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A simple resolution, also shortened to S. Res., is simply a resolution that does not have the full force of law behind it and therefore is considered a nonbinding position. Simple resolutions can be passed by a legislative body for a number of reasons. They can be used to clear up logistical issues or as political tools.
In most cases, a simple resolution is used to set rules for a governing body. In the U.S. Congress for example, either the Senate or House of Representatives may pass such a resolution to set a schedule, set up a committee or for some other housekeeping measure that is usually not controversial. When a resolution is used in such a manner, it normally receives very little attention from the general public.
In Congress, because simple resolutions represent nonbinding positions of that particular legislative body, they do not require approval from the other house, or approval from the president. If, for example, the Senate takes up a resolution passed by the House of Representatives, it is considered its own, independent document, unrelated to the Senate proposal. This is true even though the wording in both proposals may be identical.
although a simple resolution normally does not demand much attention from the general public, there are exceptions. For example, Congress made headlines in 1997 when both the House and the Senate passed resolutions concerning the Iraq War and a sustained troop build up. Though the issue did not affect U.S. policy, it represented a direct conflict of opinion between the majority of the Congress and the president. Despite this extreme case, most of the time such a resolution is passed with no fanfare and broad support.
A simple resolution can be used as a political tool in some cases. For example, one party, thinking its members will benefit from a particular vote, may wish to get members of the other party on the record concerning an issue. Usually, the voting on a resolution is done by a roll call vote, forcing congressional members to either vote yes, no, or abstain. In such cases, certain members may then have to go back to their respective districts and defend their votes.
Wasn't there some talk that using a simple resolution might be one way Obama could "declare" war on the Islamic State without asking for formal approval from Congress? That it would be a way to expand fighting against extremists in Iraq and Syria without new approval by Congress that is required under the 1973 War Powers Act?