The Senate’s rules of procedure are comprised of five parts: the Constitution; Standing Rules; statutory rules; standing orders; and precedents. The interaction of these component parts creates the procedural architecture within which the legislative process unfolds in the institution.
The Constitution’s Rules and Expulsion Clause (Article I, section 5, clause 2) gives the Senate plenary power over its rules of procedure. Specifically, the clause stipulates that “each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its Proceedings.” Senators derive their authority to adopt the other rules and practices that govern their deliberations from this clause.
There are currently 44 Standing Rules of the Senate. For the most part, they are general and do not address unique situations that may arise as the legislative process unfolds.
Senate procedures may also be defined by statutory rules. These rules are included in bills passed by Congress and signed into law by the president.
The Senate operates on a daily basis mostly according to the institution’s past practice as reflected in its precedents. Former Senate Parliamentarian Floyd M. Riddick observed that precedents embody the practices of the Senate under the Constitution, its Standing Rules, and any relevant rule-making statutes. These practices serve to “fill in the gaps” contained in the Senate’s other procedural authorities when they fail to address specific parliamentary situations.
Senate procedures may also be created by standing orders, which have the same effect on its proceedings as Standing rules, statutory rules, and precedents.
There are two kinds of standing orders: permanent and temporary (or routine).
Permanent standing orders are created by simple resolution (S. Res.) and remain in effect until repealed by the Senate unless otherwise noted in the text of the order itself. These standing orders are listed in the Senate Manual under the heading, “Nonstatutory Standing Orders Not Embraced In The Rules, And Resolutions Affecting The Business Of The Senate.”
Examples of permanent standing orders include the oft-ignored requirement that senators vote from their desks during recorded votes instead of doing so while milling about on the floor, authorization of gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Senate’s proceedings on radio and television, and the special process granting expedited consideration of certain nominations subject to advice and consent on the Senate floor. The permanent select committees on Ethics and Intelligence were created by permanent standing orders.
Senators also use standing orders to manage their deliberations when they propound unanimous consent agreements. These standing orders remain in effect for the period specified in the agreement. They are listed in the Congressional Record on the day senators adopt them. The Senate also adopts several routine standing orders by unanimous consent at the beginning of each Congress that remain in effect for the duration of that Congress.
An example of a temporary, or routine, standing order is the provision for “leader time” on each day that is under the control of the majority and minority leaders for the discussion of routine legislative business. These standing orders are also utilized to structure the legislative process on the Senate floor. They routinely set the date and time when votes will occur, schedule floor speeches, and stipulate how much overall time can be used to debate a bill. These standing orders may also limit the number of amendments that can be offered to legislation or otherwise restrict their scope.
The Senate sets the procedures that govern how its members make decisions pursuant to the Constitution’s Rules of Proceeding Clause. The Standing Rules of the Senate and, to a lesser extent, statutory rules, establish the general parameters within which the legislative process unfolds in the institution. Precedents and temporary, or routine, standing orders provide structure to senators’ deliberations on a daily basis.