The Committee on Rules, or more commonly, the Rules Committee, is a committee of the United States House of Representatives. It is responsible for the rules under which bills will be presented to the House of Representatives, unlike other committees, which often deal with a specific area of policy. The committee is often considered one of the most powerful committees as it influences the introduction and process of legislation through the House. Thus it has garnered the nickname the "traffic cop of Congress." A rule is a simple resolution of the House of Representatives, usually reported by the Committee on Rules, to permit the immediate consideration of a legislative measure, notwithstanding the usual order of business, and to prescribe conditions for its debate and amendment.
When a bill is reported out of one of the other committees, it does not go straight to the House floor (where a bill is talked about), because the House, unlike the United States Senate, does not have unlimited debate and discussion on a bill. Instead, what may be said and done to a bill is strictly limited. This limitation is performed by the Rules Committee.
When a bill is reported out of another committee with legislative jurisdiction, it is placed on the appropriate House Calendar for debate. Common practice, though, is for bills reported from committees to be considered in the Rules Committee, which will decide for how long and under what rules the full body will debate the proposition.
Consideration by the full body can occur in one of two forums: the Committee of the Whole, or on the floor of the full House of Representatives itself. Different traditions govern whether the Committee of the Whole or the House itself will debate a given resolution, and the Rules Committee generally sets the forum under which a proposition will be debated and the amendment/time limitations for every measure, too. For instance, there might be a limit on the number or types of amendments (proposed changes to the bill). Amendments might only be allowed to specific sections of the bill, or no amendments might be allowed at all. Besides control over amendments, the rule issued by the Rules Committee also determines the amount of speaking time assigned on each bill or resolution. If the leadership wants a bill pushed forward quietly, for instance, there might be no debate time scheduled; if they want attention, they might allow time for lengthy speeches in support of the bill.
Between control over amendments, debate, and when measures will be considered, the Rules Committee exerts vast power in the House. As such, the majority party will usually be very keen on controlling it tightly. While most House committees maintain membership in a rough proportion to the full chamber (If the majority party controls 55% of the House, it will tend to have 55% of committee seats), membership on the Rules Committee is disproportionately in favor of the majority party. Furthermore, the rules committee typically operates in a very partisan fashion, advancing rules to the floor on straight party line votes in nearly all cases.
The Rules Committee was formed on April 2, 1789, during the first Congress. However, it had nowhere near the powerful role it has today. Instead, it merely proposed general rules for the House to follow when debating bills (rather than passing a special rule for each bill), and was dissolved after proposing these general rules. These general rules still have a great impact on the tone of the House floor today.
The Rules Committee, for a long time, lay dormant. For the first fifty years of its existence, it accomplished little beyond simply reaffirming these rules, and its role was very noncontroversial. On June 16, 1841, it made a major policy change, reducing from 2⁄3 to 1⁄2 the fraction of votes needed in the House to close debate and vote on a bill.
In 1880, the modern Rules Committee began to emerge from the reorganization of the House Committees. When the Republican party took over the House in the election of 1880, they quickly realized the power that the Rules Committee possessed. One member, Thomas Brackett Reed (R-Maine), used a seat on the Rules Committee to vault himself to the Speakership, and gained so much power that he was referred to as "Czar Reed".
In the 1890s and 1900s, Reed and his successor, Joseph Gurney Cannon (R-Illinois) used the Rules Committee to centralize the power of the Speakership. Although their power to place members in committees and perform other functions was limited by a forced rule change in 1910, the Rules Committee retained its power. However, it ceased to function as the personal project of the Speaker, as it had originally; instead, as the seniority system took root, it was captured by a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans. This state of affairs would continue until the 1960s.
In 1961, Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas), acting on the wishes of the new President John F. Kennedy and the Democratic Study Group, introduced a bill to enlarge the committee from 12 members to 15, to decrease the power of the arch-conservative chairman, Howard W. Smith (D-Virginia). The bill passed, 217 votes to 212. However, it was only partially successful; the Rules Committee continued to block legislation including civil rights and education bills.
In the 1970s, however, the Rules Committee was firmly under the command of the Speaker once again. As before, its primary role is to come up with special rules, to help or obstruct the chances of legislation reported to it.
The Rules Committee issues the following types of rules:
Most rules offer time for "general debate" before any amendment consideration begins (it is also possible for the rules committee to issue a rule for "general debate" only and later issue a second rule for amendment consideration) and allow for one motion to send the bill back to its committee of origination, with or without instructions for how to modify the bill. Rules may also include necessary authority for district work periods, and may waive or modify certain points of order or rules of the house if desired by the committee, and the committee is also allowed to self-execute amendments right in the rule rather than delegating this ability to the full house floor.
|Majority Party||Minority Party|
The Rules Committee operates with three subcommittees, one focusing on legislative and budget matters, one focusing on the internal operations of the House, and one focusing on certain expedited procedures in the House.
|Legislative and Budget Process||Alcee Hastings||Rob Woodall|
|Rules and the Organization of the House||Norma Torres||Debbie Lesko|
|Expedited Procedures||Jamie Raskin||Michael Burgess|
Source: Full membership
The Committee on Rules was created as a select committee but became a standing committee for the 31st and 32nd Congresses (1849–1853). In 1853, the panel reverted to being a select committee and remained one until 1880.
Between 1880 and the revolt against Speaker Cannon, in March 1910, the Speaker of the House also served as Chairman of the Rules Committee.
Beginning in 1999 with the chairmanship of Republican David Dreier of California, the chairman of the Rules Committee became a member of the elected Republican leadership, elected (appointed) by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Howard W. Smith of Virginia is the longest-serving chairman since the committee's founding (1955-1967). David Dreier of California is the youngest chairman of the Rules Committee (1999-2007, 2011-2013). He is also the longest-serving chairman since 1967. Louise Slaughter of New York is the first chairwoman of the committee (2007-2011).
|David S. Kaufman||Democratic||Texas||1849–1851||Died in office January 31, 1851|
|George W. Jones||Democratic||Tennessee||1851–1853|||
|Samuel J. Randall||Democratic||Pennsylvania||1880–1881|||
|J. Warren Keifer||Republican||Ohio||1881–1883|||
|John G. Carlisle||Democratic||Kentucky||1883–1889|||
|Thomas B. Reed||Republican||Maine||1889–1891||1st term|
|Charles F. Crisp||Democratic||Georgia||1891–1895|||
|Thomas B. Reed||Republican||Maine||1895–1899||2nd term|
|David B. Henderson||Republican||Iowa||1899–1903|||
|Joseph G. Cannon||Republican||Illinois||1903–1910|||
|Robert L. Henry||Democratic||Texas||1911–1917|||
|Edward W. Pou||Democratic||North Carolina||1917–1919||1st term|
|Philip P. Campbell||Republican||Kansas||1919–1923|||
|Bertrand H. Snell||Republican||New York||1923–1931|||
|Edward W. Pou||Democratic||North Carolina||1931–1934||2nd term. Died in|
office April 1, 1934.
|William B. Bankhead||Democratic||Alabama||1934–1935|||
|John J. O'Connor||Democratic||New York||1935–1939|||
|Adolph J. Sabath||Democratic||Illinois||1939–1947||1st term|
|Leo E. Allen||Republican||Illinois||1947–1949||1st term|
|Adolph J. Sabath||Democratic||Illinois||1949–1952||2nd term. Died in|
office November 6, 1952.
|Leo E. Allen||Republican||Illinois||1953–1955||2nd term|
|Howard W. Smith||Democratic||Virginia||1955–1967|||
|William M. Colmer||Democratic||Mississippi||1967–1973|||
|Ray J. Madden||Democratic||Indiana||1973–1977|||
|James J. Delaney||Democratic||New York||1977–1979|||
|Richard W. Bolling||Democratic||Missouri||1979–1983|||
|Claude D. Pepper||Democratic||Florida||1983–1989||Died in office|
May 30, 1989
|Gerald B. H. Solomon||Republican||New York||1995–1999|||
|David T. Dreier||Republican||California||1999–2007||1st term|
|Louise M. Slaughter||Democratic||New York||2007–2011|||
|David T. Dreier||Republican||California||2011–2013||2nd term|
|Majority Party||Minority Party|
|Majority Party||Minority Party|