About 'Sense of Congress' Resolutions

While Not Laws, They Have an Impact

US Capitol 1900
The US Capitol Bulding in 1900. Getty Images

When members of the House of Representatives, the Senate or entire U.S. Congress want to send a stern message, state an opinion or just make a point, they try to pass a "sense of" resolution.

Through simple or concurrent resolutions, both houses of Congress may express formal opinions about subjects of national interest. As such these so-called “sense of” resolutions are officially known as “sense of the House,” “sense of the Senate” or “sense of the Congress” resolutions.

Simple or concurrent resolutions expressing the "sense of" the Senate, House or Congress merely express the opinion of a majority of the chamber’s members.

Legislation They Are, But Laws They Are Not

“Sense of” resolutions do not create law, do not require the signature of the President of the United States, and are not enforceable. Only regular bills and joint resolutions create laws.

Because they require the approval of only the chamber in which they originate, Sense of the House or Senate resolutions can be accomplished with a “simple” resolution. On the other hand, sense of Congress resolutions must be concurrent resolutions since they must be approved in identical form by both the House and Senate.

Joint resolutions are rarely used to express the opinions of Congress, because unlike simple or concurrent resolutions, they require the signature of the president.

"Sense of" resolutions are also occasionally included as amendments to regular House or Senate bills.

Even when a “sense of” provision is included as an amendment to a bill that becomes law, they have no formal effect on public policy and are not considered a binding or enforceable part of the parent law.

So What Good Are They?

If “sense of” resolutions do not create law, why are they included as part of the legislative process?

"Sense of" resolutions are typically used for:

  • Going on the Record: a way for individual members of Congress to go on the record as supporting or opposing a particular policy or concept;
  • Political Persuasion: a simple attempt by a group of members to persuade other members to support their cause or opinion;
  • Appealing to the President: an attempt to get the president to take or not take some specific action (such as S.Con.Res. 2, considered by Congress in January 2007, condemning President Bush's order sending over 20,000 additional U.S. troops into the war in Iraq.);
  • Influencing Foreign Affairs: a way to express the opinion of the people of the United States to the government of a foreign nation; and
  • A Formal ‘Thank You’ Note: a way to send the congratulations or gratitude of Congress to individual citizens or groups. For example, congratulating U.S. Olympic champions or thanking military troops for their sacrifice.

Although "sense of" resolutions have no force in law, foreign governments pay close attention to them as evidence of shifts in U.S. foreign policy priorities.

In addition, the federal government agencies keep an eye on “sense of” resolutions as indications that Congress might be considering passing formal laws that could impact their operations or, more importantly, their share of the federal budget.

Finally, no matter how momentous or threatening the language used in "sense of" resolutions may be, remember that they are little more than political or diplomatic tactic and create no laws whatsoever.