The Committee of the Whole is a procedural device used to expedite debates in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives uses this parliamentary device to take procedural advantage of a somewhat different set of rules governing proceedings in the Committee than those governing proceedings in the House.
Origin of the “Committee of the Whole”
It originated in the time of the Stuarts, when taxation arrayed the Crown against the House of Commons, and suspicion made the Speaker a tale-bearer to the King.
To avoid the Chair’s espionage the Commons met in secret, elected a chairman in whom it had confidence, and without fear of the King freely exchanged its views respecting supplies.
The informality of its procedure survived the occasion for secrecy, but to this day the House of Commons keeps up the fiction of concealment, the Speaker withdrawing from the hall when the Committee convenes, and the chairman occupying the clerk’s desk
The “Committee of the Whole” in Congress
To use it, the House of Representatives adjourns and enters into a committee, with all representatives being members – this procedure allows congressmen to debate legislation subject to the simpler committee rules, and is often used to dispense with funding bills quickly.
Non-voting delegates can vote in the Committee of the Whole, although their votes cannot be the deciding ones.
The U.S. Senate used the Committee of the Whole as a parliamentary device until May 16, 1930, when the practice was abolished with respect to bills and joint resolutions.
The Senate continued to utilize the Committee of the Whole for consideration of treaties until February 27, 1986.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.