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Suppose that for some reason, the House of Representatives wants to stop the Senate from doing anything. Could they accomplish that by passing hundreds of frivolous bills, so the Senate would be stuck wasting time voting on those bills? Of course, the House couldn't do anything else during this time either.

In other words, can one house of Congress run a denial of service attack against the other house by flooding them with bills?

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  • 4
    How do you think would the house of rep pass all those bills without wasting at least the same amount of time?
    – PMF
    Aug 1 at 8:18
  • 3
    The House and Senate have different procedural rules. With simple majority support, the House can pass a bill in virtually no time at all.
    – bdb484
    Aug 1 at 13:27
  • 33
    "Suppose that for some reason, the House of Representatives wants to stop the Senate from doing anything." This wouldn't be a change in character for the Senate. Aug 1 at 15:43
  • 1
    @bdb484 The Senate sets its own procedural rules. And can change them whenever it wants to.
    – Yakk
    Aug 1 at 16:15
  • 2
    I am amused by the question. My first thought was, "Isn't this the usual state of affairs?"
    – Wastrel
    Aug 2 at 19:33

4 Answers 4

63

No, because neither House nor Senate is obliged to consider each and every bill brought to it.

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  • 5
    I'm all for concise answers however this would be a better answer if you could give a (preferably legal) basis for this. In other words is it a law or a convention that they can ignore bills ? Can e.g. one member force a bill to be considered ? Aug 2 at 20:09
  • On the other hand, since the legislature has almost no other job than passing laws, and both houses must pass the bill for it to move on, they can use the same "not obliged to consider" logic to also shut down the other house. There could still be hearings and such, but without the ability to pass legislation such hearings would be meaningless. The one meaningful thing the senate could still accomplish is to override a veto. Aug 2 at 21:52
  • 5
    @StephenG-HelpUkraine I believe that generally speaking government bodies in the US are only required to do things where it is explicitly written down that they are required to do it. AFAIK it is simply never mentioned anywhere whether this is required, and that is sufficient basis for it not being required. Aug 3 at 14:32
  • @StephenG-HelpUkraine Aside from pointing to the fact that the Constitution does not compel them, what is there to say? There's nothing that says they can ignore pending legislation, but there's also nothing that says they can't. One can only talk on that absence for so long...
    – Michael
    yesterday
24

The Constitution of the United States allows each house of Congress to make their own rules for their proceedings (Article I, Section 5, paragraph 2.) Neither has any control over the other's rules. Neither is under any obligation to consider or vote any bill beyond what their own rules require and they can change their rules when they want without any input from the other house.

It's actually quite routine for both the Senate and the House to just completely ignore bills passed by the other, especially when they're not controlled by the same party. Both major parties in both houses frequently pass legislation that they know the other would never even consider just for political optics, especially when one party controls the House and the other controls the Senate. This allows the party controlling the chamber that passed the bill to campaign on

See?! The Other Party didn't even consider the Saving Cute Puppies From Brutal Massacre Bill [which, of course, actually had nothing to do with puppies and instead accomplished nothing or some nonsense partisan purpose] that we passed! We need control of the Other Chamber in order to pass this important legislation and save the puppies!

when the next election season rolls around.

So, in short, no, they can't do that because the House has no mechanism to force the Senate to vote on anything (and vice versa.)

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  • 2
    @JonathanReez so basically, Democrats want to be able to keep campaigning on gay rights, so they intentionally don't protect gay rights in law?
    – Someone
    Aug 2 at 18:53
  • @Someone yep, exactly! Or at least until the election. Aug 2 at 18:59
  • While each house can set and change their own rules, they are still obligated to follow those rules once set. So it would be possible for one house to enact a well-meaning rule for itself requiring it to consider certain types of pending legislation before other matters, and this case the other house could conduct such a log-jamming attack. But as things stand (and are likely to continue), it's not possible. Aug 2 at 21:57
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    @JoelCoehoorn Depends on how you define 'obligated,' I suppose. There is no enforcement mechanism from any outside body to coerce a house of Congress to follow its own rules, nor is there anything stopping them from changing their rules when they want if they see that someone is trying to abuse them. For example, in the Senate, when a member raises a potential rules violation to the parliamentarian, if the parliamentarian determines it to indeed be a violation, the Senate can hold a simple majority vote and rule that that is not, in fact, the rule, even if it actually is.
    – reirab
    Aug 3 at 0:19
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    This is a weird coincidence! babylonbee.com/news/…
    – Someone
    Aug 3 at 3:04
8

The Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader set the agenda for items to be brought to the floors of their respective chambers. Either is free to ignore proposed legislation from the other institution.

7

No, but, interestingly enough, the House of Representatives can do the exact opposite—force the Senate to stay in session—and often has.

Article I, Section V, clause 4 of the Constitution says (emphasis added)

Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

They can’t force the other chamber to do anything, but this still matters, because Article II, Section II says (emphasis added)

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

So, when the President’s party controlled the Senate, but not the House, from 2011 to 2014, the majority party in the House would show up, hold a short pro forma session every three days, and go home, just so the Senate could never go into recess and allow the President to make any appointments.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the President cannot make a recess appointment during a recess that lasted only three days. Because gridlock had never escalated to that point before, the Court had never previously needed to rule on this.

As GS noted in a comment, the majority in the Senate was not large enough to break a filibuster (which is not in the Constitution, and was not routinely invoked on all bills and appointments until very recently) or they could have confirmed the President’s appointments the regular way.

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  • And this was presumably useful because of the filibuster? Otherwise the Senate could just have approved the President's appointments directly. Aug 1 at 17:26
  • 2
    @GS-ApologisetoMonica Yes. The Senate ended up nuking the filibuster for judicial appointments, in stages.
    – Davislor
    Aug 1 at 17:32
  • 1
    @GS-ApologisetoMonica I note that the last time the White House changed parties without control of the Senate was in 1969, when the norms were very different. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires the Senate to confirm anyone to the Cabinet, or even to hold confirmation hearings, or allow recess appointments. This is a Constitutional crisis waiting to happen.
    – Davislor
    Aug 1 at 17:34
  • "Show up" is a generous description. There's like 2 people there. Maybe even just the presiding officer, in fact.
    – David
    Aug 1 at 21:05
  • 2
    Which really highlights why the filibuster was kind of a good idea: without it, the majority can completely ignore the minority. With it, the majority must find someone that the minority can also agree to. Of course, when the majority refuses to accept anything less than their own ideals, knowing that the minority will never agree to such a person, you end up with 2011-2014.
    – JamieB
    Aug 1 at 21:43

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