Flow of Business: Typical Day on the Senate Floor

Several authorities govern the daily chamber work of the Senate: the standing rules, the “standing orders,” unanimous consent agreements, precedent, and tradition. Because these authorities have different influence at certain times, no Senate session day is truly typical. This report discusses procedures and business that usually occur every session day, and refers to certain business items that may occur less frequently.

Order Code 98-865 GOV Updated July 16, 2003 CRS Report for Congress Received through the CRS Web Flow of Business: Typical Day on the Senate Floor Paul S. Rundquist Specialist in American National Government Government and Finance Division Several authorities govern the daily chamber work of the Senate: the standing rules, the “standing orders,” unanimous consent agreements, precedent, and tradition. Because these authorities have different influence at certain times, no Senate session day is truly typical. This report discusses procedures and business that usually occur every session day, and refers to certain business items that may occur less frequently. This report will be revised as events in the Senate warrant. For more information on legislative process, see [http://www.crs.gov/products/guides/guidehome.shtml]. Legislative and Calendar Days/Morning Hour and Morning Business How the Senate begins its daily session depends upon how the chamber ended its previous day. A legislative day begins when the Senate next meets after adjourning its previous daily session. The legislative day continues until the Senate again adjourns at the completion of a daily session. When the Senate convenes following an adjournment, the first two hours are called the “morning hour.” “Morning business” is a time set aside within the morning hour reserved for business items specified in Rule VII. These include referring presidential messages and executive communications, disposing of legislative and other messages from the House, receiving petitions and memorials, filing reports from committees, introducing bills and joint resolutions, and submitting simple and concurrent resolutions. Although morning hour and morning business items are not in order under the rules except on a new legislative day, the Senate handles such items every session day by unanimous consent or through standing orders renewed each Congress (see Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 149, Jan. 7, 2003, p. S8). Items of Business Call to Order/Designating Presiding Officer/Prayer/Pledge of Allegiance. Under Rule XXX, the Senate meets each session day at noon unless it orders otherwise. The Vice President normally does not preside over the Senate. Instead, the President pro tempore presides but he may name in writing a Senator to act in his place. Later, other majority party Senators preside under a set schedule. Under Rule IV, Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress CRS-2 the chaplain offers a prayer after the opening of each daily session, but he may arrange for prayer by a guest chaplain. The presiding officer (or a designated Senator) recites the Pledge of Allegiance. Leader Time. By standing order, the majority and minority leaders (or designees) are each reserved 10 minutes at the start of the daily session. Typically, the leaders alert Senators to changes in the floor schedule, comment on major issues of the day, or address other important matters. Each leader (or designee) may reserve all or a part of the time for use later in the day. Routine Morning Business. By unanimous consent, the Senate sets aside time each day for Senators to present business items specified for morning business action. Also by unanimous consent, Senators are permitted to make brief statements not formally permitted under Rule VII. By standing order, bills, resolutions, and committee reports may be introduced or filed anytime during a daily session. Unfinished Business. At the conclusion of morning business, the Senate automatically resumes consideration of any “unfinished” legislative business pending at the end of the previous day’s session. By unanimous consent, the unfinished business may be set aside for consideration of other measures. Agenda-Setting Motions and Requests. By custom, these are only made by the majority leader or his designee. Normally, measures are taken up by unanimous consent. If there is (or may be) objection, the leader can offer a debatable motion to proceed to consider a particular measure. Additionally, party floor leaders are, by custom, given preferential rights to recognition by the chair. Through this right of recognition, floor leaders often offer key amendments on behalf of their colleagues who may not be assured of such parliamentary recognition. Under Rule XXII, a cloture petition can be filed at any time to require a vote to limit further debate. When the Senate agrees to take up a measure, it begins consideration at once, unless it is slated for a later time by unanimous consent. A nondebatable motion can bring up some privileged items of business (for example, conference reports). In addition, a nondebatable motion to proceed is permitted (but rarely used) in the morning hour at the start of a new legislative day. When a Senate daily session adjourns, leaders normally stipulate, by unanimous consent, that no nondebatable motion to proceed be permitted the next day. Debate and Votes. Debate is unlimited on all pending measures or matters except when the Senate has invoked cloture, has limited debate by unanimous consent, is considering a tabling motion, or is considering a measure governed by rule-making statute. The Senate votes on a pending subject when no Senator wishes to debate further, when the Senate by unanimous consent has set a time for a vote, when no debate is permitted (as on tabling) or when no further debate is permitted under the rules (Rule XXII) or a time agreement. One-fifth of the Senators present can order a roll-call vote. Quorum Calls. A quorum call must be held before a cloture vote (Rule XXII), or before considering a unanimous consent request to set a date for a final vote on a pending legislative matter (Rule XII). Under the precedents, a quorum is deemed present at all other times, unless a point of order noting its absence is raised or a vote reveals its CRS-3 absence. Most quorum calls begun are later dispensed with by unanimous consent to allow informal negotiations, to await the arrival of an absent Senator, or for other reasons. Executive Business. By nondebatable motion or unanimous consent, the Senate goes into open executive session to take up Executive Calendar nominations or treaties. Unanimous Consent Requests. The Senate may set debate or amendment limits on any matter by unanimous consent. If such order (“time agreement”) is in force into the next session day, it is printed in the Senate’s Legislative Calendar. By unanimous consent, the Senate typically recesses or adjourns at the end of its session day, with agreement on the parliamentary conditions to govern the agenda for the start of business the next day.