For major legislation in the House of Representatives, the House Rules Committee establishes a "rule" or "special rule" that lays out the procedure for consideration of the bill.
The rule typically serves several purposes, as outlined by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service:
- It makes the measure "privileged" so it can be considered ahead of other business
- It sets the length of time and leaders for debate
- It may waive points of order that can be made against the bill
- It sets the parameters for amendments that can be offered. Under an "open rule", any amendments that meet normal House requirements can be considered; under a "closed rule", no amendments are allowed. The Rules Committee may also propose a rule that falls somewhere in between a totally open or closed rule.
Rules must also be approved by a vote in the House, which is usually the first vote held on any major legislation. As CRS describes, votes on the rule are tyically considered a "party vote" and it is not uncommon that a Member may vote in favor of the rule and against the actual bill itself.
Most non-controversial bills do not come up under a rule but are brought under "Suspension of the Rules."