Suspension of the Rules in the House of Representatives

Publication Date: February 2005

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Government



Suspension of the rules is a procedure the House of Representatives uses frequently to debate and pass measures on the floor. After a Representative moves to suspend the rules and pass a particular measure, there can be 40 minutes of debate on the motion and the measure. No floor amendments to the measure are in order. However, the Member who offers the suspension motion may include amendments to the measure as part of the motion. In this case, the Member moves to suspend the rules and pass the bill or resolution as amended. At the end of the debate, the House casts a single vote on suspending the rules and passing the measure. There is no separate vote on the measure or on any of the amendments to it that are included in the suspension motion. Each suspension motion requires a vote of two-thirds of the Members present and voting, a quorum being present.

The Speaker determines which suspension motions the House will consider. Members offering suspension motions are recognized at the discretion of the Speaker. House rules provide that such motions are in order on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and on the last six days of a session of Congress, and at other times by unanimous consent or pursuant to a standing order or a special rule the House has adopted. The Speaker also may postpone electronic votes on suspension motions until later on the same day or until the following day, and then cluster these votes to occur one right after the other.

The suspension procedure is well-suited for expeditious action on relatively non-controversial measures. Approximately one-half of the bills and resolutions the House has passed in recent Congresses have been considered in this way. The House also sometimes agrees to suspension motions for other purposes, such as to agree to Senate amendments to a bill the House already has passed, or to agree to a conference report.

In early Congresses, motions to suspend the rules were used primarily to give individual bills priority for floor action. When considered, these bills were debated and amended under the House's regular legislative procedures. Gradually during the 19th century, the suspension motion was transformed into a procedure for taking up and acting on a bill by one vote. Also originally, Members claimed the right to be recognized for the purpose of offering whatever suspension motions they wished. Late in the last century, the Speaker asserted the authority to decide which Members would be recognized to make suspension motions and the purposes for which these motions would be offered.

This control by the Speaker transformed suspension of the rules into a useful and well-regulated device for the majority party leadership to schedule floor action on measures that are supported by more than a simple majority of the House. This report will be updated to reflect any procedural changes.