR. DALZELL. Mr. Speaker, I submit the following privileged report from the Committee on Rules.
THE SPEAKER. The gentleman from Pennsylvania submits a report from the Committee on Rules, which the Clerk will report.
The Clerk read as follows: Resolved, That immediately upon the adoption of this rule and at any time thereafter during the remainder of this session, it shall be in order to take from the Speaker's table any general appropriation bill returned with Senate amendments, and such amendments having been read, the question shall be 1 See above, p. 274.
2 See “Calendar Wednesday,” below, p. 290.
at once taken, without debate or intervening motion, of the following question: “Will the House disagree to said amendments en bloc and ask a conference with the Senate?” And if this motion shall be decided in the affirmative, the Speaker shall at once appoint the conferees, without the intervention of any motion. If the House shall decide said motion in the negative the effect of said vote shall be to agree to the said amendments. And further, for the remainder of this session the motion to take a recess shall be a privileged motion, taking precedence of the motion to adjourn, and shall be decided without debate or amendment. And further, during the remainder of this session, it shall be in order to close debate by motion in the House before going into Committee of the Whole, which motion shall not be subject to either amendment or debate. (Applause on the Republican side.)
MR. SULZER. Mr. Speaker, would it not be well to add to that “That hereafter the Democrats shall have nothing more to say"? (Laughter.)
MR. DALZELL. Mr. Speaker, the purpose of this rule, like the purpose of the rule that was introduced yesterday, is to expedite the public business.
MR. WILLIAMS. Mr. Speaker
THE SPEAKER. Does the gentleman from Pennsylvania yield to the gentleman from Mississippi?
MR. DALZELL. Yes.
MR. WILLIAMS. I wish to ask the gentleman a question. I wish to ask, before we proceed, whether the minority members of the Committee on Rules will be accorded the usual twenty minutes?
MR. DALzELL. They will not.
MR. WILLIAMS. They will not! I just wanted the House and the country to know that fact before we start this debate.'
A motion to suspend entirely the rules of the House of Representatives may be also entertained by the Speaker on the first and third Mondays of each month and on the last six days of a session. On the first Monday of the month, individual members of the House have preference in making motions to suspend the rules, and on the third Monday of each month committees are given the preference in making such motion. It requires, however, a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules, and as the committee on rules has gradually gained power in bringing in special orders of business, the use of the motion to suspend has gradually declined.
* Reinsch, Readings, pp. 273 f.
The Rights of the Minority in the House After this survey of the methods by which the majority in the House of Representatives may control the introduction of bills, reports of committees, and the discussion and passage of measures, it might be presumed that the minority party is without power to influence in any effective manner the course of legislative procedure. This view, however, is not strictly correct. By exercising certain constitutional privileges, the minority may block proceedings and go a long way toward forcing the majority to adopt certain policies. The Constitution provides that on the request of one-fifth of the members present, the roll of the House must be called on any question, and the yeas and nays of the members entered upon the journal. The Constitution furthermore provides that no business shall be done unless a quorum is present, and the minority, in the House or Senate, may therefore frequently raise the question of the presence of a quorum. Finally, as we have seen, a great deal of the legislative business is done under the rule of unanimous consent, which, of course, may be steadily refused by the minority members.
More than once the leader of the minority party has thrown down the gage to the majority leaders and frankly informed them that unless certain policies were adopted the minority would exercise all of its privileges under the rules for the purpose of obstructing business. A notable example of a minority threat occurred in March, 1908, when Mr. John Sharp Williams, the Democratic leader, announced that his group would refuse unanimous consent to all legislation and would call for the yeas
and nays upon every affirmative proposition until the majority would agree to report on certain bills measures providing for employers' liability, publicity of campaign contributions, free wood pulp and free print paper, and regulating the granting of injunctions."
A new right was given to the minority and to private members by a rule adopted in March, 1909. All bills of a public character not raising or appropriating money are placed upon the House Calendar, and money bills go to the Union Calendar. Under the new rule, after any bill that has been favorably reported has been upon either of these calendars for three days, it may be placed upon the special calendar, known as the “calendar of unanimous consent,” at the request of any member. On the days when it is in order to move the suspension of the rules, the Speaker must direct the clerk to call the bills on this calendar, but if there is an objection to the consideration of any bill so called, it must be stricken from the list and cannot be replaced thereon.
1 Reinsch, Readings, p. 272.
Under a rule of the same time (March, 1909), Wednesday of each week (except during the last two weeks of the session) is set aside as “Calendar Wednesday” – unless otherwise determined by two-thirds vote - for the automatic calling up of bills, as in the case of the "morning hour."1
The Final Stages of a Measure When a bill has passed either house, it is transmitted to the other body for consideration. For example, when the Senate has passed a bill, it thereupon despatches it to the House by the secretary, who, on his announcement by the doorkeeper and recognition by the Speaker, addresses that assembly in the following language: “I am directed by the Senate to inform the House that it has passed the Senate bill No. 125 (giving the title), and that a concurrence of the House therein is respectfully requested.” If the House passes the bill thus brought in, the Senate is notified; the measure is then signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, and is sent to the President of the United States for his signature. If he approves the bill, he notifies the House in which it originated of his action, and sends it to the Secretary of State for official publication. If he vetoes the measure, he returns the bill to the house in which it originated, with a statement of the reasons for his action, unless that body has adjourned. If a bill originates in the House, it is sent to the Senate and through a similar process.?
* See above, p. 286.
Although the provisions of the Constitution are explicit to the effect that every order, resolution, or vote to which the concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of adjournment) shall be presented to the President, Congress has devised a measure known as the “concurrent resolution,” which, although it clearly has the effect of law, is not submitted to the President for approval. The form of this resolution is as follows: Resolved, by the House of Representatives (the Senate