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Thune: Regular Order Increases Transparency, Accountability, and Trust in Legislative Process

“The regular order process promotes the kind of bipartisan, collaborative action that will allow us to accomplish real things for the American people.”

July 12, 2023

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed the importance of regular order in the Senate, which allows for a more deliberative process that promotes bipartisanship and increases productivity. Thune noted that regular order also results in a more transparent legislative process and ensures that senators and the American people can have a more fulsome view of how policies are created.   

Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):

Mr. President, summer has arrived, which means Congress is turning its attention to appropriations bills for the coming year.


“And my hope is that this year Congress will consider all 12 appropriations bills under regular order.


“What do I mean by regular order?


“Regular order refers to allowing bills to go through the committee process – including hearings and a markup (where members of the committee have a chance to amend and improve the bill), and then a referral by the committee to the Senate as a whole.


“Bills are then considered on the Senate floor.


“Some bills pass the Senate by unanimous consent, while others undergo a full debate – including amendment votes – before being voted on by the Senate as a whole.


“Then if necessary the bill goes to a conference committee or is passed back and forth between the House and Senate to reconcile any differences between the House and Senate bills, before the amended versions are then put to the full House and Senate.


“That is what is considered the ‘regular order’ process.


“And it is generally the best way to make laws.


“Regular order allows for a truly deliberative process.


“It provides the time to fully consider all aspects of legislation and hear input from a broad array of members.


“It promotes collaboration, compromise, and a sense of ownership of the final legislation, which makes bills more likely to pass.


“And it is a transparent process, one that ensures that both senators and the American people can see how the legislation in question is made, and have ample time to digest it.


“Not to mention the key fact that by ensuring the input of more senators, regular order helps ensure that a broader swath of the American people is represented in any final legislation.  


“Mr. President, regular order is something that I think most members generally aspire to.


“But the actual use of regular order has all too frequently been in short supply in recent years.


“Too often, major legislation has been written behind closed doors and dropped on members at the last minute – bypassing the chairmen, ranking members, and senators who sit on the committees of jurisdiction and would otherwise have the opportunity to consider and amend the legislation in committee – before being brought up for a floor vote with little or no opportunity to offer amendments.


“Mr. President, 50 years ago, most bills were going through regular order.


“In fact, 83 percent of the legislation considered on the Senate floor during the 1970s was a product of the committee process.


“But by the 2010s those numbers had dropped sharply – along with the number of Senate floor votes on amendments.


“But, of course, Mr. President, even while the use of regular order has decreased, some legislation does still go through the regular order process.


“And I can personally attest to the fact that the use of regular order can bring major bipartisan successes.


“During my time as chairman of the Commerce Committee, I focused on promoting collaboration and ensuring that bills in our jurisdiction went through the regular order process.


“And we accomplished a lot.


“The first reauthorization of the Federal Communications Commission in more than a quarter century.


“The first reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Board in its 20-year history.


“Multiple bills to advance the development and adoption of 5G.


“The longest surface transportation reauthorization since 1998.


“The longest reauthorization of the FAA since 1982.


“The first law to hold websites accountable for facilitating sex trafficking.


“And more.


“And the vast majority of the bills I just named ended up passing the Senate by strong bipartisan margins.


“And of course those are just examples in what was then my jurisdiction.


“There are plenty of others. 


“For example, Democrats are more often associated with imposing burdensome government regulations than with lifting them.


“But Senator Crapo’s 2018 bill easing the regulatory burden for community banks and credit unions went through the regular order process, and ultimately 17 Senate Democrats joined Republicans to support the bill.


“In 2015, the HELP Committee passed one of the largest rewrites of our nation’s K-12 laws, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which returned more power to states when it comes to how kids are educated, by holding numerous hearings and multiple days of markups and considering dozens of amendments. 

“In the end, that law passed with 85 votes in the Senate.


“The 2018 farm bill, which reauthorized important safety net programs for farmers and ranchers, passed the Senate with 87 votes following robust consideration by the Agriculture Committee, amendment votes on the Senate floor, and a conference committee.


“And the list goes on.


“Regular order promotes collaborative, bipartisan, successful results.


“Mr. President, as I indicated, regular order has been in somewhat short supply in the Senate in recent years.


“But I am encouraged by the fact that there seems to be a growing desire to return to regular order, and that the Democrat chair and Republican vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee have expressed a shared commitment to considering all 12 appropriations bills this year through the regular order process.


“But there are concerning signs too, Mr. President.


“The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee recently held its first partisan markup since the Affordable Care Act in 2009. 


“That defeats the whole idea of a committee process that can yield a bipartisan result on the Senate floor.


“And it suggests that Democrats are still too entrenched in the partisan, far-left mindset that saw them force legislation like the so-called American Rescue Plan Act through Congress – the bill that helped plunge our nation into its current inflation crisis.


“And perhaps even more concerning, recently the majority leader, when referring to his plans on artificial intelligence, actually claimed that Congress will need “to invent a new process to develop the right policies to implement our framework” because the committee process ‘won’t suffice.’


“I wonder how his committee chairs feel about that.


“I’d venture to suggest that the committee process has worked pretty well to develop all sorts of important legislation – and get buy-in from senators.


“Mr. President, as we continue with the appropriations process, I hope that the determination expressed by the Democrat chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee to pass all 12 appropriations bills through regular order will prevail.


“And I hope that this same attitude will be applied to other legislation that the Senate must consider this year – like the NDAA, the FAA reauthorization, the farm bill, and more.


“If we want to get anything done in divided government, we are going to have to compromise.


“And the regular order process promotes the kind of bipartisan, collaborative action that will allow us to accomplish real things for the American people.


“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”