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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Special Order Speeches: Current House Practices

Judy Schneider
Specialist on the Congress

Special order speeches (commonly called “special orders”) usually take place at the end of the day after the House has completed all legislative business. During the special order period, individual Representatives deliver speeches on topics of their choice for up to 60 minutes. Special orders provide one of the few opportunities for non-legislative debate in the House. They also give Members a chance to speak outside the time restrictions that govern legislative debate in the House and the Committee of the Whole.

The rules of the House do not provide for special order speeches. Instead, special orders have evolved as a unanimous consent practice of the House. Recognition for special orders is the prerogative of the Speaker. During the special order period, Members must abide by the rules of the House, the chamber’s precedents, and the “Speaker’s announced policies,” in that order. The term “Speaker’s announced policies” refers to the Speaker’s policies on certain aspects of House procedure.

In practice, the Speaker’s current policies on special orders (announced on January 6, 2009) govern recognition for special order speeches as well as the reservation and television broadcast of these speeches. Under these announced policies, there are generally three “stages” to each day’s special order period:

  • first, five-minute special orders by individual Members
  • next, special orders longer than five minutes (normally 60 minutes in length) by the party’s leadership or a designee; and 
  • last, special orders longer than five minutes (length varies from 6 to 60 minutes) by individual Members

Members usually reserve special orders in advance through their party’s leadership. Instead of delivering a special order speech on the House floor, Members may choose to insert their speech in either the House pages of the Congressional Record or the section known as the “Extensions of Remarks.”

Reform proposals were advanced in recent Congresses to address both concerns about breaches in decorum during special order speeches and the costs of conducting these speeches.

Date of Report: January 31, 2013
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: RL30136
Price: $29.95

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