The Hitchhiker's Guide to understanding the "72-hour rule" in the House of Representatives

The House and the Senate came to an agreement on a long-debated piece of legislation to renew the payroll tax cut late Wednesday.

While many may laud this as a rare piece of bi-partisanship in a notoriously divided Congress, lawmakers may not be able to vote on the bill as soon as they may have liked.

A Republican-backed reform in the House known as the "72-hour rule" may prevent lawmakers from voting on the bill by Friday.

There has been no official word from lawmakers that they want the bill to be voted on by Friday, but some made it clear earlier in the week that was the goal.

However, the official agreement has not yet been released online as of early Thursday. This is where the "three-day" rule may cause problems for lawmakers.

There is much confusion about how the so-called "72-hour rule," or the "three-day rule," works in the House of Representatives when it comes to considering legislation, but here is some basic history.

In the fall of 2010, Republicans unveiled their "Pledge to America." In a section titled "Our Plan to Restore Trust," the GOP propounded a series of operational reforms in the House of Representatives.

"We recognize that if we are truly committed to addressing the American people's highest priorities, the House of Representatives must operate differently – differently from the way the Democrats do now and differently from the way Republicans did in the past. Change begins at home," they said.

So, the pledge included a sub-section called "Read the Bill."

It went like this:

"We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives. No more hiding legislative language from the minority party, opponents, and the public. Legislation should be understood by all interested parties before it is voted on."

Of course, campaign documents have very little application when it comes to actually running the House of Representatives. But with the GOP in charge, the House formally implemented an element of the Pledge to America into its rules package in January 2011. This provision would require bills to be available online for a period of time before the House would consider them.

Here is the text of House rule XIII:

“4. (a)(1) Except as specified in subparagraph (2), it shall not be in order to consider in the House a measure or matter reported by a committee until the third calendar day (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays except when the House is in session on such a day) on which each report of a committee on that measure or matter has been available to Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner.”"

What the "72-hour" or "three-day" rule truly means is this: the House will not consider a bill unless it’s been posted for at least PARTS of three days.

So, if you post a bill online at 11:59:59 pm on a Wednesday, you could conceivably vote on it at 12:00:01 am on a Friday because that constitutes part of "three days."

That’s why it was so crucial for payroll tax conferees to try and get the text of this agreement online before midnight last night.

By doing so, the House would have adhered to its own internal rule and thus would have been able to consider the bill on Friday with no problem.

Since the House didn’t meet that goal, no one knows if they will try to debate the bill Friday or not.