May 21, 2010
In our continuing series to help members of The American Legion family in their efforts to follow and understand congressional actions, we now present a brief discussion concerning how to obtain conference reports found on THOMAS, and how that information can be helpful.
During the congressional legislative process, a bill will be passed by both chambers. However, the language of each version passed by the House and Senate may vary, sometimes greatly. Often, one chamber will be sent a bill that addresses the same issue as similar legislation in the other chamber. If the chamber receiving the bill wants its own language to prevail, they will strip out all the language of the bill as passed by the first chamber, then insert the text of their bill into the measure.
For example, let us suppose that the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4321, then sent the measure to the Senate. The Senate has a companion measure, S. 1234, which addresses the same issues as the House bill. The Senate, rather than waste an inordinate amount of time debating and amending the House-passed bill, will strike the bill's language after the enacting clause, insert the language of S. 1234 into H.R. 4321, then pass what is still listed as H.R. 4321, but is actually now S. 1234. Because the bill has been modified by the Senate, it must now return to the House for further debate.
The example cited above is somewhat extreme, but anytime one chamber amends language to a bill passed by the other chamber, it is necessary for the bill to return to the chamber of origin to allow them to consider the amended language in their bill. They will then vote to approve or reject the new language. Should it occur that the two chambers cannot agree on language that satisfies both chambers, it is then necessary to form a conference committee.
In its simplest form, a conference committee is a temporary panel of House and Senate negotiators created to resolve differences between versions of similar House and Senate bills. It is comprised of members of both the House and Senate - usually members of the committees which had original jurisdiction over the bills in question. Members of conference committees are appointed by the leadership of both chambers.
Once a conference committee is formed, the members will meet to reconcile differences in the two versions of the legislation. More often than not, most of the work is accomplished by congressional staff, which is then basically rubber-stamped by the members of Congress. Finally, a conference report is produced. This document is the final version of a bill that is negotiated between the House and Senate. It contains a "statement of managers," a section-by-section analysis of the bill in question, delineating differences in each section and stating which chamber's version will be in the final version of the bill.
Like other committee reports - as highlighted in Part 10 of this series - conference reports can also be found on THOMAS. When searching for actions of a particular measure, click the hyperlink "All Congressional Actions." By searching the text, you will usually find a House Report number (all conference reports will be House Reports), usually with its own hyperlink. When you click on that link, you will be directed to a separate search results page containing the conference report. You can also search for a conference report in the "Committee Reports" link on the main page of THOMAS, also outlined in Part 10 of this series.