To Defer Action

57. To Defer Action. (a) Postpone to a certain time. If it is desired to defer action upon a question till a particular time, the proper motion to make, is to "postpone it to that time." This motion allows of but limited debate, which must be confined to the propriety of the postponement to that time; it can be amended by altering the time, and this amendment allows of the same debate. The time specified must not be beyond that session [ 70] of the assembly, except it be the next session, in which case it comes up with the unfinished business at the next session. This motion can be made when a motion to amend, or to commit or to postpone indefinitely, is pending.

(b) Lie on the table. Instead of postponing a question to a particular time, it may be desired to lay it aside temporarily until some other question is disposed of, retaining the privilege of resuming its consideration at any time.* [In Congress this motion is commonly used to defeat a measure, though it does not prevent a majority from taking it at any other time. Some societies prohibit a question from being taken from the table, except by a two-thirds vote. This rule deprives the society of the advantages of the motion to "lie on the table." because it would not be safe to lay a question aside temporarily, if one-third of the assembly were opposed to the measure, as that one-third could prevent its ever being taken from the table. A bare majority should not have the power, in ordinary societies, to adopt or reject a question, or prevent its consideration, without debate. [See note at end of 35, Rules of Order, on the principles involved in making questions undebatable.] The only way to accomplish this, is to move that the question "lie on the table." This motion allowing of neither debate nor amendment, the chairman immediately puts the question; if carried, the whole matter is laid aside until the assembly vote to "take it from the table" (which latter motion is undebatable and possesses no privilege). Sometimes this motion is used to suppress a measure, as shown in 59 (c).

To Suppress Debate

58. To Suppress Debate. (a) Previous Question. While as a general rule free debate is allowed upon every motion,* [Except an "objection to the consideration of the question" [ 59 (a)]. See note to 35, Rules of Order, for a full discussion of this subject of debate.] which, if adopted, has the effect of adopting the original question or removing it from before the assembly for the session,--yet, to prevent a minority from making an improper use of this privilege, it is necessary to have methods by which debate can be closed, and final action at once be taken upon a question.

To accomplish this, when any debatable question is before the assembly, it is only necessary for some one to obtain the floor and "call for the previous question;" this call being seconded, the chairman, as it allows of no debate, instantly puts the question, thus: "Shall the main question be now put?" If this is carried by a two-thirds vote [ 68], all debate instantly ceases, excepting that the member who offered the original resolution, or reported it from a committee, is, as in all other cases, entitled to the floor to close the debate; after which, the chairman immediately puts the questions to the assembly, first, on the motion to commit, if it is pending; if this is carried, of course the subject goes to the committee; if, however, it fails, the vote is next taken on amendments, and finally on the resolution as amended.

If a motion to postpone, either definitely or indefinitely, or a motion to reconsider, or an appeal is pending, the previous question is exhausted by the vote on the postponement, reconsideration or appeal, and does not cut off debate upon any other motions that may be pending. If the call for the previous question fails, that is, the debate is not cut off, the debate continues the same as if this motion had not been made. The previous question can be called for simply on an amendment, and after the amendment has been acted upon, the main question is again open to debate.

(b) An order limiting or closing debate. Sometimes, instead of cutting off debate entirely by ordering the previous question, it is desirable to allow of but very limited debate. In this case, a motion is made to limit the time allowed each speaker or the number of speeches on each side, or to appoint a time at which debate shall close and the question be put. The motion may be made to limit debate on an amendment, in which case the main question would afterwards be open to debate and amendment; or it may be made simply on an amendment to an amendment.

In ordinary societies, where harmony is so important, a two-thirds vote should be required for the adoption of any of the above motions to cut off or limit debate.* [In the House of Representatives, these motions require only a majority vote for their adoption. In the Senate, to the contrary, not even two-thirds of the members can force a measure to its passage without allowing debate, the Senate rules not recognizing the above motions.