QUORUMS IN HOUSE FLOOR PROCEEDINGS: AN INTRODUCTION Page: 3 of 5
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First, the House decides to consider a particular bill and then transforms itself into the
Committee of the Whole for that purpose.2
Second, to begin the process of consideration in the Committee of the Whole, there
is a period of time set aside for what is known as general debate-for debating the general
merits of the bill and the issues it addresses. No amendments may be offered during
general debate, although Representatives frequently describe amendments that they intend
to offer at the next stage of the proceedings.
Third, while continuing to meet in the Committee of the Whole, there usually is an
opportunity for Representatives to propose amendments to the bill. Each Member
typically may be able to debate each amendment for five minutes. Representatives
normally must offer their amendments to each section of the bill in sequence. However,
the Committee of the Whole has no authority actually to amend the bill. Instead, it votes
on whether it wishes to recommend each amendment to the House because only the
House, not the Committee of the Whole, can vote to amend legislation. It is this
fact-that the Committee of the Whole cannot amend legislation-that allows the House
to assert that the Committee of the Whole is another form of committee and is not simply
the House meeting under a different name.
Fourth and finally, when the Committee of the Whole has voted on the last
amendment to the last portion of the bill, it transforms itself back into the House of
Representatives and the Speaker once again presides. The House then votes on whether
to formally adopt the amendments that had received majority votes in the Committee of
the Whole. And finally, the House votes on whether to pass the bill as it may have been
amended during this process. So it is the House itself that actually votes on whether to
amend and pass the bill, but virtually all the debate and all the preliminary votes on
amendments take place in the Committee of the Whole.
Because of the House's heavy reliance on the Committee of the Whole, the quorum
requirement that usually must be satisfied on the floor is not 218, which is a majority of
the total membership of 435, but only 100, which is the quorum that the House has
established in its own rules to apply in the Committee of the Whole. In theory, at least,
the House could reduce the quorum requirement in the Committee of the Whole to any
level it chooses-to 10 instead of 100 members, for example-though it has been 100 for
more than a century.
The Presumptive Quorum
The House presumes that a quorum always is present, whether in the House or in the
Committee of the Whole, unless the absence of a quorum is demonstrated conclusively,
either by a quorum call or by a record vote. This is a reasonable and appropriate
presumption because the alternative would be to presume that the House is not complying
with the Constitution.
2 This normally is done under the authority of a resolution (known as a rule or special rule) that the
House adopts at the recommendation of the Committee on Rules.
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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/m1/3/: accessed December 15, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.