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Senate Conferees: Their Selection and Authority
Conference committees often prepare the final versions of the most important bills that Congress
approves. Who the conferees are and what decisions they can make, therefore, can have an
important effect on the outcome of the legislative process. This report describes the selection and
authority of Senate conferees.
Selection of Senate Conferees
The Senate almost always agrees by unanimous consent that the presiding officer be authorized to
appoint the Senate's conferees. At the start of the 113' Congress (2013-2014), the Senate altered
the procedures that had effectively required the consent of all Senators to send a measure to a
conference committee with the House. This change has not affected the formal method for
appointment: The Senate has continued to authorize the presiding officer to do so. Due to the
rules change, however, unanimous consent to grant the presiding officer the power to appoint
conferees is not required. The presiding officer can instead be authorized to appoint as part of a
debatable motion to send a measure to conference. Furthermore, with the support of three-fifths
of the Senate, this authorization can be granted quickly, because the new rule accelerates the
cloture process on the motion.1
Although the Senate authorizes the presiding officer to name conferees, the presiding officer
actually exercises no discretion. Instead, he or she presents to the Senate a list that has usually
been prepared by the chair and ranking minority member of the standing committee with
jurisdiction over the bill. Also, the Senate conferees are usually drawn exclusively from the
membership of that committee. The committee chair, in consultation with the ranking member,
normally decides on the number of Senators from each party who will serve on the conference
committee. The chair selects the majority party conferees, and the ranking minority member
selects a proportional number of conferees from among his or her committee colleagues.
Committee seniority is an important but not controlling factor in the selection of committee
members to serve on the conference.
Party leaders also are often involved in the selection of conferees. For example, when two or
more committees considered the same bill and will be represented on the conference committee,
the party leaders may participate in deciding how many members from each committee will be
appointed as conferees. Also in such cases, Senators may be appointed as conferees for limited
purposes. In the case of a budget reconciliation bill, for example, members of the Budget
Committee may be appointed as conferees for the entire bill while members of other Senate
committees are appointed as conferees only to consider provisions of the bill that are within their
Authority of Senate Conferees
The rules of the House and Senate impose much the same restrictions on the kinds of decisions
that their conferees may reach. However, the Senate's precedents give its conferees considerably
more discretion than their House counterparts.
1 The new rule also appears to allow the Senate to directly appoint conferees by stating that one portion of the motion to
authorize a conference could be "a motion to appoint conferees." Appointing conferees by motion, instead of
authorizing the presiding officer to do so, has not been the practice of the Senate previously, and it is not clear that the
new motion will normally be used for this purpose. For more information on the rules change, see CRS Report R42996,
Changes to Senate Procedures at the Start of the 113th Congress Affecting the Operation of Cloture (S.Res. 15 and
S.Res. 16), by Elizabeth Rybicki.
Congressional Research Service
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Senate Conferees: Their Selection and Authority, report, September 23, 2015; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc805533/m1/4/: accessed September 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.