Believe it or not, the US Senate has rules


In case you missed it, the formerly secret “employee handbook” of the US Senate has been obtained and published by USA Today. Odd, isn’t it, that while the House of Representatives rulebook has always been public, the Senate’s has been a closely guarded secret. If you’re wondering what they’ve been hiding, and whether your senator or any senator has been “playing by the rules,” you can now read the 380-page “compilation of the policies and regulations governing office administration, equipment and services, security and financial management” for yourself:

U.S. Senate Handbook:
Table of Contents (PDF)
Part I: Administration (PDF)
Part I: Appendices (PDF)
Part II: Equipment and Services (PDF)
Part IV: Financial Management (PDF)
Part IV: Appendices (PDF)

USA Today noted that some pages relating to national security were redacted (10 pages regarding law enforcement operations and bomb threats), but that otherwise the above is complete. You can still read all the regs regarding ID cards, potted plants, flags in the hallway, office assignments (seniority!), paper allotments and, of course, travel expenses.

For example, reporters are not allowed to read newspapers in the senate chamber. I wonder if that means paper and electronic versions? I’m guessing the rule was for appearance’s sake on television, or perhaps so as not to appear rude or disinterested while the senators were conducting business. But with all newspapers now available on mobile devices, I’m guessing rule violations go unnoticed.

And about that paper allocation:

“Each Senator receives annual paper allowances for blank paper, letterhead paper and envelopes” based on population with a formula of “one and one-third sheets of blank paper per adult constituent.” Thus the Illinois senators each receive 11,605,333 sheets of blank paper; the West Virginia senators receive only 1,874,667.

Other rules noted by the Washington Post:

The architect of the Capitol can provide a compact refrigerator for a senator’s office and a piano for events.

When the Senate is in session, music is prohibited in the Senate wing of the Capitol. However, music is allowed after 5 p.m. while the Senate is in recess. If you want to sing in Senate spaces, you must obtain a waiver.

Former senators are still allowed to use Senate dining rooms — on a limited basis. You are also allowed to get haircuts at the Senate hair salon.

If you want to put a U.S. flag or your state flag outside your office, the Senate Stationary Office can get those for you. But you have to bring the flags into your office every night.

The U.S. Botanical Garden has a loaning library of plants for Senate offices. But you can only borrow three at a time, and only six total during an entire year.

The Office of Printing Services keeps a running tally of how many sheets of blank paper Senate offices have used.

Senators are allotted a total of 50 picture frames every year. This number includes a maximum of 20 gold picture frames.

The rules explicitly prohibit senators from using appropriated funds for holiday cards.

As for the rules on travel expenses, well, if you’ve ever had to itemize travel expenses for an employer, you know how that works …

But hey, isn’t it refreshing to know our senators actually have some rules governing their behavior?

4 thoughts on “Believe it or not, the US Senate has rules

  1. If things go according to what they do with other stuff/written documents/those bill-type thingies, their staff reads the rules and summarizes or relays what they think is important…and if there’s problems, the senator can claim they had “no idea that’s what it meant”
    Snort worthy post! – just delightful! A must read!
    (Knew it was seniority for posh office locations..another reason term limits will never happen? Will have to look for the part that says they can’t sleep in their offices instead of buying of leasing a place to save money…probably payoff by realtors and leasing agents?)
    Thanks for grabbing this!

    1. They didn’t know what it meant or they were just too busy doing the country’s business to familiarize themselves with such menial reading. Maybe the freshmen senators read it because they’re all serious and idealistic about changing things. But give them a couple of years and they’ll forget every word of it.

  2. Be interesting to know how many Senators past and present knew/know of and abided by them, not too many nowadays I’d suspect but in the beginning probably all of them did.

    Then I could have it completely arse about to use an English /Australian expression.

    1. I suspect most of them have a passing knowledge of what’s in the rules — but only about those parts that directly benefit them. The rest they just ignore.

... and that's my two cents