Order Code 98-836 GOV
Updated July 18, 2003
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Calling Up Measures on the Senate Floor
Paul S. Rundquist
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
The Senate takes up measures under procedures set in Senate rules and by longstanding customs, thereby giving it flexibility in setting its floor agenda. This report first
treats those processes or customs most often used by the Senate and then discusses some
procedures less often used to call up measures. This report will be revised as events in
the Senate warrant. For more information on legislative process, see
Offering Agenda-Setting Motions and Requests
Under the rules, any Senator may offer the necessary agenda-setting motions “to
proceed to the consideration” of a bill or resolution or item of executive business.
However, by long-established custom, only the majority leader or a designee offer agendasetting motions. Items called up are generally those on the Senate’s legislative or
executive calendars, either reported by committee or placed on the calendar directly under
Rule XIV (see CRS Report 98-389, Senate Rule XIV and Placing Measures Directly on
the Senate Calendar).
Holds, Clearance, and Unanimous Consent
Holds, long recognized by custom, are notices from Senators to their party floor
leaders that they intend to object to any unanimous consent request to bring a matter up
for consideration on the Senate floor. Holds also serve to identify controversial bills, or
controversial items within a bill (see CRS Report 98-712, Holds in the Senate).
Leaders also invite Senators to file “requests to be consulted” with the staff of the
respective party secretaries. Through these requests, Senators join in talks about
compromise versions of bills and potential amendments, about the Senate’s floor
schedule, and conditions of floor action. When consulted Senators no longer report any
concerns, a bill is said to have “cleared both sides of the aisle.” Such bills are generally
called up by unanimous consent, considered, and agreed to by voice vote. This informal
process has virtually ended calendar calls provided for in Rules VII and VIII.
Through negotiations inherent in the hold and consultation process, floor leaders can
often get Senators to agree to take up a bill despite the reservations some have about key
provisions in it. Thus, usually, the majority leader or his designee will ask unanimous
consent to proceed to the consideration of a measure pending on the Senate calendar.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Alternatively, the majority leader may move to proceed to the consideration of the
measure or matter. Normally, this motion is debatable. Debate on the motion can be
ended only by unanimous consent or through cloture. If the motion to proceed is agreed
to, consideration of the bill begins without debate limits (unless also imposed by
unanimous consent or cloture).
Under very limited circumstances, a motion to proceed is not debatable. Motions to
take up certain privileged items of business (discussed in the next section) are not
debatable. Debate is also prohibited on motions to proceed offered on the beginning of
a new legislative day during the Morning Hour after the completion of Morning Business
(Rule VIII). Under that procedure, the motion to proceed is not debatable; if agreed to,
the measure becomes the pending business before the Senate. At the end of the Morning
Hour, any unfinished legislative business pending on the previous day when the Senate
adjourned will displace the measure just taken up. The non-debatable motion to proceed
under Rule VII poses many parliamentary difficulties and is, therefore, rarely used by the
majority leader. The Senate usually begins a new legislative day and the Morning Hour
with a stipulation that no non-debatable motion to proceed will be in order.
Privileged Business. Motions to take up privileged items of business are not
debatable and, hence, usually are taken up by unanimous consent. Among the items of
privileged business are: general appropriations bills, budget resolutions, reconciliation
bills, conference reports, measures to resolve election contests and measures to impose
disciplinary sanctions against Senators. Motions to go into executive session to consider
executive business (items on the Senate Executive Calendar, typically nominations and
treaties) are also privileged and non-debatable.
Special Orders. On the motion of any Senator, a measure or matter can be made
a special order of business at some future specified date. Such motions are rarely used
because they are debatable without limit and need a two-thirds vote for approval.
Resolutions and Motions Over, Under the Rule. If there is objection to
considering a resolution immediately when offered, the resolution goes over until the start
of the next legislative day. Such resolutions are automatically laid before the Senate
during Morning Business on the next legislative day, unless a unanimous consent request
provides otherwise. Items pending at the end of Morning Business return to the calendar
and can be called up later by motion or unanimous consent.
Discharge Motion. Motions to discharge committees from the further
consideration of any measure or matter (for example, a nomination or treaty) must lie over
for one day, and debate on the motion is not limited.