The House Calendar Explained

The term “House Calendar” is a misnomer. In fact, it is misleading for two reasons. One: there are actually four separate Calendars of the House. And Two: it’s not really a calendar at all. 

The familiar legislative session calendar put out by the House Majority Leader is a traditional calendar that shows which day the chamber is planning on being in session. Confusingly however, this calendar is not one of the four House calendars of business.

In procedure-talk, a calendar references a list of legislative measures that have become eligible for consideration by the entire the chamber (but even this, of course, assumes regular order is being followed). Proposals make their way onto three of the four House calendars by being reported favorably out of committee—the Discharge Calendar discussed below is the sole exception . The overwhelming majority of measures are listed on their respective calendars chronologically (earliest reported out listed first), but are notgiven a date for which they will be considered. That is, to be eligible for consideration on the House floor does not ensure consideration. A bill assigned to a House calendar does not guarantee any specific date the measure will be taken up on the floor—many bills each Congress are reported out of committee and languish on a congressional calendar for the rest of the term. (Measures not listed on any of the calendars signal that the proposal is awaiting committee action or is sitting on the Speaker’s table, perhaps awaiting House consideration under an expedited process, such as unanimous consent.)

As a technical matter, decision making power as to what bills come off the calendar and in what order rests with the Rules Committee—institutionally, the Speaker has no formal powers to decide what bills come off the calendar. But in political practice, the Speaker works in direct concert with the Rules Committee for scheduling decisions, and the Rules Committee is often referred to as an ‘arm of the Speaker’ for this reason. Politically, deciding the order for consideration of eligible proposals ultimately lies with the Speaker, and is one of the cruxes of his/her agenda-setting and institutional power. 

So, why so many House calendars and what are they? Each of the calendars of business deal with certain types of proposals, and sometimes have their own specified rules as to when measures are eligible for consideration. The four House calendars are: UnionHousePrivate, and Motions to Discharge Committees

The Union Calendar is reserved for bills involving money—raising revenue; taxes or charges; appropriations; spending decisions; authorizations. Money legislation goes on the Union Calendar. The vast majority of favorably reported bills can be found on this calendar.

All non-money related bills are put on the House Calendar. As stated in Rule XIII, clause 1(a) of the House rules, the House calendar is the landing spot “all public bills and public resolutions not requiring referral to the Calendar of the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union” - this is just a long-winded way to the House Calendar is for all bills not placed on the Union Calendar.

The Private Calendar involves legislation that affect particular individuals or entities. Common examples of private bills are waivers of immigration requirements for specific individuals or an entities specific claim against the federal government. House rules state that the Private Calendar is called on the first and third Tuesday of each month and such bills must be placed on the calendar at least seven days before being eligible for consideration.

Finally, the Calendar of Motions to Discharge Committees houses any active discharge petitions that have garnered the signatures of a majority of House members (218). Remember, the discharge petition is a tool for rank-and-file members to bypass party and committee leadership and force floor action on an underlying bill that has been bottled up in committee. Of course, the discharge process is replete with its own procedures and rules including; a specific day count for how long a bill must be stuck in committee (30 days) before a discharge motion can be filed; the requirement that a bill has to sit on the Discharge Calendar for seven legislative days before being eligible to be called up; and discharge motions are only allowed to be called on the second and fourth Mondays of each month.

Each of these calendars—as well as a host of other legislative information, such as a list of all public and private laws enacted during the current Congress—is made available online daily.