Order Code 98-381 GOV
October 20, 2004
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Instructing House Conferees
Elizabeth Rybicki and Stanley Bach
Government and Finance Division
The two houses must agree on the same final version of a bill before it can be
presented to the President. The House and Senate often reach final agreement on major
legislation through negotiations among conferees that the two houses appoint. Because
a conference committee is a negotiating forum, the two houses impose few rules
governing its work, leaving it to the conferees themselves to decide how they can conduct
their negotiations most productively. Also, the House and Senate give their conferees
considerable latitude regarding the content of the agreements they can reach.
Nonetheless, there are circumstances, described in this report, under which the House can
vote to give instructions to its conferees. For more information on legislative process, see
The House may vote to instruct its conferees under three circumstances: first, before
its conferees are appointed; second, after they have been appointed for a time specified
in the rules but have not yet filed a report; and third, when a conference committee report
is recommitted to conference. 1 In each case, the House might instruct its conferees to
insist on a certain House position in conference, or to accept a certain Senate position, or
to attempt to negotiate a compromise position with the Senate that satisfies certain
conditions or requirements. Under clause 7(b) of Rule XXII, motions to instruct House
conferees “may not include argument.”
Whenever the instructions are given and whatever form they may take, there are two
points to bear in mind about instructions to conferees. First, it is not in order to instruct
House conferees to reach some agreement that is not within their authority as conferees.
The House requires that its conferees limit themselves to the matters on which the two
houses have disagreed and that they resolve each such matter within the scope of the
differences between the House and Senate positions on it.2 Second, instructions to
conferees are never binding; no point of order can ever be sustained against a conference
report on the grounds that it is not consistent with instructions that the House gave its
This report was written by Stanley Bach, a former Senior Specialist in the Legislative Process
at CRS. The other listed author updated the report and can respond to inquiries on the subject.
See CRS Report RS20219, House Conferees: Restrictions on Their Authority, by Richard Beth.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Instructions Before Conferees Are Appointed. The House takes three steps
in the process of arranging a conference with the Senate. First the House usually either
disagrees to the Senate’s amendments to a bill the House has passed, or the House insists
on its amendments to a bill the Senate has passed. Second, the House either requests a
conference with the Senate or agrees to the conference that the Senate already has
requested. And third, the Speaker then appoints the House conferees to meet and
negotiate with their Senate counterparts.
These three stages often occur quickly, routinely, and one right after the other.
However, between the second and third stages — after the House decides to go to
conference but before the Speaker appoints the House conferees — a motion to instruct
the conferees is in order. Only one valid motion to instruct is in order at this time. (If one
motion is made and a point of order is sustained against it, a second motion is in order.)
The House debates this motion under the one-hour rule, and under House Rule XXII,
clause 7(b), the hour is equally divided between the majority and minority parties. In
practice, the time is usually controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of
the House committee with jurisdiction over the bill. However, if both of those Members
support the motion, another Member who opposes the motion may claim and control onethird of the time for debating it. The instructions may be amended only if the majority
floor manager does not move the previous question on the motion during or at the end of
the first hour of debate, or if this motion is made and the House rejects it. To preclude
debate on the motion, a Member can move to lay the motion on the table after it is read.
Under well-established House precedents, recognition to propose this motion to
instruct is a prerogative of the minority party. The Speaker is likely to give first
preference in recognition to the minority leader or to the ranking minority member of the
committee that originally had reported the bill to the House. If neither of these Members
seeks recognition, the Speaker is likely to recognize a minority party committee member
before a minority party member who does not serve on the committee of jurisdiction.
Instructions After Conferees Have Been Appointed. Motions to instruct
House conferees also are in order beginning 20 calendar days and 10 legislative days after
conferees were appointed, if the conferees have not yet filed a conference report. A
legislative day begins each time the House meets after an adjournment. If the House goes
out of session for several days after a conference committee is appointed but before it has
reported, calendar days, but no legislative days, will accumulate and count toward the
requirement. Such motions to instruct also are in order during the last six days of a
session if the House’s conferees have been appointed for at least 36 hours without
presenting their report. However, this opportunity only arises after the House has fixed
the date of adjournment sine die, which, in current practice, it often does only hours
before the end of the session.
Once the time requirement has been met, motions to instruct are privileged under
Rule XXII, clause 7(c). More than one motion to instruct is in order, and Members of
both parties are entitled to recognition to make such motions. However, the Speaker
temporarily defers consideration of a motion to instruct that is made under clause 7(c).
When a Member announces to the House his or her intention to make such a motion and
presents the text of the motion, the Speaker designates a time or place in the legislative
schedule for considering the motion on the next calendar day the House meets. The
motion is subject to debate under the same terms as the motion to instruct offered before
conferees are appointed.
Instructions When a Conference Committee Report Is Recommitted.
After the House orders the previous question on a conference committee report, a Member
might move to recommit the conference report with or without instructions if the Senate
has not already approved the report. When the Senate agrees to a conference report, the
effect of that vote is to discharge the Senate conferees, and there is no longer a conference
committee to which the House might recommit the report. The motion to recommit is a
prerogative of the minority party unless no minority party member seeks recognition to
offer the motion. The motion to recommit with or without instructions is not debatable.