Amendments on the House Floor: Summary of Major Restrictions

Amendments on the House Floor:
Summary of Major Restrictions
Judy Schneider
Specialist on the Congress
Government and Finance Division
The opportunities for Representatives to offer floor amendments to a bill or
resolution depends on the procedures by which the House considers the measure. In
!After general debate on a bill in Committee of the Whole, Members may
offer whatever amendments they choose if (1) those amendments comply
with applicable House rules and precedents, some of which are identified
below, (2) Members offer their amendments at the appropriate times, and
(3) the House has not adopted a special rule that prohibits consideration
of some or all amendments to the bill. An amendment also can be
proposed in a recommittal motion that is offered in the House after the
Committee of the Whole completes action on the bill and reports it back
to the House.
!In the House, under the one-hour rule, an amendment can be offered only
by the Member who controls the floor or if that Member yields to a
colleague for the purpose of offering an amendment. If the House votes
to order the previous question on a bill after no more than one hour of
debate, as it usually does, the effect of that vote is to prevent any floor
amendments, except for an amendment that may be incorporated into a
motion to recommit the bill.
!Under suspension of the rules, no floor amendments are in order.
However, the Member offering the suspension motion may include
amendments in the motion. If so, that Member moves to suspend the
rules and pass the measure as amended. The House cannot vote
separately on any such amendments.
General Restrictions on Amendments
The House’s rules and precedents impose certain restrictions that apply generally to
House floor amendments, regardless of the procedure under which they are offered.

In general, for example, an amendment is not in order (1) if the amendment is not
in writing at the time it is offered; (2) if the amendment is in the third degree — that is,
it is an amendment to an amendment to an amendment; (3) if the House already has acted
on an identical amendment; (4) if the amendment only proposes to re-amend a portion of
the bill that already has been amended; (5) if the amendment affects different parts of the
bill and actually constitutes two or more amendments that can be offered en bloc only by
unanimous consent; or (6) if the amendment is not offered at the time the Committee of
the Whole is considering amendments only to the section or title of the bill that the
amendment would affect. This list is not exhaustive, and there are exceptions to some of
these general restrictions. For instance, an amendment to a substitute for an amendment
is not considered to be a third degree amendment. Also, an amendment may re-amend
something that already has been amended if it does so in the process of amending a larger
part of the text in question.
The Germaneness Requirement
In addition to such general restrictions, clause 7 of House Rule XVI also requires that
each amendment must be germane to the text it would amend. This principle can be
difficult to apply in practice.
Volumes 10 and 11 of Deschler-Brown Precedents of the House of Representatives
devote almost 2,000 pages to the germaneness rule and its application. To be germane,
it is not sufficient that the amendment be relevant to the bill the House is considering or
even to the section or title of the bill that the amendment would change. It is possible for
an amendment to be relevant without satisfying the technical standards of germaneness.
In the commentary that follows the text of the germaneness rule in the House Rules
and Manual, the House parliamentarian identifies three tests of germaneness: subject
matter, fundamental purpose, and committee jurisdiction. To be germane: (1) “[a]n
amendment must relate to the subject matter under consideration;” (2) “[t]he fundamental
purpose of an amendment must be germane to the fundamental purpose of the bill;” and
(3) “[a]n amendment when considered as a whole should be within the jurisdiction of the
committee reporting the bill.”
None of these tests is always conclusive, nor is one of them necessarily more
controlling than the others. Furthermore, an amendment may satisfy all three of these
tests and still not be germane. To help explain this possibility, the parliamentarian also
elaborates several principles of germaneness, including the following: (1) “[o]ne
individual proposition may not be amended by another individual proposition even though
the two belong to the same class;” and (2) “[a] specific subject may not be amended by
a provision general in nature, even when of the class of the specific subject; but (3) “[a]
general subject may be amended by specific propositions of the same class.”