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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Expedited Procedures in the House: Variations Enacted Into Law

Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on Congress and the Legislative Process

Congress enacts expedited, or fast-track, procedures into law when it wants to increase the likelihood that one or both houses of Congress will vote in a timely way on a certain measure or kind of measure. These procedures are enacted as rule-making provisions of law pursuant to the constitutional power of each house to adopt its own rules. The house to which a set of expedited procedures applies may act unilaterally to waive, suspend, amend, or repeal them.

Sets of expedited procedures, as they affect the House of Representatives, can have as many as eight components. These components address the definition of the measure to which the procedures apply, the measure’s introduction and its referral, its consideration in committee, the priority the measure enjoys for House floor consideration, the process of debating and amending it on the floor, and coordination with the Senate.

There are variations with respect to each of these components among the fast-track procedures now in force that can affect the legislative process in the House. Some of these variations can make it considerably more or less likely that the measures to which these procedures apply can progress through most or all stages of the House’s legislative process within the time limits specified by law. For example, some expedited procedures place a time limit on House committee consideration of any measures subject to which those procedures. Such a time limit ensures that the measures cannot be kept from the House floor because the committee to which they were referred chooses not to report them. Also of particular importance is whether or not fast-track procedures permit the measures in question to be amended. Allowing any amendments to be offered to a measure creates the possibility of a disagreement with the Senate that can delay or prevent the measure’s enactment.

Most sets of expedited procedures are incomplete in that they do not ensure that, if an eligible measure enjoys majority support in both houses, those majorities will be able to move the measure through the various stages of the legislative process, in committee and on the floor, and present it to the President within the time period permitted by law. However, such incomplete procedures are not necessarily defective. The House may deliberately choose to adopt fast-track procedures that preserve the usual discretion of its committees as well as the ability of its majority party leaders to control the House’s floor agenda.

Date of Report: November 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL30599
Price: $29.95

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