Order Code RS22144
Updated September 1, 2005
CRS R e ~ o rfor
Received through the CRS Web
"Fast Track" Congressional Consideration of
Recommendations of the Base Realignment
and Closure (BRAC) Commission
Christopher M. Davis
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
The recommendations of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)
Commission will automatically take effect unless, within a stated period after the
recommendations are submitted to the House and Senate, Congress adopts a joint
resolution of disapproval rejecting them in their entirety. Congressional consideration
of this disapproval resolution is not governed by the regular rules of the House and
Senate, but by special expedited or "fast track" procedures laid out in statute. This
report describes these expedited parliamentary procedures and explains how they differ
from the regular legislative processes of Congress. This report will be updated as
needed. See [http://www.crs.gov/products/browse/is-defense.shtml] for additional
information on military base closures.
BRAC Recommendations on "Fast Track"
In response to concern about the government's inability to close unneeded military
facilities, Congress in 1988, and again in 1990, enacted statutory provisions establishing
a process intended to insulate base closings from the "political" considerations that are
part of the regular lawmaking process. Under this process, the recommendations of a
bipartisan Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission would be submitted to
Congress, and automatically take effect unless Congress passed legislation disapproving
them. To ensure that Congress could promptly act if it so chose, the statute created
special "fast track" or expedited legislative procedures laying out the terms for House and
Senate consideration of legislation striking down the BRAC Commission's report. Such
"fact track" procedures governed congressional consideration of four previous rounds of
base closures and will govern consideration of the recommendations of the 2005 BRAC
On May 13, 2005, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced its
recommendations of domestic military installations to be closed or realigned. After
reviewing them, the BRAC Commission will forward its revised findings to the President.
Congressional Research Service +
*: The Library of Congress
If the President certifies these recommendations, he will submit them to Congress. The
package of suggested base closures will automatically take effect unless Congress adopts
a joint resolution of disapproval rejecting the entire package within the 45 day1period
beginning on the date of the President's submission, or the sine die adjournment of the
session, whichever occurs earlier.
Congressional consideration of a BRAC resolution of disapproval is governed not
by the standing rules of the House and Senate, but by special expedited procedures laid
out in the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990, as amended, (P.L. 101510, 10 U.S.C. 2687 note). The procedures have the same force and effect as standing
House and Senate rules, and exempt the joint resolution of disapproval from many of the
time-consuming steps and obstacles that apply to most measures Congress considers. For
example, the act states when a joint resolution may be introduced, dictates its text, limits
committee and floor consideration ofthe measure, prohibits amendments, and establishes
an automatic "hook-up" of joint resolutions passed by both chambers.
Features of the BRAC Expedited Procedure2
Introduction. Ordinarily, Members of either house of Congress may introduce
legislation at any time that their chamber is in session during a two-year Congress. Under
the BRAC law, however, a joint resolution of disapproval must be introduced within the
10-day period beginning on the date the President transmits a certified BRAC report to
Congress. A respective joint disapproval resolution may be introduced by any Member
in either chamber and when it is, it is referred to the House or Senate Committee on
Armed Services. There is no limit to the number of measures that can be introduced, and
in the past, multiple disapproval resolutions have been introduced aimed at the same
BRAC r e p ~ r t . ~
Text of the Joint Resolution. Provisions are included in the law specifying the
text of the disapproval resolution. These are meant to make it clear to Members exactly
which legislation is eligible to be considered under the expedited procedure. The joint
resolution of disapproval must not contain a preamble. The title of the measure is to read:
"Joint resolution disapproving the recommendations of the Defense Base Closure and
Realignment Commission." The text of the joint resolution after the resolving clause is
to read: "That Congress disapproves the recommendations of the Defense Base Closure
and Realignment Commission as submitted by the President on BLANK," with the
appropriate date filled in the blank.
Committee Action. With certain exceptions -for example, when time limits are
placed on the sequential referral of a bill by the Speaker - Congress generally does not
mandate that a committee act on a bill referred to it within a specified time frame, or at
all. The BRAC statute, however, places deadlines on the Armed Services Committee to
act, and creates a mechanism to take the resolution away from them if they do not report
' In calculating the 45-days, recesses of more than three days by either chamber are not counted.
The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990 is part A of title XXIX of P.L. 101510; 10 U.S.C. 2687 note. Congressional disapproval procedures are located in $2908.
Table 1 lists BRAC disapproval resolutions introduced in the House and Senate.
it. These expediting provisions are intended to make it impossible for a joint resolution
of disapproval to be long delayed or killed outright in committee.
As noted, upon introduction, a joint resolution of disapproval is referred to the House
or Senate Committee on Armed Services. If the committee does not report: a joint
resolution of disapproval by the end of a 20-day period beginning on the date the
President transmits the BRAC report to Congress, the panel is automatically discharged
from its further consideration, and the measure is placed directly on the House's Union
Calendar or the Senate's Calendar of Business.
It is important to note that, under the terms of the BRAC statute, the Armed Services
Committee must report just one resolution of disapproval; if multiple joint resolutions of
disapproval are introduced by several Members and referred to committee, the panel must
only report one resolution or a substitute for it within the 20-day time frame in order to
forestall the automatic discharge of all of the others.
Calling Up the Joint Resolution on the Floor. On or after the third day
following the day the House or Senate Armed Services Committee reports the joint
resolution, or is discharged from its consideration, any Member may move in their
chamber to proceed to the consideration ofthe joint resolution. The BRAC law stipulates,
however, that a Member must first, on the preceding calendar day, have given notice of
the intention to offer the motion to proceed. This notice can be avoided in the House of
Representatives if the motion is being made at the direction of the committee of referral.
The motion can be made even if the body has previously rejected an identical motion to
the same effect. This provision serves as incentive for the chamber to get to an up-ordown vote on the underlyng joint resolution; if a motion to proceed is defeated,
supporters can simply re-offer it until it passes, or force the chamber to expend time and
energy disposing of repeated motions. Points of order against the resolution and its
consideration are waived.
In the Senate, under most circumstances, a motion to proceed to the consideration
of a measure is debatable. Under the BRAC statute, however, the motion to proceed to
the consideration of the joint resolution of disapproval is not debatable in either chamber,
and it cannot be amended or postponed. Appeals of the decision of the chair relating to
consideration of the joint resolution are decided without debate. If the motion is adopted,
the chamber immediately considers the joint resolution without intervening motion, order,
or other business. Once the chamber has chosen to take up the joint resolution by
adopting the motion to proceed, consideration of the measure is, in a sense, "locked in."
It remains the unfinished business of the chamber until disposed of. Other business
cannot intervene, the joint resolution can not be laid aside, and it must be disposed of
before other business can be taken up.
Floor Debate. In the absence of a special rule dictating otherwise, the House
ordinarily debates measures under the one hour rule. In the Senate, debate is ordinarily
unlimited except by unanimous consent, by the invocation of cloture, or by some other
special procedure, such as that governing budget reconciliation.
In keeping with its "fast track" nature, floor consideration of the BRAC joint
resolution of disapproval is limited. Debate in a chamber on the joint resolution, and all
debatable motions and appeals connected with it, is limited to not more than two hours,
equally divided. A non-debatable motion to further limit debate is in order.
Motions and Amendments. The BRAC statute limits Members' ability to delay
consideration of the joint resolution of disapproval by barring amendments and motions
which would ordinarily be permissible under House and Senate rules. Amendments to
the measure, a motion to postpone its consideration, or motions to proceed to the
consideration of other business are not permitted. A motion to recommit the joint
resolution to committee is not in order nor is a motion to reconsider the vote by which the
joint resolution is agreed to or disagreed to.
Voting. It is virtually impossible to avoid a final vote on the joint resolution once
a chamber has decided to take it up. At the conclusion of debate, and after a single
quorum call (if requested), without intervening motion, a chamber immediately votes on
passage of the joint resolution of disapproval.
Automatic Legislative "Hookup." If, before voting upon a disapproval
resolution, either chamber receives a joint resolution passed by the other chamber, that
engrossed joint resolution is not referred to committee. The second chamber proceeds to
consider its own joint resolution as laid out in the statute, until the point of final
disposition, when the vote taken will be on the engrossed resolution passed by the first
chamber. After the second chamber votes on the first chamber's joint resolution, it may
no longer consider its own version. This provision is included to avoid the need to
reconcile differences between the chambers' versions or expend time choosing whether
ultimately to act upon the House or Senate joint resolution.
Either Chamber May Alter The Expedited Procedure
The fact that an expedited procedure is contained in statute does not mean that
another law must be passed in order to alter it. Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution
gives each chamber of Congress the power to determine the rules of its proceedings; as
a result, statutory expedited procedures like those in BRAC can (like all rules of the
House or Senate) be set aside, altered, or amended by either chamber at any time. As
House Parliamentarian Emeritus Charles W. Johnson observes, a chamber may "change
or waive the rules governing its proceedings. This is so even with respect to rules enacted
by ~tatute."~These changes can be accomplished, for example, by the adoption of a
special rule from the House Committee on Rules, by suspension of the rules, or by
unanimous consent agreement.
Instances of this ability to "rewrite" expedited procedure statutes have occurred
during consideration of base closure joint resolutions of disapproval. For example, in the
I0 I" Congress, Representative George E. Brown, Jr. (D-CA) introduced H.J. Res. 165,
a joint resolution disapproving the recommendations of the 1988 Commission on Base
Realignment and Closure. Under the terms of the 1988 BRAC statute, the House
Committee on Armed Services had to report a joint disapproval resolution prior to March
William Holmes Brown and Charles W. Johnson, House Practice, A Guide to the Rules,
Precedents, andProcedures of the House, 108thCong., 1" sess. (Washington: GPO, 2003), ch.50,
$4, p. 826.
15, 1989, or be automatically discharged of it. The statute hrther permitted any Member,
at any time three days after this report or discharge, to make a motion to proceed to the
immediate consideration of the resolution. The House, however, "rewrote" these statutory
terms as they related to the consideration of H.J.Res. 165. On March 21, 1989,
Representative Les Aspin (D-WI) asked unanimous consent that, notwithstanding the
provisions of the BRAC law, it not be in order to move to proceed to the consideration
of H.J.Res. 165 prior to April 18, 1989.'
Still later, on April 1 1,1989, a second unanimous consent request laid aside not only
the terms of the BRAC expedited procedure statute, but the those of Representative
Aspin's March 21 unanimous consent request, as well. This new request dictated that,
notwithstanding the provisions of the BRAC statue dictating that, once taken up, the
disapproval resolution remain the unfinished business of the chamber until disposed of
without intervening business, not more than eight hours of debate take place on H.J.Res.
165 on April 12, 1989, and when the Committee of the Whole rose on that day, the
resolution would not be considered again until April 18, when two additional hours of
debate would occur, followed by a vote on final p a s ~ a g e . ~
In a sense, then, the expedited procedures in the BRAC statute establish a default set
of ground rules for consideration of a disapproval resolution; these provisions can be
tailored by Members to meet specific situations or for their convenience. Table 1 lists
all joint resolutions of disapproval introduced in Congress relating to prior BRAC rounds
and their disposition.
Journal of the House of Representatives, 101" Cong., 1" sess., Mar. 2 1, 1989, p. 173.
Journal of the House ofRepresentatives, 101" Cong., 1" sess., Apr. 11, 1989, p. 218.
Table 1. Resolutions of Disapproval Introduced
Under the Terms of Defense Base Realignment
and Closure Commission Statutes
0711 019 1
Marked up by
and forwarded to
h l l committee
(Roll call #32)
(Roll call #232)
Ordered to be
(Roll call #271)
(Roll call #647)
Notes: The 1988 base closure round was considered under the terms of P.L. 100-526. The 199 1,1993 and
1995 rounds were considered under the terms of P.L. 101-510, as amended.
a. Congressional Record, vol.
b. Congressional Record, vol.
c. Congressional Record, vol.
d. Congressional Record, vol.
e. Congressional Record, vol.
135, Apr. 12 & 18, 1989, pp. 6293-6319, 6845-6871.
138, Feb. 3, 1992, p. 12 15.
137, Jul. 30, 1991, pp. 20333-20367.
139, Sept. 20, 1993, pp. 21677-21694,21717.
141, Sept. 8, 1995, pp. 24129-24149.