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Conference Committee

Definition: A mechanism by which the House of Representatives and the Senate reconcile differences between legislation they have passed in their respective chambers in order to pass one identical piece of legislation.

History: For a bill to become law, both chambers of Congress must agree to an identical piece of legislation that can then be signed by the President. One way to arrive at this point is for one chamber to pass a bill previously passed by the other chamber without modification. Otherwise, the Senate may take a House bill and amend it in its entirety by proposing an amendment in the nature of a substitute, and then send the bill back to the House. This is typical of bills that are constitutionally mandated to originate in the House of Representatives, such as a revenue/tax bill or an appropriations bill. A third way to pass an identical bill into law is by taking a piece of legislation from both the House and Senate and referring the two bills to a conference committee. Conference committees are made up of Senators and Representatives designated by the leadership of both chambers. Usually, the lead sponsors of each bill chair the conference committee. Once the conference committee debates, votes on a single bill, and produces a report, the bill is referred to both the House and the Senate. According to Senate Rule XXVIII and House Rule XXII, the conference bill and report are treated as privileged and will be placed on the floors of both chambers on an expedited schedule. The first chamber may vote to recommit the bill to the conference committee, but once the first chamber votes and passes the bill, the second no longer has the ability to send the bill back to conference.