QUORUMS IN HOUSE FLOOR PROCEEDINGS: AN INTRODUCTION Page: 2 of 5
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There are essentially two devices that the House has developed to give itself valuable
flexibility in complying with the constitutional quorum requirement. One involves reliance
on the Committee of the Whole; the other involves the definition of "business" that a
quorum must be present to conduct.
The Committee of the Whole
The House conducts much of its business on the floor by constituting itself into a
committee on which all Representatives serve. The full title of this committee is the
Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union, but it is known simply as the
Committee of the Whole. The constitutional quorum requirement does not apply during
meetings of this committee because technically they are not meetings of the House of
Representatives. So the House has decided for itself what the quorum in this committee
should be. The rules of the House state that the quorum needed during meetings of the
Committee of the Whole is only 100, compared with the 218 Members who constitute a
quorum of the House.
All Representatives are members of the Committee of the Whole and it meets in the
House chamber. In fact, the only immediately noticeable difference between a meeting of
the House and a meeting of the Committee of the Whole is that the Speaker does not
preside over a meeting of the Committee; he designates another member of the majority
party to preside as chairman of the Committee of the Whole during floor consideration of
one particular bill. The position of chairman is not a permanent one; the Speaker appoints
different members of his party as chairman at different times.1
In most circumstances, not having to preside over the Committee of the Whole
actually is advantageous for the Speaker because it gives him the freedom to use his time
in ways that may be more productive in meeting his many institutional and political
responsibilities. Once the House has begun consideration of a bill, there is relatively little
that the Speaker (or the chairman of the Committee of the Whole) can do from the
rostrum to affect what happens to it. While he is presiding, for example, the Speaker
never participates in debate from the chair, nor does he make any comments at all about
the policies that are being debated. He also is expected to apply and enforce the House's
rules and precedents in a fair and even-handed manner. The same expectations govern
chairmen in the Committee of the Whole.
When the House considers a major bill on the floor, the overwhelming majority of its
time and work almost invariably takes place in the Committee of the Whole. Actually, a
four-stage process is involved. All four stages may take place without interruption, or
they can occupy part of the House's time over a period of several days or longer.
1 When the House becomes ("resolves itself into") the Committee of the Whole, the mace, which
is the symbol of the authority of the House, is moved to a lower place on the Speaker's rostrum.
It also should be noted that the Speaker does not always preside over the House; he often asks
another member of the majority party to preside temporarily in his absence.
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QUORUMS IN HOUSE FLOOR PROCEEDINGS: AN INTRODUCTION, report, January 29, 2001; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc805082/m1/2/: accessed December 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.