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,
Legislative and Calendar Days/Morning Hour and Morning
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
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,
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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
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.