Developing Debt-Limit Legislation: The House’s ”Gephardt Rule” Page: 2 of 15
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Developing Debt-Limit Legislation:
The House's "Gephardt Rule"
The amount of money the federal government is allowed to borrow generally is
subject to a statutory limit. From time to time, Congress and the President enact
legislation to adjust this limit.
The House may develop debt-limit legislation under House Rule XXVII,
commonly referred to as the Gephardt rule, named after its author, former
Representative Richard Gephardt. The rule, which was established by P.L. 96-78 and
first applied in calendar year 1980, provides for the automatic engrossment and
transmittal to the Senate of a joint resolution changing the public debt limit, upon the
adoption by Congress of the budget resolution, thereby avoiding a separate vote in
the House on the public debt-limit legislation. The Senate has no comparable
procedure; if it chooses to consider a House-passed joint resolution, it does so under
the regular legislative process.
The House also may develop and consider debt-limit legislation without
resorting to the Gephardt rule, either as freestanding legislation, as part of another
measure, or as part of a budget reconciliation bill. Of the 42 public-debt limit
changes enacted into law during the period 1980 to the present, 28 were enacted
without resorting to the Gephardt rule.
In 11 of the 29 years since the Gephardt rule was established, the rule did not
apply, due to its suspension or repeal by the House (calendar years 1988, 1990-1991,
1994-1997, and 1999-2002). In most cases, the House suspended the rule because
legislation changing the statutory limit was not necessary; at the time, the existing
public debt limit was expected to be sufficient.
During the remaining 18 years, when the rule was in effect, the House originated
19 joint resolutions under this procedure; 14 were signed into law. The first seven
of these 18 joint resolutions were generated under the Gephardt rule in its original
form. The rule was modified in 1983; the current rule is substantively the same as
the 1983 form of the rule. The subsequent 12 joint resolutions were generated under
this modified language. In three years (calendar years 1998, 2004, and 2006), the
House and Senate did not agree to a conference report on the budget resolution and
therefore the automatic engrossment process under the Gephardt rule was not
The Senate passed 15 of the 19 joint resolutions automatically engrossed
pursuant to the Gephardt rule, passing 10 without amendment and five with
amendments. Only one of these 15 joint resolutions was not signed into law. Of the
remaining four joint resolutions, the Senate began consideration on one but came to
no resolution on it, took no action on two, and has not taken action on the most recent
one (H.J.Res. 92, 110th Congress).
This report will be updated as developments warrant.
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Developing Debt-Limit Legislation: The House’s ”Gephardt Rule”, report, July 1, 2008; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc806571/m1/2/: accessed November 15, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.