History And Purpose Of Rules In The United States House Of Representatives And Senate – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

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In his Manual of Parliamentary Practice, Thomas Jefferson wrote regarding rules:

“be in all cases the most rational or not, is really not of so great importance. It is much more material that there should be a rule to go by than what that rule is; that there may be a uniformity of proceeding in business, not subject to the caprice of the Speaker or captiousness of the members. It is very material that order, decency, and regularity be preserved in a dignified public body.”

Formally established by law in April of 1789 and chaired by the House Speaker until 1910, the Committee on Rules is one of the oldest standing, or permanent, committees in the United States House of Representatives. It is considered “The Speaker’s Committee” as it is used to maintain order on the House Floor. The House Committee on Rules was established as a standing committee in the late 1840s.

When the First Congress of the United States House of Representatives met at Federal Hall in New York under the new Constitution in 1789, the first Senate also convened. At this time, a rules committee was established to conduct the separate business of the Senate, and in 1874, the Senate Committee on Rules was designated as a standing committee.

“Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings,” –Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2, United States Constitution

Rules in the United States Senate contrast more than compare to rules of the House and some interesting differences exist between the House and Senate rules. Proceedings, for example, lie in how each chamber, or body, requires a quorum, conducts debate, refers measures (bills or filed legislation going through the legislative process to potentially become law) to specific committees, places measures on a specific type of calendar for consideration, and votes. The House Committee on Rules is considered powerful, able to do much of anything deemed necessary; there is no such equal committee in the Senate.

The House Speaker, being the majority party leader and presiding officer, is able to govern proceedings, to recognize or not recognize a Member to rise and debate. Requests for the purpose of recognition on the House Floor are typically made based on precedence in order to maintain soundness and continuity of Congress. Debate time on the Floor is limited in the House per Representative, while each Senator is allowed unlimited Floor time to debate including filibuster. On the Senate Floor, the presiding officer must recognize the first Senator standing and seeking recognition. Other Senate leaders determine who speaks next depending on Senate rulings and precedents.

When measures that are not controversial in nature make it to the Floor for consideration, most are approved in the House by “suspension of the rules” which is a procedure the House uses to pass widely supported measures, that prohibits floor amendments and limits debate time, and requires a two-thirds majority for the bill’s passage. However, a similar measure’s passage would be obtained by unanimous consent in the Senate. Another difference is that a legislative day can run for several calendar days in the Senate which tends to recess, whereas the House adjourns at the end of a legislative day. Application of a different process to begin business again depends on whether a recess or adjournment occurs.

Rules introduced in the United States House of Representatives and Senate over two hundred years ago have certainly changed through decades of Congresses. While early versions of congressional rules at times proved unruly and in need of reform as new developments often may, America’s Founders recognized early the necessity for order. They moved first to set systems for properly conducting business. They continued efforts to fill needs for fair and efficient proceedings. In hopes of setting precedents that would not impede their work but instead prove beneficial to the preamble’s “We the People,” the Founders and Constitution Framers looked to affirm that the “First Branch” of American government would exist to serve its citizens.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017), and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).


House of Representatives Committee on Rules – “About the Committee on Rules – History and Processes”

House of Representatives Committee on Rules – “History of the Rules Committee”

United States Senate Rules Administration – “History: Introduction”

CRS Report for Congress – “House and Senate Rules of Procedure: A Comparison” https://www.senate.gov/reference/reference_index_subjects/Rules_and_Procedure_vrd.htm

“United States Senate Origins and Development”

Congress.gov – “The Legislative Process: House Floor (Transcript)”

Roles: House Speaker, President Of The Senate, Majority, Minority Leaders And Whips For An Effective Congress (Part 2) – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

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Along with House Speaker and President of the Senate, other important positions such as Majority and Minority Leaders, and Whips play significant roles for an effective Congress. At the outset of United States Congresses, such roles were not as formal as they are today, and have come to be defined by history and tradition. However, since the House of Representatives is a large body, having floor leadership is especially beneficial to assist members with conducting business they were elected to complete, and help one another work at their best together.

House and Senate Majority Leaders are selected for the party that has the most Members elected to the current Congress. The Minority Leader is selected for the party with the fewer Members elected to the current Congress. Each is chosen within the respective party caucus or conference every two years at the start of a new Congress.

Representative Sereno Payne (R-NY) served as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee prior to becoming the first House Majority Leader in 1899. For the current, 115th Congress, serving as House Majority Leader is Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Early on, the tendency was a chairman of Ways and Means or Appropriations was asked to also serve as Majority Leader. This trend continued until the role became more distinct. While party floor leaders are not included in the Constitution, the positions developed over time. The first floor leaders for Democrats were official in 1920, and for Republicans in 1925.

Charged with scheduling legislation to be considered for a floor vote, planning short and long-term legislative agendas, and checking with Members to see how votes could go, the Majority Leader helps the party reach its goals as elected. In Congress, the “floor” is where House and Senate Members meet, discuss, and vote in favor of or against passage of legislation. Each floor is said to be in the House chamber or Senate chamber, with each chamber located on opposite sides inside the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC.

Minority Leaders serve as floor leaders like the Majority Leaders. Though many of the Minority Leader responsibilities are similar to those of the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader represents the minority party of the current Congress, speaks for and protects the rights of the minority party.

James Richardson (D-TN) was recognized as the first House Minority Leader in 1899, though it was said James Madison served as the first Minority Leader as he led the “loyal opposition” to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s policies during the First Congress. Today, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) serves as House Minority Leader.

Senate floor leaders came from standing committees that had the most power. In 1913, Senator John Worth Kern (D-IN) functioned similarly as a Senate Majority Leader would now for the Democratic Party. The same occurred for the Republican Party in 1919 with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr. (R-MA) acting as a majority floor leader. Later, official elections of Senate Majority and Minority Leaders arrived first in 1920 with the Democratic Party choosing Oscar Underwood (D-AL) as Senate Minority Leader, and in 1925, the Republicans choosing Senator Charles Curtis (R-KS) as Senate Majority Leader. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) serves today as Senate Majority Leader and the current serving Senate Minority Leader is Senator Charles Ellis “Chuck” Schumer (D-NY).

Similar to Majority and Minority House and Senate leaders, Whips, borrowed from the British Parliament and a foxhunting term, or “whipper-in” would assist floor leaders with keeping the legislative agenda moving, counting Members for votes and ensuring quorums, and standing in for floor leaders as needed. Whips, also elected by both parties, are still part of floor leadership in modern Congresses, positions that grew out of necessity to maintain order during congressional proceedings.

The first Democratic Party Whip elected was in 1913, Senator James Hamilton (D-IL). In 1915, the same Whip role was created by Republicans who elected Senator James Wolcott, Jr., Wadsworth (R-NY). Currently, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) serves as Senate Majority Whip, and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) serves as the Senate Minority Whip. The current serving House Majority Whip is Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), and the House Minority Whip is Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

By now, leadership roles of Congress have developed further with Parliamentarians, conferences and caucuses, Sergeants at Arms, Doorkeepers, Chaplains, among others. These also assist with maintaining order and effectiveness so those elected may arrive to their respective offices and serve as promised.

The various roles established throughout the course of American history are proving effective though some want to rid America’s Congress of its Members almost immediately after an election. However, made up of imperfect people who would fail at times yet try again, America’s Founders and Constitution Framers showed up for known, imminent challenges, and against just about impossible odds to succeed. They did so believing something better could exist and pursued a new type of governing that if maintained by the electorate would offer the most freedom for those it represented.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017), and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).


“United States House of Representatives Majority Leaders of the House (1899 to present)”

“The Role of the House Minority Leader: An Overview” https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/RL30666.html

“Role of Senate Minority Leader”

“United States House of Representatives Leadership”

“The People of the People’s House”

“Floor Leaders, Majority and Minority Leaders, Party Whips” https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Leaders_Whips.htm

“The Role of the House Majority Leader: An Overview” http://congressionalresearch.com/RL30665/document.php?study=The+Role+of+the+House+Majority+Leader+An+Overview

“United States Senate Leadership & Officers”

“United States Senate Majority and Minority Leaders” https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Majority_Minority_Leaders.htm

“United States Senate Party Whips” https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Party_Whips.htm

Roles: House Speaker, President Of The Senate, Majority, Minority Leaders And Whips For An Effective Congress (Part 1) – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

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Leadership roles in the United States House of Representatives and Senate help advance the purpose of Congress and why each member was elected – to serve.  Various positions bring in members who offer each Congress that convenes unique experience and abilities.

Development of leadership roles that would carry into the new, settled governing system was in the making in the years surrounding the first, second, and third Continental Congresses and into the first United States Congress.

Combined efforts throughout the 1700s held a number of the same men who crafted and/or signed one or more of our beginning or founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, United States Constitution, and later the Bill of Rights. The knowledge, strengths, and interests of these early leaders would create congressional governing positions still in use today.

The First United States Congress which met from 1789 to 1791 is considered the most important of all of the Congresses that have convened since then. The First Congress was entrusted with an arduous task of discussing and passing all legislation necessary to get the new system of American government running and with workable precedents. This included a need to select leadership roles among setting up rules and procedures of each chamber, or body, of the House and Senate.

Roles in Congress would develop with Representative James Madison who led the beginning Congress that would set up, for example, a revenue system, executive departments, take on state Revolutionary War debts, and decide on the future capital.

While at work setting up new roles for a new system, the first Congress moved to Philadelphia in 1789. Washington, D.C. would later become the settled, nation’s capital where the three branches of government would sit: the nation’s Capitol would be built for future Congresses to meet, the White House for United States presidents to reside, and home of the Supreme Court.

Each year Congress convenes in a series of meetings called a session. Congress holds two sessions per year. Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution states:

“The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.”

Later, the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified to make the third day of January the meeting date unless Congress passes a law to appoint a different day. When the House or Senate is meeting on Capitol Hill, either is said to be “in session” each time one or both chambers meets though the two formal meetings per year, one of which must occur based on the constitutional mandate to meet at least once per year, are also called “sessions.”

The House begins a new Congress at noon on January 3 each odd-numbered year following a general election with a Congress lasting two years, and each year is one session. The Senate meets for a new “Congress” every two years, divided into two annual sessions, each beginning in January and ending in December. When the House and Senate meet together, it is called a joint session, and sometimes a joint meeting depending on the reason for meeting. Starting and ending on an odd year, as of 2018, the United States Congress has convened for 114 Congresses, is currently in the second session of its 115th Congress that began in 2017 and will conclude in 2019.

Prior to the first Congress in 1789 under the new system of government, along with election as the first United States President, George Washington, was selected as president of the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia. It was a role that would help spur the necessary precedents to maintain a stable, effective Congress for the long-term.

Since 1789, relatively few Americans, almost 11,000, have taken a role as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and/or Senate. The First Federal Congress convened in New York City’s Federal Hall March 4, 1789. They were able to begin proceedings finally in April because at first, they did not obtain a quorum to begin conducting business. Once enough members finally arrived from long, difficult travel, they were able to begin, including to elect a first Speaker, Representative Frederick Muhlenberg (R-PA). Currently, in the 115th Congress, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) is serving as House Speaker.

Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution reads:

“The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers…”

The Speaker is the presiding officer over the House of Representatives in a political and parliamentary role. Though established from British parliamentary practice, Speakers have limited their positions to presiding over the House, among other duties, and serving as a ceremonial head. The Speaker is elected by a majority of the Representatives newly elected, and chosen by the majority and minority party caucuses, when a new Congress begins.

In case of a vacancy during a Congress, a majority of the House selects a new Speaker from candidates the two parties previously chose. The role of the House Speaker is part of our Constitution in Amendment 25 as a leader in line to the presidency, should the President of the United States prove disabled.

Since the Framers left the decision to Congress regarding which Officer would act as President should the Vice President be unable as first in line to the presidency, it was decided in 1791 to set the Secretary of State as next in line after the Vice President. The Vice President also serves as President of the Senate, with authority to vote in case of a tie on the Senate floor. John Adams served as the first Vice President along with duties as President of the Senate. Today, Mike Pence (R-IN) serves as Vice President and President of the Senate.

Some suggested the Chief Justice, House Speaker, or president pro tempore (meaning to serve for the time being, and in this case if the Vice President is unable) of the Senate which did serve in the succession capacity following the passage of the Presidential Succession Act of 1792. Differences in opinion over who should succeed the President and Vice President left considerable risk for upset of stability and balance of powers. In 1947, the law was changed to place the order of succession to make the Speaker in line after the Vice President, followed by the president pro tempore, then the Secretary of State and other cabinet members depending on the time each department was created. To this date, this system is still in use.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017), and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).


“The First Federal Congress” https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/treasures_of_congress/text/page2_text.html

“Total Members of the House & State Representation” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Total-Members/Total-Members/

“The Opening of the First Congress in New York City” http://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1700s/The-opening-of-the-First-Congress-in-New-York-City/

“House of Representatives Session Dates” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Session-Dates/Session-Dates/

“Congress Profiles” http://history.house.gov/Congressional-Overview/Profiles/1st/

“The People of the People’s House” http://history.house.gov/People/

“United States House of Representatives Leadership” https://www.house.gov/leadership

“President Pro Tempore”

“Presidential Succession” https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Presidential_Succession.htm

“President of the Senate: Vice President of the United States” https://www.senate.gov/reference/Index/Vice_President.htm

Power Of The Purse And The Congressional Budget Process – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

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One of the most important tasks Congress must complete is to set a budget. It is especially important for members of Congress to understand how the budget works in order to best represent and serve the American people. For this reason, our United States Constitution framers recognized the need for a system that could remain within the knowledge and control of the people who would entrust power to their elected representatives concerning the nation’s finances.

The framers did not want to repeat what they observed in England where the king was able to direct funds rather than the citizenry directing funds. The framers instead put together a different form of government that left control or “power of the purse” in the hands of the people. This is how Congress, the legislative branch, was placed in charge of taxing and spending, a system by which voters could have a say in the direction of funds and hold their representatives accountable:

“All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.” –United States Constitution, Article I, Section 7, Clause 1

By the first Monday in February of each year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is required to provide a report of the president’s priorities for the United States. The budget is set for the fiscal (monetary or budgetary) year that begins in October, and is required by law to cover at least five fiscal years. Currently, the federal budget covers 10 fiscal years:

“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.” –United States Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 7

By 1791, the First Congress passed the first appropriations act to fund the government. In 1865, the House of Representatives separated the duties of writing tax policy and the duties of allocating funds into these two committees: the Committee on Ways and Means, and the Committee on Appropriations.

The House Committee on Ways and Means is in charge of writing tax policy that will determine how money is spent. The Committee on Ways and Means dates back to 1789 and is the oldest committee of the United States Congress. The Committee on Appropriations is in charge of dedicating funds for specific purposes.

Though the President of the United States starts the budget process by sending a request with the Administration’s policy and funding priorities to the Office of Management and Budget, it is Congress that runs the financial numbers and reports on projections and measures policy changes that may be recommended for upcoming years.

Next, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office sends analyses on the economic outlook to the House and Senate Budget Committees, which then uses the information researched by the Congressional Budget Office to put together a resolution and decide on proposed policy changes.

The budget process has come a long way since America’s founding. But, with the bringing in of revenue (tax money), complications and even quarrels over the integrity of the budget process and spending arose. By 1974, the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act was established to reduce court suits over disputes between Congress and the President, among prior issues building up to that point, to help alleviate problems delaying the creation of each budget. The intention was to reform the process that would result in the best spending priorities rather than allow to remain a sense that the budget lacked stability.

Though changes in means to forecast economic strength and positive or negative outcomes have grown due to advancements in technology and computing, for example, Americans will undoubtedly continue to argue over spending and debt. Yet, America’s founders and Constitution framers knew all too well the warning signs accompanying a lack of discernment for the public monetary trust that could result in a declining economy:

“I, however, place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.” – Thomas Jefferson, Founder, Author of the Declaration of Independence, and Third U.S. President

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America.  She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017) and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).


Office of the Historian – History, Art & Archives: United States House of Representatives http://history.house.gov/institution/origins-development/power-of-the-purse/

House Budget Committee – “Basics of the Current Federal Budget Process” https://budget.house.gov/budget-digest/basics-current-federal-budget-process/

Office of Management and Budget https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/

Congressional Budget Office https://www.cbo.gov/about/overview

House Committee on Ways and Means https://waysandmeans.house.gov/about/

House Committee on Appropriations https://appropriations.house.gov/about/

Founders Online, “Thomas Jefferson to William Plumer, 21 July 1816” https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-10-02-0152