What Is the Conference Report?

Dan Harkins

When the two houses of the U.S. legislative branch vote on different bills to create the same type of law, a special conference committee will negotiate a final compromise that is spelled out in the final law's conference report. Made up of equal members of the Senate and House of Representatives, these committees are usually composed of party leaders in the particular congressional committees that pushed through the bills. After hashing out a middle ground to add or remove an amendment, the report is drawn up and voted on by both houses before the president either vetoes the bill or signs it to make it a law.

A conference report spells out a compromise on a law that unites two bills from the House and Senate.
A conference report spells out a compromise on a law that unites two bills from the House and Senate.

Since the bicameral Capitol Hill separately introduces, researches, alters, amends and votes on new bills, differences in the results are inevitable. In many cases, a conference report is a formality to resolve very minor differences in the bills. Other times, several changes are in order. These range from reconciling unrelated amendments tacked on to the legislation to working out the details of the new regulations.

A conference committee can be requested by either chamber upon the passage of the two bills, for any reason. When this happens, so-called managers will be appointed by the Senate's presiding officer or the Speaker of the House. Typically, it is the leaders of committees who deal with the matters closely and are likely to know the most about them. When a conference report is requested, all memorandum, research, presentations and bill drafts are forwarded to the managers and a meeting date is set. This means that managers from both chambers will have all data compiled on both bills being reconciled.

Sometimes, one or both chambers of Congress fail to approve a final conference report. This can happen when either chamber refuses to a compromise requested by the other chamber. The report spells out these requests. It may contain a recommendation that one or both sides shave off certain amendments or it could ask that certain elements of the new regulations be part of both house versions. This latter scenario could occur, for instance, if a report were written to reconcile two bills that allocate slightly different amounts of money to the same government program.

If the changes occurring in a conference committee are too sweeping, it is likely that one or both chambers will call for a point of order. At that point, the bills may be sent back to committee in each chamber to begin the process anew. This rarely happens though, since a conference report generally deals with minor settlements.

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