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The Committee on Rules, or (more commonly) Rules Committee, is a committee of the United States House of Representatives. Rather than being responsible for a specific area of policy, as most other committees are, it is in charge of determining under what rule other bills will come to the floor. As such, it is one of the most powerful committees, and often described as "an arm of the leadership" and as the "traffic cop of Congress." A rule is a simple resolution of the House of Representatives, usually reported by the Committee on Rules, to permit the immediate consideration of a legislative measure, not withstanding the usual order of business, and to prescribe conditions for its debate and amendment.[1]



When a bill is reported out of one of the other committees, it does not go straight to the House floor, because the House, unlike the United States Senate, does not have unlimited debate and discussion on a bill. Instead, what may be said and done to a bill is strictly limited. This limitation is performed by the Rules Committee.

Technically, when a bill is reported out of another committee with legislative jurisdiction, it is placed on the appropriate House calendar for debate. Common practice, though, is for bills reported from committees to be considered in the Rules Committee, which will decide for how long and under what rules the full body will debate the proposition.

Consideration by the full body can be in one of two forums: the Committee of the Whole, or on the floor of the full House of Representatives itself. Different traditions govern whether the Committee of the Whole or the House itself will debate a given resolution, and the Rules Committee generally sets the forum under which a proposition will be debated and the amendment/time limitations for every measure, too. For instance, there might be a limit on the number or types of amendments (proposed changes to the bill). Amendments might only be allowed to specific sections of the bill, or no amendments might be allowed at all. Besides control over amendments, the rule issued by the Rules Committee also determines the amount of speaking time assigned on each bill or resolution. If the leadership wants a bill pushed forward quietly, for instance, there might be no debate time scheduled; if they want attention, they might allow time for lengthy speeches in support of the bill.

Between control over amendments, debate, and when measures will be considered, the Rules Committee exerts vast power in the House. As such, it is very important that the Rules Committee be tightly controlled by the majority party. While most House committees maintain membership in a rough proportion to the full chamber (If the majority party controls 55% of the House, it will tend to have 55% of committee seats), membership on the Rules Committee is disproportionately in favor of the majority party.


The Rules Committee was formed on April 2, 1789, during the first Congress. However, it had nowhere near the powerful role it has today. Instead, it merely proposed general rules for the House to follow when debating bills (rather than passing a special rule for each bill), and was dissolved after proposing these general rules. These general rules still have a great impact on the tone of the House floor today.

The Rules Committee, for a long time, lay dormant. For the first fifty years of its existence, it accomplished little beyond simply reaffirming these rules, and its role was very noncontroversial. On June 16, 1841, it made a major policy change, reducing from 2/3 to 1/2 the fraction of votes needed in the House to close debate and vote on a bill.

In 1880, the modern Rules Committee began to emerge from the reorganization of the House Committees. When the Republican party took over the House in the election of 1880, they quickly realized the power that the Rules Committee possessed. One member, Thomas Brackett Reed (R-Maine), used a seat on the Rules Committee to vault himself to the Speakership, and gained so much power that he was referred to as "Czar Reed".

In the 1890s and 1900s, Reed and his successor, Joseph Gurney Cannon (R-Illinois) used the Rules Committee to centralize the power of the Speakership. Although their power to place members in committees and perform other functions was limited by a forced rule change in 1910, the Rules Committee retained its power. However, it ceased to function as the personal project of the Speaker, as it had originally; instead, as the seniority system took root, it was captured by a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans. This state of affairs would continue until the 1960s.

In 1961, Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas), acting on the wishes of the new President John F. Kennedy and the Democratic Study Group, introduced a bill to enlarge the committee from 12 members to 15, to decrease the power of the arch-conservative chairman, Howard W. Smith (D-Virginia). The bill passed, 217 votes to 212. However, it was only partially successful; the Rules Committee continued to block legislation including civil rights and education bills.

In the 1970s, however, the Rules Committee was firmly under the command of the Speaker once again. As before, its primary role is to come up with special rules, to help or hinder the chances of legislation reported to it.

Members, 111th Congress

Majority Minority



The Rules Committee operates with two subcommittees, one focusing on legislative and budget matters and the other focusing on the internal operations and procedures of the House.

Subcommittee Chair Ranking Member
Legislative and Budget Process Alcee Hastings (D-FL) Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
Rules and the Organization of the House Jim McGovern (D-MA) Pete Sessions (R-TX)


  1. ^ "Committee on Rules". U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Rules. Retrieved 2006-11-03. 

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