How Do Congressional Conference Committees Work?

Resolving Legislative Disagreements

A Congressional Conference Committee is composed of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and it is charged with resolving disagreements on a specific piece of legislation. A  committee is usually comprised of senior Members of the standing committees of each House that originally considered the legislation.

The Purpose of Congressional Conference Committees

Conference committees are created after the House and the Senate pass different versions of a piece of legislation.

Conference committees must negotiate a compromise bill that will be voted upon by both Chambers of Congress. This is because both houses of Congress must pass identical legislation for the bill to become law, according to the U.S. Constitution.

The conference committee is usually composed of the senior members of the respective House and Senate standing committees that originally considered the legislation. Each Congressional chamber determines its number of conferees; there is no requirement that the number of conferees from the two chambers are equal.

Steps for Submitting a Bill to a Conference Committee

Sending a bill to a conference committee involves four steps, three of the steps are required, the fourth is not. Both houses are required to complete the first three steps.

  1. Stage of disagreement. Here, the Senate and House agree that they disagree. According to "Conference Committee and Related Procedures: An Introduction," the agreement can be accomplished by:
    • The Senate insisting on its own amendment(s) to a House-passed bill or amendment.
    • The Senate disagreeing to the House’s amendment(s) to a Senate-passed bill or amendment.
  1. Then, the House and Senate must agree to create a conference committee to resolve the legislative disagreement.
  2. In an optional step, each house may provide a motion to instruct. These are instructions on the conferees' positions, though they aren't binding.
  3. Each house then appoints its conference members.

    Congressional Conference Committee Determinations

    After deliberation, the conferees may make one or more recommendations. For example, the committee may recommend (1) that the House recede from all or certain of its amendments; (2) that the Senate recede from its disagreement to all or certain of the House amendments and agree to the same; or (3) that the conference committee is unable to agree in all or in part. Usually, however, there is a compromise.

    In order to conclude its business, a majority of both House and Senate delegations to the conference must sign the conference report.

    The conference report proposes new legislative language which is presented as an amendment to the original bill passed by each chamber. The conference report also includes a joint explanatory statement, which documents, among other things, the legislative history of the bill.

    The conference report proceeds directly to the floor of each chamber for a vote; it cannot be amended. The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 limits Senate debate on conference reports on budget reconciliation bills to 10 hours.

    Other Types of Committees

    • Standing Committees: These permanent committees established under the standing rules of the Senate and specialize in the consideration of particular subject areas. As of September 2016, Senate currently has 16 standing committees, according to Senate.gov.
    • Joint Committees: These committees include membership from both houses of Congress. Joint committees are established with narrow jurisdictions and typically lack authority to report legislation.
    • Special or Select Committees are established by the Senate for a specific time period to undertake a particular study or investigation. These committees may or may not have authority to report legislation to the Senate.
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    Gill, Kathy. "How Do Congressional Conference Committees Work?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 24, 2016, thoughtco.com/how-do-congressional-conference-committees-work-3368243. Gill, Kathy. (2016, September 24). How Do Congressional Conference Committees Work? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-do-congressional-conference-committees-work-3368243 Gill, Kathy. "How Do Congressional Conference Committees Work?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-do-congressional-conference-committees-work-3368243 (accessed October 23, 2017).