The Amending Process in the House of Representatives
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
Most amendments that Representatives propose to legislation on the House floor are offered in
Committee of the Whole. Measures considered under suspension of the rules are not amendable
on the floor, and few amendments are proposed to bills and resolutions considered in the House,
or in the House as in Committee of the Whole.
The House’s procedures recognize distinctions between first and second-degree amendments,
between perfecting and substitute amendments, and among amendments in the forms of motions
to strike, to insert, and to strike out and insert. An amendment in the nature of a substitute
proposes to replace the entire text of a bill or resolution. All amendments must be germane to the
text they would amend, and they are subject to other general prohibitions such as that against
proposing only to re-amend language that already has been fully amended. Additional restrictions
apply to appropriations and tax amendments, and the budget process creates various other points
of order that Members may make against certain amendments. In general, a Member must make a
point of order against an amendment before debate on it begins, unless that point of order is
waived by a special rule.
In Committee of the Whole, measures usually are considered for amendment one section or title
at a time. Members must offer their amendments to appropriate parts of a bill when it has been
read or designated. Each amendment is debated under the five-minute rule, providing five
minutes for the Member offering the amendment and five minutes for a Members in opposition.
After this first 10 minutes of debate, Members may obtain additional time for debate by offering
pro forma amendments in the form of motions to strike the last word or the requisite number of
words. Unless barred by the terms of a special rule reported by the House Committee on Rules,
each amendment in Committee of the Whole may be amended by a perfecting amendment or a
substitute amendment or both. A substitute for an amendment also is amendable. After the
Committee of the Whole disposes of the last amendment to be offered to the bill, it rises and the
House then votes again on all the amendments the Committee has approved. A recommittal
motion usually offers a final opportunity to amend a bill or joint resolution before the House
votes on passing it.
Introduc tion ..................................................................................................................................... 1
Distinctions Among Amendments...................................................................................................2
Degrees of Amendments...........................................................................................................2
Forms of Amendments..............................................................................................................2
Effects of Amendments.............................................................................................................3
Amendments in the Nature of Substitutes for Measures...........................................................4
Principles and Prohibitions..............................................................................................................7
The Germaneness Rule.............................................................................................................9
Offering and Debating Amendments.............................................................................................13
In the House............................................................................................................................13
In Committee of the Whole and the House.............................................................................16
Reading Measures For Amendment..................................................................................18
After The Committee Rises and Reports..........................................................................25
Procedures for Amendments on Which the Votes of Delegates Were Decisive................27
The Motion To Recommit.................................................................................................27
In the House as in Committee of the Whole...........................................................................29
Under Suspension of the Rules...............................................................................................30
The Amendment Tree....................................................................................................................31
Motions to Insert and to Strike Out and Insert........................................................................32
Motion to Strike Out...............................................................................................................36
Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute for a Measure........................................................36
Special Procedures for Tax and Appropriations Measures............................................................38
Making and Reserving Points of Order.........................................................................................41
Summary of the Effects of Special Rules......................................................................................42
Sources of Additional Information................................................................................................43
Figure 1. The Amendment Tree.....................................................................................................32
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................44
The amending process on the floor of the House of Representatives gives Members an
opportunity to change the provisions of the bills and resolutions on which they are going to vote. 2
This report summarizes many of the procedures and practices affecting this process, which can 3
be among the most complex as well as the most important stages of legislative consideration.
The discussion that follows is intended to be a useful introduction; however, it is not exhaustive
and it cannot substitute for a careful examination of the House’s rules and precedents themselves,
for close observation of the House in session, and for consultation with the parliamentarian and
his associates on specific procedural problems and opportunities.
The way in which the House considers each measure affects Members’ opportunities for
amending it and the procedures that govern the amending process. There are essentially four
alternative sets of procedures, or modes of consideration, by which the House considers public
bills and resolutions on the floor: (1) under suspension of the rules, (2) in the House, under the
hour rule, (3) in Committee of the Whole and the House, and rarely, (4) in the House as in 4
Committee of the Whole.
The overwhelming majority of the floor amendments on which Representatives vote are offered
while measures are being considered in Committee of the Whole, before being reported back to
the House for votes on final passage. Under the suspension of the rules procedure, floor
amendments are prohibited, although the Member making the motion may do so with an
amendment. In the House and the House as in Committee of the Whole, floor amendments are
technically in order but are much less likely to be offered, either because of the procedures
involved or because of the nature of the measures being considered.
There are several distinctions among different kinds of amendments as well as some general
principles and prohibitions governing the amendments that Members and committees can offer.
These distinctions, principles, and prohibitions can be important, whatever set of procedures the
House is following, although they are more likely to matter when measures are considered in
Committee of the Whole than under other circumstances.
This report begins with a discussion of distinctions among amendments, followed by some
observations on drafting amendments and on several general principles and prohibitions affecting
the amending process. Next it examines the specific possibilities and procedures for offering and
1 This report was originally written by Dr. Stanley Bach, formerly a Senior Specialist in the Legislative Process at CRS.
2 All citations in this report, which necessarily are selective, are to the rules of the 110th Congress; the annotations to
the rules appearing in the House Rules and Manual for the 109th Congress (H.Doc. 108-241), and the precedents
compiled and published in House Practice, A Guide to the Rules, Precedents, and Procedures of the House, (cited as
House Practice), Procedure in the U.S. House of Representatives and its 1985 and 1987 Supplements (cited as House
Procedure, House Procedure, 1985 Supplement, and House Procedure, 1987 Supplement). The amendment process
also is the subject of volume 9 of Deschler-Brown Precedents of the U.S. House of Representatives.
3 This report only addresses the amending process that may take place on the floor before the House first votes on
passing a measure. It assumes a basic familiarity with some of the other stages of the legislative process, such as
committee hearings, markups, and reports, the manner in which measures reach the House floor for consideration, and
the general purposes and uses of special rules. CRS reports that discuss some of these and related subjects are listed at
the end of this report.
4 Clause 5 of Rule XV provides for considering private bills and resolutions under this procedure, although it is rarely
used in practice.
debating amendments under each of the four sets of procedures, beginning with measures that are
debated and amended in the House, under the hour rule, and then those that are considered first in
Committee of the Whole and then in the House. The possible “amendment tree” that may develop
is then discussed. The report also discusses several other elements of the amending process: the
special procedures and rules governing appropriations and tax amendments and amendments
affecting federal spending programs; the procedures for making points of order against
amendments; and the effects of special rules on the amending process. At the end of the report is
a list of sources of additional information.
This report concentrates on amendment procedures under the House’s standing rules and
precedents. It does not address the various ways in which special rules can affect the amending
process, nor does it discuss the points of order that Members may make against amendments
under the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 and subsequent laws. On
these subjects, see CRS Report 98-612, Special Rules and Options for Regulating the Amending
Process and CRS Report 97-865, Points of Order in the Congressional Budget Process, by James
Amendments are not all the same. One can distinguish among amendments in terms of their
degree, their form, and their effects. Moreover, these are not merely analytical distinctions; they
can help us understand what amendments Members may offer, under what circumstances, and
with what consequences.
Whenever a bill or resolution can be amended on the House floor, it is subject to amendments in
two degrees. An amendment in the first degree proposes to change the text of the measure itself.
After a Representative offers a first-degree amendment but before the House votes on it, another 5
Member may propose an amendment to that amendment. An amendment to a first-degree
amendment is an amendment in the second degree. The House then debates and votes on the
second-degree amendment before voting on the first-degree amendment, which now may have
been amended. As a general rule, third degree amendments (amendments to second-degree 6
amendments) are not in order.
Amendments may also be distinguished in terms of their form. First, an amendment may propose
only to insert something into a bill or resolution (or first-degree amendment) without changing
the provisions already in it. For example, the amendment may propose to insert a new section or
title without affecting the existing sections and titles.
5 Unless otherwise noted, references throughout this report to the House also apply to the Committee of the Whole.
Clause 12 of Rule XVIII states that “[t]he Rules of the House are the rules of the Committee of the Whole House on the
state of the Union so far as applicable.”
6 House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 14, p. 29. When the amendment to an amendment is a substitute, the substitute may be
amended. See the section on “The Amendment Tree.”
Second, the amendment may propose only to strike out something from a measure (or first-degree
amendment) without inserting anything in its place. For example, the amendment may propose to
strike out as little as one word or as much as one or more titles of a bill.
Third, and finally, an amendment may propose to both strike out and insert by replacing
something that is already in the measure (or first-degree amendment) with something else. For
example, the amendment may propose only to change a dollar amount, or it may replace a section
or title of a bill with an entirely different version of that section or title.
Members sometimes characterize their amendments in terms of these effects; for instance,
Representatives may state that they wish to offer a motion to strike out a particular section or that
their amendment is a motion to strike out and insert. As this indicates, amendments are a special
kind of motion.
A third way of distinguishing among amendments is in terms of their effects. With respect to first-
degree amendments, an amendment may propose only to make some change in the portion of the
bill or resolution being considered for amendment without affecting the rest of it. Such an
amendment is a perfecting amendment; it proposes to change—and, therefore, presumably
perfect—that portion of the bill without replacing it altogether. For instance, a section of a bill
may authorize an amount of money to be appropriated for certain purposes. An amendment to
change only the dollar figure, but not the purposes for which that amount is authorized, would be
a perfecting amendment.
On the other hand, an amendment may propose to strike out the entire pending portion of a bill—
whether it be a paragraph, section, or title—and replace it completely. For instance, the
amendment could propose to strike out a section of an authorization bill and replace it with a new
section that changes both the amount that is authorized and the purposes for which it is
authorized. Such an amendment may be designated an amendment in the nature of a substitute, 7
although Members typically do not do so.
Of greater practical importance are the differences in effects among amendments to amendments.
An amendment proposing to make some change in the text of a first-degree amendment, without
replacing it completely, is a perfecting amendment. By contrast, an amendment to replace the
entire text of a first-degree amendment is a substitute amendment. The significance of this
distinction will emerge from the discussion of the “amendment tree.”
The difference between perfecting amendments and substitute amendments depends primarily on
the way in which they are drafted and not on the magnitude of the policy changes they would
make. A perfecting amendment may replace all but the first word, line, or sentence of a section of
a bill (or a first-degree amendment) and so entirely change its substantive effect. Conversely, a
7 While an amendment in the nature of a substitute is in every instance a “motion to strike out and insert,” the term
“amendment in the nature of a substitute” applies only to those motions which propose to strike out an entire pending
text and to insert new matter and is not used to describe those motions to strike out and insert which may be properly
characterized as “perfecting amendments” and which go only to a portion of the pending text. House Practice, ch. 2,
sec. 7, p. 21.
substitute for a first-degree amendment would amend the text completely but might make only
one minor substantive change and replace the remainder with precisely the same language.
A perfecting amendment may take any one of the three possible forms; it may propose to strike
out, to insert, or to strike out and insert. On the other hand, a substitute amendment is a proposal
to replace one thing with another, and so it always takes the form of a motion to strike out and
Finally, a special kind of amendment, known as an amendment in the nature of a substitute,
always proposes to replace the entire text of a bill or resolution, not some lesser portion of the
measure. This amendment strikes out everything after the enacting clause of a bill, or the 8
resolving clause of a resolution, and replaces the entire text of the measure with a different text.
If a majority of Members vote for such an amendment, Representatives cannot offer any
additional amendments to the measure because it has been amended in its entirety. When
Members refer to an amendment in the nature of a substitute, they almost always have this kind of
amendment in mind, although, as noted above, the same phrase can be, in a technical sense,
applied to an amendment that proposes to replace whatever portion of the measure is then being
considered for amendment.
There are several unique characteristics about the way in which the House considers amendments
in the nature of substitutes for the entire text of measures. First, most often this kind of
amendment is recommended by a committee at the same time it reports the measure itself. And in
practice, Members almost always want to devote far more of their time and attention on the floor
to this committee alternative than to the text of the bill as introduced. For this reason, special
rules reported by the Rules Committee usually give a committee substitute special standing
during the amending process in Committee of the Whole by providing for Members to offer their
amendments to that substitute rather than to the bill itself. The committee substitute is considered
“as an original bill for the purpose of amendment,” meaning that it is not treated as a first-degree 9
amendment. Instead, it is amendable in two degrees as if it were the text of a measure.
Second, if an amendment in the nature of a substitute for a bill or resolution is not given this
special standing, a Member can propose it as a first-degree amendment at only two points during
the amending process in Committee of the Whole. The amendment is in order either at the very
beginning of the process or at the very end, after the committee has voted on all other 10
amendments to the text of the measure. But even if a Member or committee offers an
8 The enacting clause reads “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America
in Congress assembled,” and is followed by the text of the bill. There is a different resolving clause for each kind of
resolution (simple, concurrent, and joint) that also precedes the text of the resolution.
9 Special rules also may give the same special standing to such an amendment in the nature of a substitute that has been
printed in a report of the Rules Committee or the Congressional Record or that is embodied as the text of another bill.
10 An amendment in the nature of a substitute for a bill is in order after the first section of the bill has been read for
amendment...or following the reading of the final section of the bill.... However, an amendment in the nature of a
substitute for a bill is not in order at an intermediate stage of the reading.... Of course, if the bill is considered as having
been read for amendment, then an amendment in the nature of a substitute may be offered at any time during
consideration of the bill. An amendment in the nature of a substitute may ordinarily be offered after the reading of the
first section of a bill being read by sections notwithstanding the pendency of committee amendments adding new
amendment in the nature of a substitute at the beginning of the amending process, the Committee
of the Whole typically does not vote on it until the end of the process because Members will
direct most—usually all—of their amendments to it.
Finally, when an amendment in the nature of a substitute for everything after the enacting or
resolving clause is proposed at the beginning of the amending process, other Members can
propose amendments to the pending portion of the measure as well as to the complete substitute;
if so, they vote on any and all such amendments before voting on the amendment in the nature of
a substitute. (This possibility, which rarely arises in practice, is discussed at the end of the section
on “The Amendment Tree.”)
Clause 1 of Rule XVI requires that every amendment offered on the House floor must be in
writing, and it must be drafted accurately to achieve its intended procedural and policy effects.
Each amendment must state precisely where and how it would amend the measure or other 11
amendment, identifying the specific pages, lines, and words it would affect. The text of every
amendment reveals its form (whether it inserts, strikes out, or strikes out and inserts), and also
may identify it as a perfecting or substitute amendment. The following examples illustrate some
of the ways in which various kinds of amendments may be drafted.
Amendments to a measure:
After line 8 on page 23, insert the following:
At the end of Title III, insert the following new section:
To strike out:
Beginning on page 3, strike out line 1 and all that follows through line 14 on page 4.
To strike out and insert:
On line 10 of page 7, strike out “$100” and insert in lieu thereof “$50”.
To strike out all after the enacting (or resolving) clause and insert:
Strike out all after the enacting (or resolving) clause and insert in lieu thereof the
sections to the bill. House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 19, p. 19.
11 Ibid., p. 18.
Amendments to an amendment:
Perfecting amendment—to insert:
At the end of the amendment offered by the gentleman from New York, insert the
Perfecting amendment—to strike out:
In the amendment offered by the gentlewoman from California, strike out Section 2.
Perfecting amendment—to strike out and insert:
In the amendment offered by the gentleman from Wisconsin, strike out “$100” and insert
in lieu thereof “$50.”
Strike out Section 1 of the pending amendment and insert in lieu thereof the following:
In lieu of the matter proposed to be inserted by the gentleman from Texas, insert the
It is sometimes possible to draft an amendment in more than one way. It bears emphasizing that
the distinction between perfecting and substitute amendments generally is a matter of drafting
style, not substantive effect. For example, imagine an appropriations bill that includes the
following on lines 6 and 7 of page 12:
For the salaries and expenses of the Congressional Research Service of the Library of
A Member who wishes to amend this appropriation to increase it to $1,000 could draft the
amendment in at least two different ways:
On line 7 of page 12, strike out “$500” and insert in lieu thereof “$1,000” or
Strike out lines 6 and 7 on page 12 and insert in lieu thereof the following: “For the salaries
and expenses of the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, $1,000.”
These two amendments would have precisely the same substantive effect, even though they are
drafted differently. Representatives sometimes find it advisable to have amendments (and
especially amendments to amendments) drafted in more than one way, especially when a bill or
resolution is considered in Committee of the Whole, because the development of an “amendment
tree” may permit or encourage a Member to propose an amendment in one form, but not in
The examples offered above are illustrative only. The House Rules Committee regularly points
out to Members drafting amendments that they should, “... use the Office of Legislative Counsel
to ensure that their amendments are properly drafted and should check with the Office of the
Parliamentarian to be certain their amendments comply with the rules of the House.”
A number of general principles and prohibitions govern the amending process and restrict the
amendments that committees and individual Representatives may propose on the floor. Many of
these principles and prohibitions derive from House precedents, but the best known restriction on
amendments—the germaneness requirement—is embodied in the House rules themselves. Like
most other House procedures, Members generally must enforce these principles and prohibitions,
and thereby protect their own rights and interests, by making appropriate points of order. The
procedures for doing so are discussed in a later section of this report.
The House’s published precedents are the source for many of the principles and restrictions
affecting the amending process. For example, the prohibition against third degree amendments is
one of the most basic limitations on the amendments that Members may offer, but it is not stated 12
explicitly in the standing rules. Precedents govern the amending process in several other
Standing committees do not actually amend measures during their markups; instead, a committee
votes on what amendments it wishes to recommend to the House. These amendments then have
the status of committee amendments. If the committee reports a measure with one or more
amendments, they receive priority consideration on the floor and they are considered 13
automatically. The House considers each of them at the appropriate time; it is not necessary for
a committee member to offer them from the floor. When and how the committee amendments are
considered depends on the set of procedures under which the bill or resolution itself is being
Under several possible procedures for considering amendments to a measure, it is “open to
amendment at any point”—that is, amendments can be offered to any part of the bill in any order.
In such a case, the Speaker directs the clerk to read the first committee amendment as soon as the
bill is considered for amendment. After the House votes on this amendment, it considers any
additional committee amendments in turn. Members may be able to offer their own amendments
to each committee amendment, but they generally may not propose amendments to the text of the
bill itself until the House has completed action on the committee amendments. The amending
process under these procedures usually is routine; typically, no more than one committee
amendment is to be considered.
On the other hand, the particularly important procedures governing the amending process in
Committee of the Whole usually are governed by the principle that a measure is to be “read for
amendment”—that is, only one paragraph, section, or title of the measure is open to amendment
12 In Section XXXIII of his Manual of Parliamentary Practice, Thomas Jefferson held third degree amendments to be
out of order, and House Rule XVIII states in part that the “rules of parliamentary practice comprised by Jefferson’s
Manual shall govern the House in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with the
Rules and orders of the House.”
13 For a discussion of precedents concerning committee amendments, see House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 29, pp. 44-45.
at a time. In this case, the Committee of the Whole automatically considers any committee
amendment(s) to each part of the bill as soon as it is read. Again, Representatives may propose
amendments to each committee amendment, but the Members must dispose of the committee
amendments to each part of the measure before they can offer other amendments to that part of it.
An exception to this principle arises whenever the committee amendment takes the form of a
motion to strike out some language or provision of the bill. While such a committee amendment
is pending, a Member may offer an amendment to change the part of the bill that the committee
proposes to strike out altogether. This possibility is considered in more detail during the
discussion of the “amendment tree.”
Also, the committee’s recommendations for changes in a bill or resolution often are embodied in
a single amendment in the nature of a substitute. As already noted, the special rules for
considering measures often make special arrangements for Members to consider a committee
substitute in Committee of the Whole by designating it as a proposal that Members may amend in
two degrees. Because of this widespread practice, it is increasingly rare to see multiple committee
amendments considered on the House floor in this way.
Several other general principles govern the amending process. First, clause 2 of Rule XVI
requires that the clerk is to read each amendment when it is offered and before debate on it 14
begins, whether it is a committee amendment or one proposed by an individual Member. The
sponsor or principal proponent of the amendment very often asks unanimous consent that the
amendment be considered as read, and there usually is no objection unless an interested Member
is not familiar with it and wants time to examine the amendment before it is debated. In addition,
a Member may move to dispense with the reading, under circumstances discussed in a later
section, but only if Members already have access to a printed copy of the amendment.
Second, an amendment should not affect the measure in more than one place. This principle
protects the House against having to cast one vote on two or more propositions that may be
unrelated. Thus, an amendment to replace the text of Section 201 and add a new sentence at the
end of Section 203 is subject to a point of order if the bill is being read by sections. Instead, the
sponsor of the amendment could offer each part of it as a separate amendment, or the sponsor
could ask unanimous consent that the two amendments be considered “en bloc”—that is, as if 15
they were one amendment. There often is no objection to such a request if both amendments are
necessary to achieve a single purpose. Alternatively, if the title containing Sections 201 and 203
has been read for amendment, or if the bill is open to amendment at any point, the sponsor could
avoid a point of order by drafting a single amendment to strike out Sections 201-203 and replace 16
them with the preferred provisions.
Third, any Member may demand, as a matter of right, the division of an amendment proposing to
insert additional provisions into (or strike provisions from) a measure or first-degree amendment,
but only if the amendment to be divided (or the matter to be stricken) consists of two or more
14 House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 27, p. 41.
15 House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 30, p. 45.
16 If so, the text of Section 202 proposed in the amendment would be identical to the text of Section 202 already in the
parts that, in the judgment of the chair, could stand as independent propositions. When an
amendment is divided, the House considers each division of the amendment in turn, as if each
were a separate amendment. This right, which also protects the House against having to cast a
single vote on two or more separable proposals, is conveyed by clause 5 of Rule XVI; however,
the same rule states in part that a motion to strike out and insert is not divisible. It is important to
keep in mind that special rules can limit the divisibility of amendments.
Fourth, the same amendment may not be offered more than once.17 If the House has considered
and rejected an amendment, it may not be offered again unless it has been changed substantively.
Otherwise, the House could not be sure of its ability to dispose of questions conclusively.
However, a part of a rejected amendment may be offered as a separate amendment, and the entire
text of the rejected amendment may be included as part of a larger amendment. In addition, it is
sometimes possible to offer two amendments that are substantively identical. For example, a
Member may propose to add a new title to the text of a bill, and also move to insert the same new
title into the text of an amendment in the nature of a substitute for the bill. These amendments are
different procedurally because each seeks to amend a different text.
Fifth, it is not in order for a Representative to offer an amendment that proposes only to amend 18
language that already has been amended. If not for this principle, the House would have
difficulty resolving questions once and for all. Thus, if a dollar number in an appropriations bill
has been amended, another amendment that would only change the same number again is subject
to a point of order. Or if the House agrees to a substitute for a section or title of a bill, no further 19
amendments only to that section or title are in order because it has been fully amended. Any
further amendment to it would constitute a prohibited attempt to re-amend. An important
implication of this principle is that adoption of an amendment in the nature of a substitute
precludes all further amendments to the measure. This complete substitute replaces the entire text
of the bill or resolution, so any new amendment would propose to re-amend something that
already has been fully amended.
An exception to the prohibition against re-amendment is what is sometimes called the principle of
“the bigger bite.” Representatives may seek to amend something already amended if they do so as 20
part of an amendment to change a larger part of the text. For example, a Member may re-amend
a dollar figure in an appropriations bill by offering a substitute for the paragraph containing that
number, so long as the amendment also makes some other substantive change in the paragraph.
Similarly, after the House has agreed to a substitute for a section of a bill, a Member may propose
a substitute for the title containing that section, and thereby re-amend the section in the process of
amending other sections of the same title. Each of these amendments takes a bigger bite out of the
text than the amendment the House already has considered and adopted.
Clause 7 of Rule XVI states in part that “no motion or proposition on a subject different from that
under consideration shall be admitted under color of amendment.”
17 House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 44, pp. 57-58.
18 Annotations to Section XXXV of Jefferson’s Manual in House Rules and Manual.
19 House Procedure, ch. 2, secs 8-41, pp. 52-56.
20 Annotations to Section XXXV of Jefferson’s Manual in House Rules and Manual.
This brief clause constitutes the germaneness rule—a rule that is simple and straightforward in
principle, but complex and sometimes difficult to apply in practice. Indeed, determining whether
an amendment is germane can be the most challenging, and even perplexing, task in interpreting
the House’s legislative procedures. The four-line rule is accompanied by 28 pages of commentary th
and explanation in the House Rules and Manual for the 109 Congress, and discussions of
precedents on this subject consume all the 1,957 pages of volumes 10 and 11 of Deschler’s 21
Precedents of the House of Representatives.
The principle underlying the germaneness rule is that the House should consider one subject at a
time. While debating authorizations for military weapons systems, for example, the House should
not be distracted by amendments concerning food safety, mass transit, or other unrelated subjects.
The object of the rule is not simply orderliness. If not for the germaneness requirement, Members
could offer amendments on any subject of their choice, thereby bypassing the standing committee
system and depriving the House of the committees’ expert appraisals, recommendations, and
reports. Furthermore, Members could be compelled to vote on unanticipated questions without
adequate time for preparation. In sum, the germaneness rule is designed to encourage systematic
and thoughtful legislative decisions.
Germaneness is a requirement that applies to all amendments originating in the House, whether
proposed by individual Representatives or recommended by House committees. Because the rule
prohibits amendments on a new subject, it does not apply to the provisions of measures
themselves; anything contained in a bill or resolution is immune to challenge on grounds of
germaneness. Also, Members generally may not make points of order against nongermane Senate
amendments until the House has reached the stage of disagreement with the Senate over a 22
measure—and usually when the House begins to consider a conference report.
In determining whether an amendment proposed on the House floor is germane, the chair
normally is concerned with the relationship between the amendment and the text it proposes to
amend. In general, a second-degree perfecting amendment or a substitute for an amendment must
be germane to the amendment it would affect. So it may be ruled nongermane even though it
could be germane to the underlying text of the bill. And a first-degree amendment to a section or
title of a bill must be germane to that section or title; the chair may rule it nongermane even 23
though it might be germane to some other portion of the bill. On the other hand, an amendment
proposing to add a new section or title at the end of a measure may be subjected to a broader test:
whether it is germane to the text of the measure as a whole.
Also, an amendment must be germane to the text it would amend as that text reads at the time the
amendment is proposed. Thus, it is not sufficient that an amendment be germane to the bill as
originally introduced (or to the first-degree amendment as originally proposed). Instead, the
amendment must be germane to the bill (or amendment) as it already may have been amended.
By its votes on amendments offered earlier during its consideration, the House may have
21 For a more digestable selection of recent precedents on germaneness, see House Practice, ch. 26, pp. 525-585.
22 The standing rules of the Senate do not require floor amendments to be germane except when proposed to general
appropriations measures, when a rule making statute requires it, and after cloture has been invoked. On the other hand,
the Senate sometimes imposes a germaneness requirement on itself, by unanimous consent, during consideration of
individual measures. House procedures for dealing with nongermane Senate amendments appear in clauses 9 and 10 of
Rule XXII. See also “Sources of Additional Information,” and Stanley Bach, “Germaneness Rules and Bicameral
Relations in the U.S. Congress,” Legislative Studies Quarterly, vol. VII, no. 3, August 1982, pp. 341-357.
23 House Practice, ch. 26, sec. 3, p. 529.
broadened or narrowed a bill (or amendment) in ways that affect the germaneness of other
amendments that Members then propose. This situation adds to the difficulty of anticipating,
evaluating, and protecting against germaneness challenges. The parliamentarian and his
associates can offer a Representative expert advice on the germaneness of a prospective
amendment. But by the time the Representative actually offers the amendment on the floor, the
House may have amended the bill (or amendment) in ways that change the relationship on which
the germaneness ruling is based—the relationship between the proposed amendment and the text
it proposes to amend.
The concept of germaneness is akin to that of relevance or pertinence, but more restrictive. The
mere fact that the House is considering a tax bill, for instance, does not necessarily mean that any
amendment affecting federal taxes is germane. Instead, case by case, the House has gradually
developed an extensive body of precedents to assist and guide the chair in ruling on points of
order that particular amendments are not germane. No other question of order arises so often, and
no other rulings can be as difficult for Members and staff to predict. The precedents on
germaneness are voluminous and often based on fine distinctions, distinctions that the chair
explains in making rulings but that are not always obvious from the concise way in which the
rulings have been summarized in print.
Thus, although new rulings are always based on earlier ones, it is often possible to develop from
the precedents plausible arguments both for and against the same point of order on germaneness.
However, while germaneness decisions may appear to be contradictory if only the published
headnotes are studied, there is more apparent consistency if the factual situations are carefully
To help Members and staff understand how the germaneness rule has been interpreted and
applied, the parliamentarian’s commentary in the House Rules and Manual identifies three “tests”
of germaneness: subject matter, fundamental purpose, and committee jurisdiction.
First, to be germane, “[a]n amendment must relate to the subject matter under consideration.” For
example, “[t]o a bill seeking to eliminate wage discrimination based on the sex of the employee,
an amendment to make the provisions of the bill applicable to discrimination based on race....”
was ruled to be nongermane. In this case, the chair evidently held that the subject matter of the 24
bill was not wage discrimination in general, but sex discrimination in particular. Thus, the
amendment to extend the coverage of the bill to race discrimination proposed to raise a different
subject and, therefore, was nongermane.
Second, “[t]he fundamental purpose of an amendment must be germane to the fundamental
purpose of the bill.” More specifically, “an amendment must not only have the same end as the
matter sought to be amended, but must contemplate a method of achieving that end that is closely
allied to the method encompassed in the bill or other matter sought to be amended....” Among
amendments that have met this test, the parliamentarian cites the following example: “to a
proposition to accomplish a result through regulation by a governmental agency, an amendment
to accomplish the same fundamental purpose through regulation by another governmental
agency....” was held germane. On the other hand, “to a bill to aid in the control of crime through
research and training an amendment to accomplish that result through regulation of the sale of
24 The remaining quotations in this section are taken from the annotations to Rule XVI, clause 7 in the House Rules and
Manual for the 109th Congress.
firearms....” was held not germane. In the first case, the method of action proposed by the
amendment was “closely allied” to that of the bill; in the second case, it was not.
Third, “[a]n amendment when considered as a whole should be within the jurisdiction of the
committee reporting the bill....” This test is most likely to be applied when the jurisdictional
issues are clear cut—when the pending text is entirely within one committee’s jurisdiction and the
amendment offered to that text falls entirely within another committee’s jurisdiction. For instance, 25
“[t]o a bill reported by the Committee on Government Operations (now Government Reform)
creating an executive agency to protect consumers, an amendment conferring on congressional
committees with oversight over consumer protection the authority to intervene in judicial and
administrative proceedings (a rule-making provision within the jurisdiction of the Committee on
Rules)....” was ruled not germane. But committee jurisdiction is not the sole or exclusive test of
germaneness, especially in cases in which “the proposition to which the amendment is offered is
so comprehensive (overlapping several committees’ jurisdictions) as to diminish the pertinency of
that test” or “the amendment does not demonstrably affect a law within another committee’s
jurisdiction...,” or “where the portion of the bill also contains language, related to the amendment,
not within the jurisdiction of the committee reporting the bill....”
As this last statement suggests, no one of these three tests is always conclusive, nor is one of them
necessarily more controlling than the others. An amendment may satisfy one test but not one or
both of the others, so the chair must look to the particular case in deciding how much weight to
give to each of them. Moreover, even when these three tests are taken together, they do not
constitute a complete standard of germaneness. “[A]n amendment and the matter to which offered
may be related to some degree under the tests of subject matter, purpose, and jurisdiction, and still
not be considered germane under the precedents.”
To help understand this conclusion, the parliamentarian’s commentary on the rule elaborates other
principles of germaneness, of which three are particularly explicit. The essence of these three
principles turns on the relationship between the scope of the amendment and the scope of the
matter to be amended.
First, “[o]ne individual proposition may not be amended by another individual proposition even
though the two belong to the same class....” For example, “[t]o a bill proposing the admission of
one territory into the Union, an amendment for admission of another territory” was not germane.
Similarly, “to a proposition to appropriate or to authorize appropriations for only one year (and
containing no provisions extending beyond that year), an amendment to extend the authorization
or appropriation to another year....” was not germane. The first bill applied to only one territory;
the second concerned only one fiscal year. Extending either bill to another item in the same
class—a second territory or a second fiscal year—violated the prohibition against amending one
individual proposition with another, even though the amendments may have met one or more of
the three tests discussed above.
Second, “[a] specific subject may not be amended by a provision general in nature, even when of
the class of the specific subject....” Under this principle, which applies to amendments that would
expand the general applicability of measures that are limited in scope, the following illustrate the
kinds of amendments that would not be germane: “to a bill relating to all corporations engaged in
interstate commerce, an amendment relating to all corporations...; to a bill proscribing certain
25 In the 110th Congress, this committee was renamed the Committee on Government Oversight and Reform.
picketing in the District of Columbia, an amendment making the provisions thereof applicable
throughout the United States...; and to a bill authorizing funds for radio broadcasting to Cuba, an
amendment broadening the bill to include broadcasting to all dictatorships in the Caribbean
These two principles limit the amendments that satisfy the germaneness rule; the third, related
principle, on the other hand, provides a basis for holding amendments germane. “A general
subject may be amended by specific propositions of the same class....” “Thus, the following have
been held to be germane: To a bill admitting several territories into the Union, an amendment
adding another territory...; to a bill providing for the construction of buildings in each of two
cities, an amendment providing for similar buildings in several other cities...;” and “to an
amendment prohibiting indirect assistance to several countries, an amendment to include
additional countries within that prohibition....” Generally, if a bill already deals with several items
in a class, amendments to add additional items in the same class may be germane under this
Germaneness rulings may be based on a combination of two or more of these tests and principles,
or perhaps others. Because individual amendments may differ in so many respects, the
application of these tests and the relationships among them cannot be reduced to a formula or
obviously predictable standard. Furthermore, the illustrative examples quoted above are clear and
simple ones; they do not fully reflect the difficulties and subtleties that can arise in applying these
six tests and principles. A bill may amend so many provisions of an existing law, for example,
that an amendment affecting any other provision of that law may be germane, but there is no
simple test to determine when this threshold is reached. Thus, germaneness determinations often
are difficult to make and even more difficult to anticipate.
It is natural to think of all legislative action that occurs on the House floor as taking place “in the
House.” In the conventional language of the legislative process, however, this phrase refers to one
of the four modes of consideration by which the House may act on a public bill or resolution. A
bill considered “in the House” is not debated and amended in the same way as it would be if
considered in Committee of the Whole or under suspension of the rules, for example. For reasons
that will become evident, only a few kinds of bills and resolutions—most notably, the special
rules reported by the Rules Committee to affect the order of business—usually are considered “in
the House.” One of the most important reasons is the difficulty Members have in proposing
amendments under this set of procedures.
The essential rule governing debate on the House floor is the “hour rule”—the provision of
clause 2 of Rule XVII which states that “[a] Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner may
not occupy more than one hour in debate on a question in the House....” A Representative who
has been recognized to speak may not hold the floor for more than an hour, under normal House
rules, without the unanimous consent of all colleagues who are present. Equally important, under
this rule, each Member may speak for an hour on each debatable question; and a bill or resolution
and each amendment to it are different debatable questions, as are a variety of motions that
Members may make. A Representative can offer an amendment only when the Speaker has
recognized him to control the floor for an hour, or when another Member who controls the floor 26
has yielded to him for that purpose.
A measure considered in the House, under the hour rule, is “open to amendment at any point.” If
a Member controls the floor and chooses to offer an amendment, that amendment may propose to
affect any part of the bill. And if another Member were to offer a second amendment at a later
time, that amendment also could address any part of the bill that has not already been amended.
For instance, if the first amendment changes Section 3 of the measure, a second amendment could
propose to change Section 1. In other words, the order in which Members offer amendments “in
the House” generally is not determined by where or how the amendments would affect the
Most measures that the House considers under the hour rule are “privileged.” Clause 5 of Rule
XIII grants certain committees “leave to report” measures on certain subjects or for certain
purposes “at any time.” This authority includes general appropriations bills reported by the
Appropriations Committee, budget resolutions and reconciliation measures reported by the
Budget Committee, committee funding resolutions reported by the Committee on House
Administration, and amendments to House rules reported by the Rules Committee. Other
measures are privileged under other rules—for instance, resolutions approved by the Republican
Conference or Democratic Caucus to appoint members to House committees are privileged under
clause 5(a)(1) of Rule X.
There are two differences between the treatment of privileged measures and the treatment of other
bills and resolutions. First, a committee chair filing a report on a measure normally does so
without comment, by merely submitting the report to the appropriate clerk on the floor while the
House is in session. In the case of reports on privileged measures, however, the chair announces
his action and files the report from the floor, and the Speaker refers it to the appropriate calendar.
More important, when a committee reports a nonprivileged bill or resolution, it is referred to
either the Union or the House Calendar, where it remains until it can be made in order for floor 27
consideration. On the other hand, once a privileged measure has been reported and placed on 28
one of the same two calendars, and a one- or three-day layover requirement has been met, the
committee (or subcommittee) chair may call it up for consideration at any time that another 29
matter is not already pending.
When the Speaker recognizes a chair (or another Member) to call up a privileged measure, at the
direction of her committee, the chair is recognized to control the first hour of debate. The chair is
certain to yield to other Members to participate in debate during this hour, but only the chair may
offer an amendment or make any other motion during the hour she controls, unless she chooses to 30
yield to another Member to do so. At the end of the first hour, another Representative (usually
26 House Practice, ch. 16, sec. 16, p. 390.
27 On the various calendars, see House Practice, ch. 16, sec. 5, p. 380.
28 Clause 4(a)(1) of Rule XIII generally requires that the House may not consider a measure until the accompanying
report has been available to Members for at least three calendar days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal
holidays. Clause 6(a) of the same rule imposes only a one-day layover requirement for most special rules reported by
the Rules Committee, and the House may waive this requirement by a two-thirds vote. For more information on layover
requirements in the House, see CRS Report RS22015, Availability of Legislative Measures in the House of
Representatives (The “Three-Day Rule”), by Elizabeth Rybicki.
29 A privileged matter may interrupt the daily order of business specified in clause 1 of Rule XIV.
30 The majority floor manager routinely yields control of half of the first hour to the minority floor manager “for
the ranking minority member of the reporting committee) would be recognized to control the
second hour of debate, and, if so, this Member becomes the only one with the right to offer an
amendment or make another motion during that hour. And so the process could continue. Each
Member can debate the measure for an hour, and the Member controlling each hour of debate
determines whether an amendment is offered. If an amendment is proposed—whether it be an
amendment in the nature of a substitute for the measure or a perfecting amendment to any part of 31
it—each Representative then may debate the amendment for an hour.
Thus, in theory, there could be hundreds of hours of debate on the measure itself and an equally
lengthy debate on each amendment to it. In practice, however, when the House considers a bill or
resolution “in the House”—and, therefore, under the hour rule—the House almost always votes
on passing it without considering any amendments except committee amendments, and after no
more than a total of one hour of debate. The device for limiting the debate and precluding all
floor amendments is the motion to order the previous question. A Representative who has been
recognized to control the floor for an hour can make this non-debatable motion which
immediately stops debate on the measure the House is considering. If a majority of Members vote
to order the previous question, the House then proceeds to vote on pending amendments and on
final passage of the measure without further debate and without considering any further 32
In practice, the committee or subcommittee chair rarely proposes an amendment during the first
hour of debate, which she controls, and is even less likely to yield to another Member to do so. As
the majority floor manager, the chair typically supports the measure as it was reported by
committee. But she always moves the previous question before or when her hour expires, and the 33
House normally votes for this motion. Thus, a Representative wishing to offer an amendment
must obtain part of the first hour of debate and convince the House to vote against ordering the
previous question when that motion is made. Only if the previous question is not ordered is a
second Member—almost always a minority party Member—recognized for an hour, during
which he may propose an amendment.
If the previous question is not ordered (or in the very unlikely event it is not even moved) and a
second hour of debate begins, the Member controlling it then may propose an amendment and 34
debate on that amendment proceeds under the hour rule. But the Representative offering the
amendment is almost certain to move the previous question, on both the measure and the
amendment thereto, before or at the end of the hour she controls. And if the House votes for this
motion, it then votes without further debate on the amendment and finally on the measure as it
may have been amended.
purposes of debate only.” If the committee has reported an amendment to the measure, it is automatically presented to
the House for consideration when the measure is called up.
31 The sponsor of the amendment may withdraw it at any time, as a matter of right, before the House amends it, orders
the previous question on it, or votes on it.
32 After the House orders the previous question but before it votes on final passage, one Member usually has an
opportunity to move to refer or recommit the measure to committee, with or without instructions. The motion to
recommit does not apply to special rules. House Practice, ch. 48, sec. 9, p. 808.
33 In practice, measures considered under the hour rule, such as special rules from the Rules Committee, often tend to
divide the House along party lines, so a majority usually supports ordering the previous question. Measures that many
Representatives wish to amend are unlikely to be considered in this way.
34 House Practice, ch. 16, sec. 16, p. 390.
In daily practice, therefore, the hour rule does not operate to permit one hour of debate per
Member on each measure considered “in the House,” and another hour of debate per Member on
each amendment to the measure. Instead, because the previous question is routinely moved and
normally ordered, there is only one hour of debate in total on the bill and no floor amendments
may be offered, unless the floor manager yields for this purpose. The House must vote against
ordering the previous question before there can be a second hour of debate, when the Member
controlling that second hour can propose an amendment. And then the House is virtually certain
to order the previous question on both the bill and the amendment during the second hour,
precluding still more debate and still other amendments.
In short, the procedures governing consideration of measures in the House, under the hour rule,
are not well suited—in theory or in practice—for permitting many Members to participate in
debate and offer their amendments. It is largely because of this problem that the House considers
most major bills instead in Committee of the Whole.
The Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union is a committee on which all
Representatives serve and which meets on the House floor. The House resolves itself into
Committee of the Whole to consider a particular measure and amendments to it. Then it
transforms itself back into the House, and the House proceeds to vote on whatever amendments
the Committee of the Whole has recommended, followed by a vote on final passage of the bill or
resolution itself. The House uses the device of the Committee of the Whole largely because it
provides a set of parliamentary procedures for debating measures and for offering and debating
amendments that are more flexible and accommodating than those that govern the other modes of
Because of these advantages, the House first considers most major bills and resolutions in
Committee of the Whole before voting on them in the House. Clause 3 of Rule XVIII requires
that certain kinds of measures be considered in this way; these are essentially the authorization,
appropriations, and tax measures that are placed on the Union Calendar after being reported from
committee. In addition, most measures Members consider important or controversial are called up
on the floor only after the House first agrees to a resolution, or “special rule,” reported by the
Rules Committee, that makes the measure in order for consideration and provides for debating 35
and amending it in Committee of the Whole.
Considering a bill in Committee of the Whole involves a four-stage process. First, the House
resolves itself into Committee of the Whole for the sole purpose of considering the bill. Second,
there is a period of general debate. Third, the bill is considered for amendment; the Committee of
the Whole votes on whatever amendments are proposed, and then it “rises” and reports the bill
back to the House with the amendments the Committee has adopted. Fourth, the House votes on
these amendments and, shortly thereafter, votes on passing the bill. The following discussion
concentrates on the latter two stages during which Members consider and vote on amendments.
There are two ways in which the House resolves itself into Committee of the Whole to consider a
measure. A special rule typically authorizes the Speaker, pursuant to clause 2(b) of Rule XVIII, to
35 House Practice, ch. 12, sec. 5, pp. 304-305.
declare the House resolved into Committee of the Whole for that purpose at any time after the
House adopts the resolution. On the other hand, the special rule governing consideration of a
general appropriations bill technically need not include such a provision, although such language
is typically included under current practices. Instead, the chair of the reporting committee may
make a non-debatable motion that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole to consider a
measure his committee has reported. In either case, the Speaker designates another majority party
Member to serve as chair of the Committee of the Whole during its consideration of that 3637
measure. The chair then directs the clerk to report the bill by title before general debate begins.
The special rule governing consideration of the measure normally specifies the length of general
debate. Typically it is one hour, though there may be more time provided for debating bills
Members view as particularly important or controversial. In rare instances, the amount of time is
controlled by a unanimous consent agreement (such as in the case of the House resolving into
Committee of the Whole under a privileged motion), or it may be governed by a provision of a
rule-making statute (for example, in the case of a budget resolution or reconciliation measure).
Control of the time usually is divided equally between the chair and ranking minority member of
the committee of jurisdiction, each of whom yields part of her time to other Members during the
course of the debate. When a bill had been referred to two or more committees, there often is a
longer period for general debate, with part of it controlled by each committee chair and ranking
member. In unusual circumstances, a special rule also may allocate control of some general
debate time to other, individually named Members who oppose the committee’s position in an 38
The Committee of the Whole does not consider and act on any amendments during general
debate. This period is reserved for discussions of the state of existing law, the conditions
stimulating new legislation, the provisions of the measure, and the advisability of enacting it.
Members may debate the merits of committee amendments and the amendments individual
Representatives intend to propose, but the amendments are not formally proposed or considered
during this time. At the conclusion of general debate, the Committee of the Whole may vote to
rise, which temporarily concludes its business and transforms the committee back into the House.
Then the House may resolve back into Committee of the Whole at some later hour or date to
resume consideration of the measure. Alternatively, the committee may move directly from
general debate to the third stage of consideration, during which the amending process takes place.
During this third stage, the Committee of the Whole considers and votes on amendments to the
measure and on any amendments to those amendments. The committee never votes directly on
any section or title of the measure itself or on the measure as a whole. This amending process is
somewhat akin to the markup of a bill that has been reported by one committee and then referred
sequentially to another. After a standing committee reports the bill, it is referred sequentially to
this unique committee on which all Members serve. The Committee of the Whole debates and
votes on all the amendments recommended by the standing committee and then on whatever
additional amendments individual Members offer. But neither a standing committee nor the
36 Clause 2 of Rule XVIII.
37 The bill is to be read at this point, but this reading is routinely waived by the terms of the special rule or by
38 House Practice, ch. 16, sec. 14, p. 386-387.
Committee of the Whole actually has the authority to amend the bill; that is the exclusive power
of the House. Both committees only recommend amendments for the House to consider.
The text that Members can attempt to amend may be the text of the bill as it was introduced.
However, the special rule for considering it frequently provides instead for floor amendments to
be directed to an amendment in the nature of a substitute that is to be considered “an original bill
for the purpose of amendment.” Typically, this is a committee substitute, though it may be an
amendment in the nature of a substitute printed in the Rules Committee’s report on the rule or in
the Congressional Record, or it may even be the text of another measure on the same subject.
Whatever form it may take, an amendment in the nature of a substitute considered in this way
almost always reflects the position of the committee or committees of jurisdiction, or at least their
leading majority party members.
The flow of the amending process is governed by the requirement that a measure considered in
Committee of the Whole is to be “read for amendment.” Members may propose amendments only
to the part of the bill that the clerk has read, and they may no longer offer amendments to it 39
(except by unanimous consent) after the clerk has read the next part. The typical procedure is
for a bill or resolution to be read for amendment section by section (or paragraph by paragraph, in
the case of a general appropriations bill). When a special rule states that a measure shall be “read
for amendment under the five-minute rule,” it is to be read by sections. Alternatively, the special
rule may specify that the measure is to be read by titles. And especially when a special rule
prohibits most or all floor amendments, it may state that each section shall be considered as
having been read or that the entire measure “shall be considered as having been read for
amendment.” There would be no point in the clerk reading each section or title in turn if Members
may not offer amendments to it after it is read.
These alternatives affect what kinds of amendments Members can propose, and when. If a
measure is being read or considered for amendment by sections, Representatives may offer
amendments only to each section when the clerk has read or designated it. It is no longer in order
to propose an amendment to a section that had been read previously, and it is premature to offer
an amendment to a section not yet reached, unless the Members agree by unanimous consent to
consider such an amendment. Thus, after the clerk reads or designates Section 4, only
amendments to Section 4 are in order. It is now too late to offer an amendment to Section 3, and it
is not yet appropriate to amend Section 5. Furthermore, an amendment affecting Sections 4 and 5 40
would not be in order because the bill is being considered for amendment one section at a time.
An important exception to this rule is that offest amendments to appropriations measures may 41
Thus, Members must pay careful attention to the pace of the amending process in Committee of
the Whole in order to protect their right to propose amendments by being on the floor and by
seeking recognition at the appropriate time. The same procedures govern a measure being
considered for amendment by titles; amendments are in order only to the title that the clerk has
39 House Practice, ch. 12, sec. 13, pp. 312-313.
40 House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 17, p. 33.
41 For more information on such amendments, see CRS Report RL31055, House Offset Amendments to Appropriations
Bills: Procedural Considerations, by Sandy Streeter.
read or designated most recently. Considering a measure by titles gives Members somewhat more
latitude, because they can offer amendments that span more than one section of the title or that
propose to strike or replace the entire title. Thus, when a bill is divided into titles, which in turn
are subdivided into sections, a special rule frequently provides for it to be considered for
amendment title by title.
The one exception to these procedures concerns amendments in the nature of substitutes. A
Member can offer this kind of amendment after the clerk reads or designates the first section of
the measure, even though the amendment also would affect all its other sections or titles. But
once this opportunity passes, an amendment in the nature of a substitute is not in order again until
the committee has acted on all amendments to the last section or title of the bill. On the other
hand, when a measure is open to amendment at any point, Members may propose amendments to
any part of it in any order, so long as the amendments meet the other requirements of House rules
and precedents and are not prohibited by the special rule.
The Committee of the Whole sometimes expedites consideration of amendments by adjusting the
process of reading for amendment. If a bill containing several titles is being read section by
section, the majority floor manager may ask unanimous consent that a title be considered as read 42
and open to amendment at any point. Or the manager may extend this request to cover several
titles or even the entire measure. The manager is most likely to make such a request when few
amendments are anticipated and no useful purpose is served by having the clerk read each section
or title individually.
After the clerk reads or designates the first section, the chair directs the clerk to read the first of
any committee amendments to it. The majority floor manager typically asks unanimous consent
that the reading be dispensed with. The Committee of the Whole debates and votes on this
amendment, and any floor amendments to it, after which the clerk reads and the committee acts in
turn on any other committee amendments to that section. Individual Members then may propose 43
their own amendments to the section. After the committee debates and votes on all of them, the
clerk reads or designates the next section and the process is repeated. When a bill is being
considered by titles, a comparable process occurs, as the committee first considers and acts on
each committee amendment (and amendments to it) to a title before individual Representatives’
amendments to the title are in order. When a bill is open to amendment at any point, on the other
hand, the committee first considers and acts on all the committee amendments, in the order in
which they would affect the measure, before Members propose their own amendments to the
Beginning in the late 1990s, special rules began to include provisions under which the committee
did not always vote on one first-degree amendment before considering the next one. These
provisions were subsequently incorporated into the House’s standing rules and now are routinely
utilized. Clause 6(g) of Rule XVIII now provides that:
The Chairman may postpone a request for a recorded vote on any amendment. The
Chairman may resume proceedings on a postponed request at any time. The Chairman may
42 House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 18, pp. 33-34.
43 House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 29, pp. 44-45.
reduce to five minutes the minimum time for electronic voting on any postponed question
that follows another electronic vote without intervening business, provided that the minimum
time for electronic voting on the first in any series of questions shall be 15 minutes.
In most cases, there are not very many committee amendments to a measure. If the committee
wishes to amend a measure extensively, it may report the bill or resolution with a long series of
amendments. However, in current practice, it is far more likely to recommend an amendment in
the nature of a substitute by which the committee incorporates all its proposed changes to the
measure in a single amendment. Although it is used far less frequently, a committee may also
propose a “clean” measure, carrying a different bill or resolution number, that addresses the same
subject in the way the committee prefers.
When the Committee of the Whole has disposed of all committee amendments to the section or
title being considered (or to the entire bill, if it is open to amendment at any point), the chair
looks to the majority and minority tables on the floor for Members seeking recognition to offer
amendments of their own. It is the responsibility of a Member wishing to offer an amendment to 44
seek recognition for that purpose. If two or more Members are seeking recognition, the chair has
the discretionary authority to recognize one or the other. However, the chair is guided in decisions
regarding recognition by practices that are very well-established, if not actually binding as
The chair almost always gives preference in recognition to members of the committee and
subcommittee that reported the measure, in approximate order of seniority, alternating between
Democrats and Republicans. Thus, the majority floor manager is recognized in preference to
anyone else, followed by the minority floor manager. If neither of the managers seeks
recognition, the chair tends to recognize a senior committee member before a more junior
member, and any committee member before another Representative. The chair also attempts to
give Members of both parties a roughly equal opportunity to propose amendments. These
practices promote fairness, and also focus the attention of the Committee of the Whole first on
amendments sponsored by Members who are presumed by virtue of their committee membership
to have an expert knowledge of the subject.
Every amendment offered must be in writing. In addition, clause 5(b) of Rule XVIII states:
When a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner offers an amendment in the
Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union, the Clerk shall promptly transmit
five copies of the amendment to the majority committee table and five copies to the minority
committee table. The Clerk also shall deliver at least one copy of the amendment to the
majority cloak room and at least one copy to the minority cloak room.
Although this rule places the responsibility on the clerk, it is generally accepted practice for
Members to bring multiple copies of amendments with them to the floor, or to arrange for copies
to be made of amendments they or their staff prepare on the floor during debate. This permits the
sponsor of an amendment to distribute copies of it to colleagues who want to examine it. In most
cases, Representatives find it advisable to alert the majority and minority floor managers of the
measure, and other interested Members, of the amendments they plan to offer. This is not done
only as a matter of courtesy. Floor managers who support the bill often are inclined to oppose
44 In order to obtain recognition to offer an amendment, a Member must not only be standing but must also actively
seek recognition by addressing the Chair at the appropriate time. House Practice, ch. 2, sec.20, pp. 35-36.
amendments that they have not had an opportunity to study. But if the floor managers have copies
of an amendment in advance, they may decide to support it or at least discuss possible changes
that would make it acceptable to them.
Clause 8 of Rule XVIII also provide for Members to submit their amendments in advance for
printing in the Congressional Record. Under clause 8(c),
Material submitted for printing in the Congressional Record under this rule shall indicate the
full text of the proposed amendment, the name of the Member, Delegate or Resident
Commissioner proposing it, the number of the bill or resolution to which it will be offered,
and the point in the bill or resolution or amendment thereto where the amendment is intended
to be offered. The amendment shall appear in a portion of the Record designated for that
purpose. Amendments to a specified measure submitted for printing in that portion of the
Record shall be numbered in the order printed.
And clause 7 permits a non-debatable motion to dispense with the normal requirement that an
amendment be read before it is debated, but only if the amendment has been printed in the Record
in this way or printed in a measure as reported from committee:
It shall be in order in the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union to move
that the Committee of the Whole dispense with the reading of an amendment that has been
printed in the bill or resolution as reported from a committee, or an amendment that a
Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner has caused to be printed in the Congressional
Record. Such a motion shall be decided without debate.
The House’s standing rules do not accord any special priority for consideration on the floor to an
amendment that has been printed in the Record; the rules do not require, for example, that a
Member with a printed amendment be recognized to offer it before another Representative whose
amendment is merely handwritten. However, Members who submit their amendments for printing
in the Record do gain some assurance of time for debate when they actually propose the
amendments in Committee of the Whole. Also, it is not uncommon for special rules to authorize
the chair to afford priority in recognition for offering amendments in Committee of the Whole to
Members who did submit them in advance for printing.
Special rules for considering some measures—often complicated or technical measures, such as
tax bills—sometimes permit consideration of only those amendments that have been printed in
the Record by a date certain or at least before the measure is called up on the floor. This
requirement gives committee members and others an opportunity to study the amendments in
advance and evaluate their effect and merit. More generally, the Rules Committee may ask
Members to submit to it copies of the floor amendments they want to offer to a bill. It is virtually
certain that amendments not submitted in response to such a request will not to be made in order
under the special rule for that bill.
The essential rule governing debate on amendments in Committee of the Whole is the five-minute
rule, contained in clause 5(a) of Rule XVIII:
A Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner who offers an amendment shall be allowed
five minutes to explain it, after which the Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner who
shall first obtain the floor shall be allowed five minutes to speak in opposition to it. There
shall be no further debate thereon, but the same privilege of debate shall be allowed in favor
of and against any amendment that may be offered to an amendment. An amendment or an
amendment to an amendment may be withdrawn by its proponent only by the unanimous
consent of the Committee of the Whole.
The five minutes for opposing a first-degree amendment often are claimed by one of the floor
managers who supports the measure in its present form; in turn, the sponsor of a first-degree
amendment often seeks recognition for the five minutes to speak against an amendment to her
amendment. Time may not be yielded or reserved.
This rule clearly states that there shall be only 10 minutes for debating each amendment. Yet
debate on an amendment often continues for much longer, sometimes for hours at a time. The
explanation for this apparent contradiction lies in the use of pro forma amendments.
A Representative offers a pro forma amendment when he or she moves to strike the last word. In
theory, this motion is an amendment that proposes to strike out the last word of whatever the
Committee of the Whole is then considering—a measure or a portion of it, a first-degree
amendment, or an amendment to an amendment. In practice, however, the Committee recognizes
pro forma amendments to be only a well-accepted device by which Members secure time for
After two Representatives have consumed the 10 minutes provided by Rule XVIII for debating an
amendment, any other Member whom the chair recognizes can obtain five minutes to speak
simply by moving to strike the last word. A Member also can move to strike the last word when
no amendment is pending, if the Member wishes to discuss the measure itself. Technically, the
next Member wishing to speak for five minutes should move to strike the last two words because
the same amendment cannot be proposed more than once. This leads some Members to move to
strike “the requisite number of words,” in order to make certain that they are not offering an
amendment for the second time. However, the committee recognizes that there is no point in
prohibiting Members from offering the same pro forma amendment more than once because these
amendments are not substantive. Thus, many Representatives often move to strike the last word.
Because a pro forma amendment is not actually written out, but is only a device to get time for
debate, no Member claims five minutes to speak against it, and the committee does not vote on it.
When a Member who has made such a motion has used her five minutes or has yielded back the
balance of her time, the amendment is deemed to have been automatically withdrawn by
The time for debating any amendment, whether substantive or pro forma, may be extended by
unanimous consent. When offering an amendment, for example, a Member may expect that five
minutes will not be sufficient to explain it. So even before beginning the statement, the Member
may ask unanimous consent that an additional five minutes or more be granted. Alternatively,
when the chair informs the Member that the five minutes have expired, the Member then may ask
unanimous consent to proceed for an additional minute or more. The one who has the floor may
yield to others who want to speak; and in turn, a Representative to whom the Member has yielded
may ask unanimous consent that the Member be granted additional time so they may continue
their exchange.45 Representatives usually do not object to such unanimous consent requests,
although they have the right to do so.
At any time after the sponsor of an amendment has consumed or yielded back the balance of his
five minutes for debate, other Members may seek recognition either to propose a substantive
amendment that is in order or to offer a pro forma amendment (even instead of seeking
recognition for the five minutes provided by Rule XVIII to speak against the amendment).
However, a Representative who has been recognized for one of these purposes may not use it for
another; thus, a Member who has been recognized to speak against the amendment under Rule
XVIII, or who has moved to strike the last word, may not offer a substantive amendment during
that five-minute period.
In Committee of the Whole, the chair must recognize a Representative before he or she can
propose an amendment or control five minutes for debate. The chair’s exercise of the power of
recognition is not subject to challenge or appeal, but normally the same priorities are followed in
recognizing Members to move to strike the last word as in recognizing them to offer substantive
amendments. Committee members are recognized before others, and the chair usually recognizes
them in an order consistent with their committee or subcommittee seniority. The chair also makes
an effort to assure that Members of both parties have roughly the same opportunities to offer
amendments and to speak. But it is each Member’s responsibility to seek recognition at the
appropriate time; the chair cannot protect Members’ rights unless he knows that they wish to
Pro forma amendments permit each Representative to speak for five minutes on each portion of
the measure as it is considered for amendment and on each amendment that Members propose. If
every Member took advantage of this opportunity, there could be more than 36 hours of debate
per amendment, which would make it impossible for the House to conduct its legislative business 46
in a timely way. However, the rules and practices of the House protect against this possibility
through a device for bringing debate under the five-minute rule to an end. This device can
effectively prevent a minority from filibustering in Committee of the Whole by debating
amendments at great length.
By unanimous consent or by motion, the committee may decide to close the debate on (1) an
amendment, (2) an amendment and all amendments thereto, or (3) the measure, or a portion of it,
and all amendments thereto. In the last case, however, the committee can close debate only on
whatever part of the measure has been read or designated for amendment. If a bill is being
considered by sections or titles, the committee can end debate only on each section or title as it is 47
considered. But if the measure is open to amendment at any point, the committee may close
debate on it as a whole, as well as on any amendments that are pending at the time and all other
amendments that Members intend to offer.
45 During general debate in Committee of the Whole, and during debate in the House under the hour rule, a Member
controlling time may yield a specific number of minutes to a colleague or he may yield such time as the other Member
may consume. During debate under the five-minute rule, however, the Member controlling the floor may yield but not
for a specified period of time. However, a Member who has been recognized for five minutes and then yields to another
may reclaim his time whenever he chooses. For more information, see CRS Report RL32200, Debate, Motions, and
Other Actions in the Committee of the Whole, by Bill Heniff Jr. and Elizabeth Rybicki.
46 Pro forma amendments are not in order when a measure or amendment is being considered under a closed or
restrictive rule that does not explicitly provide for them. House Practice, ch. 12, sec. 14, p. 313.
47 House Practice, ch. 16, sec. 56, pp. 433-434.
After a Representative has proposed an amendment and concluded his five minutes for debate,
and at any time that another Member does not control the floor, the majority floor manager may
ask unanimous consent that all debate on that amendment (and any amendments to it) be brought
to an end. He may request that the debate end immediately, or at a certain stated time, or after the
expiration of a specified additional period of time. While any Representative may make such a
request, it is unusual for anyone other than the majority floor manager to do so. If another
Member objects, or reserves the right to object, that Member and the floor manager may discuss
whether the amendment and the issues it raises have been fully argued, and they attempt to find a
mutually acceptable accommodation. If the floor manager cannot obtain unanimous consent to his
request, he then may make a non-debatable motion to close the debate—immediately, at a time 48
certain, or after a specified period of time. The committee agrees or disagrees to the motion by
simple majority vote. Again, any Member whom the chair recognizes may make such a motion,
but this is a prerogative normally exercised only by the majority floor manager.
If the committee agrees to a unanimous consent request or votes for a motion that leaves some
time remaining for debate, the chair may continue recognizing Members for five minutes each but
also has the authority to dispense with the five-minute rule. Instead, the chair may divide the
remaining time between the control of two Members (for example, the sponsor of a pending
amendment and the majority floor manager) and allow them to yield part of their time to others as
they choose. Or the chair may divide the remaining time equally among the Members who stand
to indicate their desire to be recognized. Thus, if the committee agrees to a motion that permits 30
minutes more for debate and 15 Members still want to be recognized, the chair has at least three
options: to recognize each of the 15 Members for two minutes each, to recognize only six of the
Members for five minutes each, or to recognize only two Members to control 15 minutes each.
When all the time for debate has expired, pursuant to a motion or unanimous consent agreement,
Members may continue to offer amendments that are otherwise in order but they have no time to
explain their amendments, which obviously puts them and their amendments at a significant 49
disadvantage. Anticipating this potential problem, clause 8 of Rule XVIII offers Members some
protection by reserving five minutes for one of them to explain, and then five minutes for another
to oppose, any amendment that has been printed in advance in the Congressional Record:
If the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union closes debate on any portion
of a bill or resolution before there has been debate on an amendment that a Member,
Delegate, or Resident Commissioner has caused to be printed in the Congressional Record at
least one day before its consideration, the Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner
who caused the amendment to be printed in the Record shall be allowed five minutes to
explain it, after which the Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner who shall first
obtain the floor shall be allowed five minutes to speak in opposition to it. There shall be no
further debate thereon.
This rule permits only this 10 minutes of debate on each amendment; Members cannot extend the
debate through pro forma amendments. Furthermore, this clause may be superseded by the
special rule for considering a bill if, for example, that resolution prohibits consideration of all but
certain specified amendments.
48 Clause 8(a) of Rule XVIII.
49 House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 35, p. 50.
From time to time, a Member who is opposed to a bill or pending amendment secures time for
debating it that otherwise would not be available by moving that the Committee rise and report
the measure back to the House with the recommendation that the enacting (or resolving) clause
be stricken. When a Representative makes this motion, the chair recognizes him and another
Member to debate it for five minutes each, after which the committee votes without further 50
debate. If the committee agrees to the motion and the House then concurs, the bill is thereby
rejected because striking the enacting clause removes from it the language required by law that 51
would be necessary to give the bill statutory force. However, Members rarely make this motion
with any serious expectation that it will carry. Instead, it is most often used as another device to
obtain five minutes for debate.
The motion proposing that the enacting clause of a bill be stricken is in order in Committee of the
Whole only once each legislative day, unless the bill has been materially changed. And it is in
order only so long as there remains time for debating the measure itself. If the committee has
agreed to limit further debate on an amendment, for example, and all that time has expired, a
Member can still debate the amendment and the bill for five minutes by making this motion. On
the other hand, the motion is no longer in order once the committee has concluded debate on the
bill and all amendments thereto.
When the Committee of the Whole has acted on the last amendment to be proposed, the
committee rises and reports the bill or resolution back to the House with whatever amendments to
the measure it has agreed to. Most special rules provide for the committee to rise and report
automatically; in a case where the House resolved into Committee of the Whole by a privileged
motion, the majority floor manager makes a non-debatable motion that the Committee rise and 52
report. Once the committee rises, the Speaker again presides over the House, and the chair
reports to her that the committee has had the bill under consideration and now reports it back to
the House, usually with an amendment or several (“sundry”) amendments. The committee also
recommends that the House agree to the amendment or amendments and then pass the bill as
The Committee of the Whole only reports the amendments to the measure that it adopted. It does
not report any amendments that it rejected nor does it report any amendments to amendments.
Thus, if the committee perfects and then adopts a first-degree amendment, it reports only the
perfected first-degree amendment. And if the committee concludes the amending process by
agreeing to an amendment in the nature of a substitute, as amended, it reports only that amended 53
The House then must vote on the amendments recommended by the Committee of the Whole
because, as has been stated, only the House itself actually has the authority to amend the bill.
More often than not, the House agrees to all these amendments “en gros,” by one single voice
vote. If Members wanted a record vote on one or more of them, they probably obtained it when
50 House Practice, ch. 12, secs. 22-24, pp. 320-323.
51 Clause 9 of Rule XVIII.
52 House Practice, ch. 12, secs.25-30, pp. 323-327.
53 Annotations to Section XII of Jefferson’s Manual in House Rules and Manual.
the Committee of the Whole voted on each amendment. However, any Member has a right to
demand a separate vote in the House on any amendment the committee has recommended, and 54
this is very likely to be a roll call vote. The goal of requesting a separate vote may be to reverse
the result of the earlier vote in favor of the amendment. If the committee agreed to an amendment
by a very narrow margin, an opponent may believe that a second, subsequent, roll call vote will
produce the opposite result and defeat the amendment. In some instances, the request for a
separate vote or votes in the House has been undertaken as a dilatory tactic. When Members
demand one or more separate votes, the House first agrees to the other amendments en gros by
voice vote, and then acts on each of the amendments that require separate votes.
Members normally may demand separate votes in the House only on the amendments proposed
by the Committee of the Whole to the bill or resolution itself, not on any amendments to those 55
amendments that the committee may have adopted. But this right to vote a second time on the
committee’s proposals could be effectively nullified when the committee recommends an
amendment in the nature of a substitute. In this situation, the committee reports the bill back to
the House with only that one amendment, even though most or all of the other amendments on
which the committee voted probably were amendments to the substitute. There are no separate
amendments on which Members could demand separate votes in the House. For this reason, when
a special rule anticipates or provides that the Committee of the Whole is to consider an
amendment in the nature of a substitute, it also routinely permits Members to demand separate
votes in the House on amendments to the bill itself or to that substitute.
When the Committee of the Whole has reported a bill or resolution and the House acts on the
committee’s recommended amendments, the measure and the amendments are considered under
the set of procedures that govern consideration in the House, especially the hour rule. In theory,
therefore, the amending process that took place in Committee of the Whole could be repeated
under the hour rule. Each amendment the Committee of the Whole reported could be debated for
one hour or more and perhaps even amended, depending on when and if the House orders the
previous question on the bill and all amendments to it. Then, if the House failed to order the
previous question after acting on all the committee’s amendments, Members could offer their own
amendments, each of which would be debatable for at least an hour. But this would not only be
repetitious; it would effectively nullify the value of having already considered the bill and
amendments to it in Committee of the Whole.
To avoid this situation, special rules for considering measures typically provide that, after the
Committee of the Whole rises, “the previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill
and amendments thereto to final passage without intervening motion except one motion to
recommit.” The effect of the previous question is to preclude further debate and amendments.
Thus, ordering the previous question in advance requires the House to vote on each committee
amendment without debate or amendment and precludes Members from proposing additional
amendments. In addition, this provision prevents consideration of any other motion except one
motion to recommit (discussed below).
Consequently, after the House votes on the committee’s amendments—usually en gros, but with
the possibility of one or more separate votes on individual amendments—it votes on engrossment
and third reading, and the clerk then reads the title of the measure. This vote, which is never
55 House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 45, p. 59.
contested, also directs the clerk to engross the bill—to have it printed as the House has amended 56
it. After acting on a motion to recommit, if one is made, the House then completes action on the
bill by voting to pass or defeat it. A motion to reconsider that vote is routinely tabled “without 57
objection,” making the vote on final passage conclusive.
When discussing the House’s consideration of amendments adopted by the Committee of the th
Whole, it should be noted that in the 110 Congress, a procedure was incorporated in House rules
providing for the automatic reconsideration of certain amendments adopted in the Committee of
the Whole if the votes of the territorial delegates and the Resident Commission from Puerto Rico
were deemed to have determined the outcome on the question of adopting the amendment.
Under changes made to Rule III and Rule XVIII on January 24, 2007,58 when the House is sitting
in Committee of the Whole, the Delegates and Resident Commissioner have the same right to
vote as Representatives, subject to immediate reconsideration in the House when their recorded
votes “have been decisive” in the committee.
The rule governing voting in the Committee of the Whole by Delegates and the Resident
Commissioner has not been interpreted to mean that any recorded vote with a difference of five
votes or less is subject to automatic reconsideration. In determining whether the votes of the
Delegates and the Resident Commissioner were decisive, the Chair follows a “but for” test—
namely, would the result of a vote have been different if the Delegates and the Commissioner had 59
not voted? If the votes of the Delegates and Resident Commission on a question are determined
to be decisive by this standard, the committee automatically rises and the Speaker puts the
question to a vote. The vote is first put by voice, and any Representative may, with a sufficient
second, obtain a record vote. Once the final result of the vote is announced, the Committee of the 60
Whole automatically resumes its sitting.
Under clause 6(c) of Rule XIII, not even a special rule may prevent a motion to recommit as
provided for under Rule XIX, clause 2, from being made after engrossment and third reading and
before the vote on final passage. This motion almost always proposes to recommit the bill or
56 House Practice, ch. 44, sec. 5, p. 759.
57 Clause 3 of Rule XIX provides one opportunity for a Member to move to reconsider the vote on final passage or on
most other motions and questions decided in the House, but not in Committee of the Whole. The motion to reconsider
must be made on the same day as the vote or on the following day, and by a Member who voted on the prevailing side.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, the motion is made and routinely tabled, thereby disposing of it adversely.
(Normally, the Speaker merely states that, “without objection, a motion to reconsider is laid on the table,” and no
Member objects.) Rollcall votes on reconsideration motions are rare because few votes are decided by such narrow
margins that a sufficient number of Members actually might change their positions and reverse the outcome.
58 H.Res. 78, 110th Cong.
59 Under a previous incarnation of this rule, on May 19, 1993, a series of parliamentary inquiries were directed to the
Chair about how the “but for” test is applied. Congressional Record, vol. 139, May 19, 1993, pp. 10408-10409.
60 It should be noted that these provisions, by which the House automatically reconsiders such decisive votes, are a
different procedure apart from the right of any Member to demand a separate vote in the House on any first degree
amendment reported from the Committee of the Whole.
resolution to the committee that reported it. In practice, however, the motion takes one of two
forms; one is designed to reject the measure, the other to amend it.
A simple or “straight” motion to recommit only proposes to send the bill back to committee. This 61
motion is not debatable. If a majority of the House votes for it, the measure is returned to
committee. While the committee has the option to re-report the legislation, it rarely does so. In
practice, adoption of a simple motion to recommit has the effect of killing the bill. In other words,
this motion offers Members an indirect opportunity to defeat the bill, and the opportunity arises
immediately before they would vote directly on final passage. For these reasons, simple motions
to recommit are not made frequently and rarely succeed.
The alternative is a motion to recommit the bill to committee “with instructions.” These
instructions may take various forms. For example, they may direct the committee to hold
additional hearings on some issue relating to the bill before reporting it back to the House. In
most cases, however, the instructions direct the committee to report the bill back to the House
immediately (“forthwith”) with one or more amendments stated in the motion. Clause 2 of Rule
XIX provides for ten minutes of debate on a motion to recommit with instructions, but also
permits the majority floor manager to demand that the debate be extended to an hour. In either
case, the time for debate is divided between the Representative making the motion and the 62
majority floor manager or another Member opposing it.
A motion to recommit with instructions usually constitutes one last attempt to amend the bill
before the House votes on passing it. The instructions typically direct the committee to report the
bill back to the House “forthwith” with a certain amendment. When the House votes for such a
motion, it is telling one of its committees exactly what it must do, and it also is requiring the
committee to act immediately. Under these circumstances, there is no point in the committee
actually meeting to comply with the instructions because it has been given no time or discretion.
Instead, the committee chair immediately rises on the floor and states that, pursuant to the motion
and on behalf of the committee, the bill is reported back to the House with the amendment. The
House then votes on the amendment itself, normally agreeing to it by voice vote because the
amendment presents the same policy choice as the motion to recommit on which the House just
voted. Finally, the House votes on passage of the bill as it now has been amended by the motion
to recommit with instructions.
Although less common, a motion to recommit with instructions may instead direct a committee to
report back with an amendment or amendments “promptly,” rather than “forthwith.” Such
wording sends the bill to committee, whose eventual report (if any) is not immediately before the
House as it would be when the word “forthwith” is used. In addition, these instructions are 63
considered advisory and are not required to be carried out by the committee. Because of this,
some have characterized the use of the word “promptly” in a motion to recommit with 64
instructions as an attempt to kill, not amend, a measure.
61 See commentary accompanying Rule XIX, House Manual, sec. 1002a.
62 The instructions are amendable if the House votes against ordering the previous question on the motion.
63 House Practice, ch. 48, sec. 17, pp. 813-814.
64 See Rep. David R. Obey, remarks in the House, Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 153, May 10, 2007, p. H
Only one motion to recommit is in order; but if one is ruled out of order, another can be 65
proposed. In addition, two other important kinds of constraints on the recommittal motion affect
who may make it and what instructions it may contain.
First, in order to qualify to offer the motion, a Representative must be opposed to the measure, at
least in “its present form.” Equally important, this motion is the prerogative of the minority party;
the Speaker recognizes any Member of the minority to make it before recognizing any Member of
his own party. The Speaker gives preference in recognition to the Minority Leader or his designee
to offer the motion, and then to a minority party Representative who serves on the committee that
reported the bill.
Second, when the instructions contain an amendment, that amendment must comply with the
principles and prohibitions that apply to amendments under other circumstances. Members may
not propose as instructions anything that they could not have proposed directly as amendments.
For instance, a Member may make a point of order against a motion to recommit with instructions
if the instructions require the committee to report the bill back with an amendment that is not
germane. Similarly, a recommittal motion may not propose instructions to amend a part of the bill
that the House already amended when it agreed to the amendments recommended by the
Committee of the Whole.
Once again, a special problem could arise when the Committee reports a bill or resolution back to
the House with a single amendment in the nature of a substitute. When the House agrees to this
amendment, it thereby amends every part and provision of the measure. This common occurrence
could preclude any recommittal motion with instructions containing an amendment, because such
a motion would be subject to the point of order that it violates the prohibition against amending
something that already has been amended. With this potential problem in mind, when a special
rule anticipates or provides that the Committee of the Whole is to consider an amendment in the
nature of a substitute, it normally provides explicitly for a motion to recommit “with or without
instructions.” This phrase, as well as the provisions of Rule XIII, clause 6, permits the
instructions to contain an amendment, even if the effect of agreeing to the recommittal motion 66
would be to re-amend the text of the measure.
As its name implies, “the House as in Committee of the Whole” is a hybrid set of procedures,
involving some of the characteristics of consideration under the hour rule in the House and some
of those applicable to consideration under the five-minute rule in Committee of the Whole. These
procedures are utilized infrequently. Traditionally, they have been used to act on measures
concerning the District of Columbia, reported by the Committee on Oversight and Government
Reform. When the chair of this committee calls up a measure, which is privileged on the second
and fourth Mondays of each month under clause 4 of Rule XV, he may ask unanimous consent
that it be considered in the House as in Committee of the Whole. The House occasionally acts on
other public bills and resolutions under these procedures, either by unanimous consent or 67
pursuant to a special rule.
65 House Practice, ch. 48, sec. 13, pp. 810-811.
66 House Manual, sec. 859, p. 636.
67 “Where the House grants unanimous consent for the immediate consideration of a bill on the Union Calendar, or
When the House acts on a measure in this way, the Speaker continues to preside over the House.
There is no general debate and the bill or resolution is considered as having been read for
amendment. It is immediately open to amendment at any point and all debate is governed by the 68
five-minute rule. Thus, the majority and minority floor managers secure time for making their
opening statements by moving to strike the last word. Other Members then may offer substantive
or pro forma amendments, the Speaker normally following the same priorities for recognition as
does the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. In general, the same rules, principles, and
practices governing the amending process in Committee of the Whole also apply in the House as
in Committee of the Whole, except that measures are not read for amendment.
There is one other important exception. In the House as in Committee of the Whole, a Member
may move the previous question on an amendment (and all amendments thereto) or on the 69
measure as a whole (and all amendments thereto), just as in the House. This motion, which is
invariably made by the majority floor manager, permits the House to decide by majority vote
whether it wishes to consider amendments and how long it wishes to debate the bill and any
amendments that Members do offer. After the House orders the previous question, or if no one
seeks recognition, the House votes on engrossment and third reading of the measure, then on a 70
recommittal motion if offered, and finally on passing the bill.
Individual Representatives may not offer floor amendments to a measure considered under 71
suspension of the rules. However, amendments to the measure may be included as part of the
motion itself. A Member may move to suspend the rules and pass a certain bill “as amended.”
After the 40 minutes of debate permitted on a suspension motion is used or yielded back, the
House then casts one vote on suspending the rules and passing the bill as proposed to be amended
under the terms of the motion. No separate vote on the amendments, individually or collectively, 72
is in order. Support by two-thirds of the Members present and voting is required to pass a
measure under suspension of the rules.
A suspension motion typically is made by a committee or subcommittee chair. Consequently, the
amendments proposed as part of the motion are usually committee amendments, or at least
amendments making post-committee adjustments supported by the chair of the committee or
subcommittee of jurisdiction. The amendments also enjoy the support or acquiescence of the
Speaker, because the Speaker has discretion in deciding whether or not to recognize a Member to
offer a suspension motion.
which would belong on the Union Calendar if reported, the bill is considered in the House as in Committee of the
Whole....” Annotations to Section XXX of Jefferson’s Manual in House Rules and Manual.
68 House Practice, ch. 12, sec. 1, p. 297.
70 Also, “a motion is in order in the House as in Committee of the Whole to close debate on the bill or on an
amendment....” Annotations to Section XXX of Jefferson’s Manual in House Rules and Manual. However, the
previous question is used more often than the motion to close debate because the latter does not preclude Members
from proposing additional amendments.
71 Clause 1 of Rule XV addresses suspension of the rules.
72 House Practice, ch. 53, sec. 8, p. 878.
The amending process on the House floor normally does not become very complicated. As has
been noted, amendments usually are not proposed to measures considered in the House, under the
hour rule, because the House precludes them by voting to order the previous question. Although it
is possible to propose amendments to bills and resolutions considered in the House as in
Committee of the Whole, these procedures are rarely used. Finally, the House acts on more
measures under suspension of the rules than under most other procedures, and no floor
amendments are in order at all under the suspension procedure.
It is when the House has resolved into Committee of the Whole to consider a measure that
Representatives are most likely to offer amendments, some of which Members may debate at
length. More often than not, however, there are few, if any, procedural complications. In many
cases, the amendment process will be limited and scripted by the terms of a structured special rule
adopted by the House. Even under an open rule, however, the amendment process rarely becomes
complicated; a Member proposes an amendment and other Members join her in debating it; the
Committee of the Whole eventually votes on the amendment and proceeds to consider the next
amendment to be proposed. Alternatively, another Member may offer a second-degree
amendment to the amendment, and the committee then votes on the second-degree amendment
before voting on the first-degree amendment, as it may have been amended.
Yet from time to time, the amending process does become more complex, as Members take
advantage of the opportunities afforded by clause 6 of House Rule XVI:
When an amendable proposition is under consideration, a motion to amend and a motion
to amend that amendment shall be in order, and it also shall be in order to offer a further
amendment by way of substitute for the original motion to amend, to which one amendment
may be offered but which shall not be voted on until the original amendment is perfected. An
amendment may be withdrawn in the House at any time before a decision or amendment
thereon. An amendment to the title of a bill or resolution shall not be in order until after its
passage or adoption and shall be decided without debate.
This rule creates the possibility for as many as four (and sometimes even five or more)
amendments to be proposed before Members must vote on any of them. It would be extraordinary
for such a situation to develop when bills are considered in the House or in the House as in
Committee of the Whole, and it arises infrequently in Committee of the Whole. Nonetheless, Rule
XVI, clause 6, creates a number of strategic possibilities that Members can employ when they
believe it to be in their interests to do so. The situation that may result can be depicted graphically
and is often described as the “amendment tree.”
The amending situations that may develop depend primarily on the form of the first-degree
amendments that Representatives offer. If a Member proposes a first-degree amendment in the
form of a motion to insert or, in most cases, in the form of a motion to strike out and insert, this
amendment tree depicts the kinds of amendments, and the maximum number of amendments, that
Representatives may propose before the Committee of the Whole (or the House) must vote on
any one of them. Somewhat different situations, to be discussed later, may arise if the first-degree
amendment is a motion to strike out or if it is an amendment in the nature of a substitute
proposing to replace the entire text of the measure.
Figure 1. The Amendment Tree
Assume that a Representative proposes an amendment that would insert something into a
measure, or that would replace part but not all of it. No other first-degree amendment may be
offered until after the committee votes on this amendment. And this being a first-degree
amendment, it is amendable. The amendment to the amendment may either be a second-
perfecting amendment that would strike from, add to, or replace something in the first-degree
amendment, or it may be a substitute amendment that proposes a complete alternative to what the
first-degree amendment would insert or strike and insert.
Under Rule XVI, both of these amendments are in order. After one Member proposes a second-
perfecting amendment, and before the committee votes on it, another Representative may offer a
substitute for the first-degree amendment. And it is equally possible for Members to propose
these two amendments in the opposite order. Thus, Members can offer two different amendments,
each directed toward the first-degree amendment, before the committee votes on either of them.
In addition, Rule XVI provides that the substitute for the same first-degree amendment also is
amendable. Another Member may propose an amendment to the substitute, either before or after
the second-perfecting amendment is offered. And the amendment to the substitute is in order even
though it could be construed to be a third degree amendment (an amendment to a substitute 73
amendment for an amendment), which normally is prohibited.
In this way, Members may propose four different amendments before any votes must occur. The
Representative offering the first-degree amendment may not propose the perfecting amendment
to, or the substitute for, her amendment, because a Member may not amend her own amendment.
However, this Member may amend the substitute for her amendment.
After Representatives have offered these four amendments, they and other Members may
continue to debate them. When there is no more debate or when the committee has voted to end
the debate, Rule XVI specifies the order in which the committee votes on the amendments. First
Members vote on the second-perfecting amendment, thereby perfecting the first-degree
amendment. Next comes the vote on the amendment to the substitute, which perfects the
alternative to the first-degree amendment. Third, the committee votes on the substitute
amendment, as it may have been amended. And finally, a vote occurs on the original first-degree 74
amendment, again as it may have been amended.
In this way, the committee can perfect two alternatives before choosing between them. The
substitute for the first-degree amendment presents the committee with a choice between two
alternatives. One alternative, the first-degree amendment, is perfectible by a second-degree
amendment. Therefore, Rule XVI also permits the committee to perfect the other alternative, the 75
substitute amendment. Both alternatives are perfected before the committee votes on the
substitute and thereby chooses between the two of them. If the substitute wins, the last vote—on
the first-degree amendment, as amended by the substitute—is nothing more than a second vote on
the same substantive proposal made by the substitute. On the other hand, if the substitute loses,
the committee usually ratifies its decision by agreeing to the first-degree amendment (perhaps as
perfected). The committee may reject the first-degree amendment, whatever the outcome of the
preceding votes, but the decisive vote more often occurs on the substitute amendment.
73 For this reason, it is not wholly accurate to characterize each amendment to an amendment as a second-degree
amendment. Under Rule XVI, a substitute for a first-degree amendment is also treated as a first-degree amendment in
that it is amendable.
74 House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 28, p. 42.
75 House Practice, Ch. 2, sec. 13, pp. 27-30.
By their amendments, Representatives may create only part of this amendment tree. For instance,
different Members may offer a perfecting amendment to, and a substitute for, a first-degree
amendment, but no amendment to the substitute. Or they may propose a substitute for the first-
degree amendment and an amendment to that substitute, but no second-perfecting amendment. In
any event, the order in which the committee votes on the amendments that Members do offer
remains the same: the first votes are to perfect either or both alternatives before the committee
votes on a substitute, if any.
Furthermore, the situation depicted by the amendment tree is not necessarily a static one. There
may only be one amendment on each “branch” of the amendment tree at a time. But after the
committee votes on each amendment, a Member can offer a different amendment on the same
branch, subject to the prohibition against attempting only to re-amend matter that already has
been amended. A Member who seeks recognition may offer an amendment on any unoccupied
branch of the tree, if it is otherwise in order, and no Member can claim a right to be recognized
before another because of the nature of the amendment he wishes to offer.
After the committee votes on a second-perfecting amendment, for example, it does not
necessarily proceed to act immediately on the next amendment in the voting order. Instead, a
Member may propose another second-perfecting amendment, so long as it would not only re-
amend something already amended. The committee then debates and votes on this new
amendment, and any other subsequent perfecting amendments, even if a substitute amendment
and an amendment to it had been offered previously. In other words, Members may offer a series
of second-perfecting amendments, each addressed to matter in the first-degree amendment that
has not yet been fully amended, and the committee acts on each of these amendments in turn
before voting on the amendment to the substitute and the substitute itself.
If no Member seeks recognition to offer another second-perfecting amendment, the committee
votes on the amendment to the substitute, after which a Representative may propose a different
amendment either to the substitute or to the first-degree amendment. The vote on an amendment
to the substitute does not preclude additional perfecting amendments to the first-degree
amendment. And should the committee eventually reject the substitute, the first-degree
amendment remains open to another substitute and to other perfecting amendments. The
amending process may continue until the first-degree amendment has been fully amended or until 76
Members have no further amendments they wish to offer.
The opportunities that Rule XVI offers suggest several strategic considerations. If Member A
plans to offer an amendment to a bill and knows that Member B is likely to have a different
amendment on the same subject, it is not necessarily advantageous for Member A to offer his
proposal as a first-degree amendment. Member B then can offer her amendment either as a
perfecting amendment or as a substitute, and should it win, there will be no “clean,” direct vote
on the unamended version of Member A’s original first-degree amendment.
If Member A does offer his amendment as a first-degree amendment to the bill, Member B may
decide to propose her amendment as a second-perfecting amendment (if that can be done in a way
that makes substantive sense), so that the Committee of the Whole will first vote on Member B’s
position. But if Member B adopts this strategy, Member A can attempt to re-coup the situation by
having Member C offer a slightly changed version of Member A’s amendment as a substitute for
76 House Practice, ch. 2, sec. 28, pp. 42-44.
that amendment. Thus, even if the committee votes for Member B’s second-perfecting
amendment, it could vote for Member A’s basic position as well by adopting Member C’s
substitute. And if the committee votes for both amendments, it is Member C’s amendment that
ultimately prevails, because the effect of adopting a substitute for an amendment is to fully
replace the text of that amendment as it already may have been amended by one or more
Of course, Member C’s substitute also is amendable. So Member B or a colleague could offer the
substance of her proposal a second time, as an amendment to the substitute. Although a Member
may not offer the same amendment twice, Member B may propose equivalent amendments to
both the first-degree amendment and the substitute for it, because each of her amendments would
amend a different text. Anticipating this development, Member A or another ally could seek
recognition first to offer an amendment to the substitute that is consistent with Member A’s
original proposal. Finally, after the committee votes on both perfecting amendments—one to the
first-degree amendment, the other to the substitute—Members might still be able to offer
additional perfecting amendments to either.
Alternatively, Member B could propose a substitute for Member A’s first-degree amendment. To
ensure that the eventual vote on the substitute would not preclude a vote on Member A’s position,
an ally of his could offer a second-perfecting amendment on which the committee will vote first.
If the committee votes for this perfecting amendment, it may be unwilling to vote also for a
substitute that is inconsistent with the amendment already adopted. But if the substitute prevails,
the victory achieved by the second-perfecting amendment is lost, because the substitute will
replace the text of the first-degree amendment as perfected. Member A’s ally also has the option
of amending Member B’s substitute; if the committee supports that amendment, there will be no
“clean” vote on the substitute. In response, however, Member B or an ally might obtain a vote on
the essence of their position in the form of a second-perfecting amendment to Member A’s
As these possibilities suggest, there is no ideal strategy for Representatives to adopt when they
anticipate the development of an amendment tree. A Member’s preferred strategy can depend on
such considerations as the amount and intensity of the support for the Member’s position and the
importance of having the committee vote first on that position. The nature of the issue also may
matter. In some cases, Members may be inclined to vote for more than one approach to
responding to a widely shared concern; in others, Members are less likely to vote for one
approach and then to vote as well for a second, inconsistent approach. In addition, the positions of
the Representatives offering the amendments can make a difference. The sequence in which the
amendments actually are offered depends on the order in which the chair recognizes Members to
propose them. And the chair traditionally gives preference in recognition to the senior members
of the committee that reported the bill being considered.
Another implication of these possibilities is that the way in which an amendment is drafted—
whether as a perfecting or a substitute amendment—depends not only on the nature of the
proposal but also on the parliamentary circumstances under which it is likely to be offered. This is
particularly true of amendments to amendments, which Members and staff may have to prepare
after the floor debate has begun. It sometimes is advisable to draft the same amendment in several
different forms, to preserve procedural flexibility and to maximize the likelihood that the Member
actually will have an opportunity to offer it. Even then, the amendment’s sponsor may have to
complete the drafting process on the floor by “keying” it to the appropriate page and line numbers
of the text she intends to amend.
Thus far, this discussion of the amendment tree has assumed that the first-degree amendment
from which the tree “grows” is either (1) a motion to insert or (2) a motion to strike out and insert
which affects only part of the measure’s text. Somewhat different opportunities arise if, instead,
the first-degree amendment is a motion to strike out or an amendment in the nature of a substitute
(proposing to strike out the entire text of the measure and insert a different version in its place).
A motion to strike out usually is not amendable; in the conventional practice of the House,
Members do not offer perfecting amendments to, or substitutes for, such motions. However,
House precedents do permit Members to propose amendments to the part of the measure that the
motion would strike. In other words, the House can perfect a part of a bill or resolution before 77
deciding whether to strike it. In this case, therefore, two Members can propose first-degree
amendments to the text of a measure before the Committee of the Whole votes on either of
them—the amendment to strike and the amendment to change the text proposed to be stricken.
The latter amendment can be a perfecting amendment—replacing, striking, or adding to part of
the language to which the motion to strike is directed. Or the amendment may be a substitute for
whatever the first amendment offered would strike.
In either case, the amendment to the text proposed to be stricken is a first-degree amendment that
is amendable, and the other three branches of the amendment tree may “grow” on this
amendment. Thus, five amendments may be offered before any votes occur: first, the motion to
strike; second, an amendment to the text proposed to be stricken; and then, a perfecting
amendment to the second amendment, a substitute for it, and an amendment to the substitute.
All of the preceding discussion of the amendment tree applies to this situation, with one
exception. After the committee votes on all the other amendments, there also may be a final vote
on the original motion to strike. If the amendment that comes behind the motion to strike is a
perfecting amendment, the committee votes on the perfecting amendment and then on the motion
to strike. But if the amendment proposes to replace the whole text at which the motion to strike is
directed, and if it attracts a majority vote on the floor, no vote occurs on the motion to strike. The
matter proposed to be stricken has been completely amended, so the motion to strike becomes an
attempt to re-amend something that the committee already has amended. The chair announces
that the motion to strike “falls” without the need for a vote because the motion is no longer in 78
Finally, a considerably more elaborate amendment tree can develop when a Member offers an
amendment in the nature of a substitute for the entire text of a bill or resolution, though there are
procedural reasons why this rarely occurs.
Such an amendment in the nature of a substitute presents the Committee of the Whole with a
choice between two versions of the bill: the version embodied in the bill as it was introduced and
brought to the floor, and the version embodied in the complete substitute. The amendment in the
77 On how motions to strike may affect the amending process, see House Practice, ch. 2, secs. 14, 21, 22, 31, 40.
78 Annotations to Section XXXV of Jefferson’s Manual in House Rules and Manual.
nature of a substitute is a first-degree amendment, and so it is amendable to the same extent as
any other first-degree amendment. The amendment is perfectible; in addition, it is subject to a
substitute (in effect, a third version of the bill) which also is amendable. After the committee
votes on all amendments to the amendment in the nature of a substitute, it then votes on that
complete substitute as it may have been amended. If the committee adopts the amendment in the
nature of a substitute, it replaces the entire text of the measure, amending it fully. This precludes
any further amendments to the bill because of the prohibition against re-amendment.
If this were the extent of the amendments in order, the Committee of the Whole would be able to
perfect one version of the bill but not the other. It could vote on amendments to the amendment in
the nature of a substitute before voting on it, and thereby choosing between it and the other
version, the text of the bill. But it could not perfect the text of the bill itself before making this
choice. For this reason, House precedents allow Members to offer amendments to the bill itself as
well as to the complete substitute for it. The result is the potential for Members to offer eight
amendments before the committee begins to vote: the amendment in the nature of a substitute and
three amendments relating to it, and four amendments relating to the original text of the bill.
Under such a scenario, two full trees of the type depicted above would arise.
After a Representative proposes the complete substitute, another Member may offer an
amendment to the substitute or a first-degree amendment to perfect the pending part of the
original version of the bill. If the latter is offered, it is subject to the same amendment tree as any
other first-degree amendment (unless, of course, it is a motion to strike). If any or all of this two-
trunk tree develops, the committee votes first on amendments to the perfecting amendment and
then on the perfecting amendment (perhaps as amended), before it acts on amendments relating to
the amendment in the nature of a substitute. And after the vote on the perfecting amendment to
the bill, Members may propose additional perfecting amendments, one at a time, and amend and
vote on them, while the complete substitute and any amendments to it remain pending.
Fortunately, there are at least two reasons why such extremely complicated situations rarely
develop. Most amendments in the nature of substitutes for measures are committee amendments
(or substitutes supported by committee chairmen) which special rules regularly make in order as
the original text to be amended. Under such a rule, it is the substitute, not the bill, that is read for
amendment and may be amended in two degrees. Members may not offer amendments to the text
of the bill as introduced until after voting on all amendments to the amendment in the nature of a
substitute and on the substitute itself, and then only if the committee rejects it. Because the
Committee of the Whole rarely, if ever, rejects an amended committee substitute, it almost never
reaches the original text of the bill. And even if this were to happen, both versions would not be
open to amendment at the same time. First the committee would act on the substitute and all
amendments to it, and then on amendments to the original version of the bill.
The two-trunk amendment tree is unlikely to develop even if a special rule does not provide for
the Committee of the Whole to consider the amendment in the nature of a substitute as original
text, and, instead, a Member offers it as a first-degree amendment. The reason lies in two
elements of the amending process. First, as already noted, a Representative may propose an
amendment in the nature of a substitute at only two points during the amending process in
Committee of the Whole: either at the very beginning, after the first section has been read, or at
the very end, after the committee has disposed of all other amendments. Second, Members may
only propose amendments to that portion of the measure itself that has been read or designated for
amendment, and bills and resolutions typically are considered for amendment section by section
or title by title.
If the substitute is offered at the beginning, after the clerk reads or designates the first section of
the bill, Members can propose amendments to any part of the substitute but only to the first 79
section of the bill (which often does nothing more than state its short title). The clerk resumes
reading the remaining sections or titles of the bill for amendment only after the committee acts on
all amendments to the substitute and then rejects it. Unless the committee agrees, by unanimous
consent, to consider the entire bill as read and open to amendment at any point, this situation
effectively precludes substantive amendments to the text of the bill while the amendment in the
nature of a substitute is pending. If, on the other hand, a Member proposes the substitute at the
end of the process, the committee already will have considered and voted on whatever
amendments to the bill itself Members wished to offer. There is little likelihood that they would
want to propose many additional amendments to it after the complete substitute is finally offered.
Except under the most extraordinary circumstances, therefore, only the first of the two
amendment tree develops on the House floor. Also, while in theory this tree could grow during
consideration of measures in the House or in the House as in Committee of the Whole, this is
even more unlikely. In practice, Members do not create amendment tree very often, and then only
in Committee of the Whole.
In addition to the principles and prohibitions that apply to all amendments, House Rule XXI
imposes certain special restrictions and procedures governing floor amendments to tax and
Clauses 4 and 5 are intended to ensure that Members offer tax and appropriations amendments
only to measures on those subjects that have been reported by the appropriate House committees.
Clause 4 prohibits consideration of “an amendment proposing an appropriation...during the
consideration of a bill or joint resolution reported by a committee not having that jurisdiction”—
namely, any committee other than the Appropriations Committee. And similarly, clause 5(a)
provides for a point of order against “an amendment in the House or proposed by the Senate
carrying a tax or tariff measure...during the consideration of a bill or joint resolution reported by a
committee not having that jurisdiction”—namely, any committee other than the Ways and Means
The same clause contains two other provisions affecting tax measures. First, no amendment,
measure, or conference report is in order if it proposes a retroactive increase in federal income tax
rates. Second, a three-fifths vote is required to approve any amendment, bill or joint resolution, or
conference report that carries a federal income tax rate increase.
Clause 2 also includes provisions, which are invoked more often than those of clause 4 or 5, that
restrict amendments to general appropriations measures. Their essential purposes are (1) to
enforce the requirement that appropriations are to be authorized by law and (2) to preserve a
79 House Procedure, 1985 Supplement, ch. 27, sec. 7.12, p. 505.
separation between policy and funding decisions. These restrictions apply only to general 80
appropriations bills, but not to other legislation that may include appropriations.
Clause 2(a)(1) states that almost all appropriations must have been authorized by law before they
may be considered on the House floor, whether as provisions of bills and resolutions or as
amendments to them:
An appropriation may not be reported in a general appropriation bill, and may not be in
order as an amendment thereto, for an expenditure not previously authorized by law, except
to continue appropriations for public works and objects that already are in progress.
Furthermore, clause 2(c) provides in part that:
An amendment to a general appropriation bill shall not in order if changing existing law. . . .
Enforcing the second of these prohibitions depends on what constitutes a change in existing law,
or “legislation.” The House has traditionally distinguished between “legislation” and a
“limitation,” which is an appropriations provision or amendment that restricts the purposes for
which or the means by which appropriations may be used. An amendment limiting the availability 81
of appropriations may be in order if it meets the requirements of a complex body of precedents:
for example, if it applies only to the funds appropriated by the bill or resolution to which it is
offered (and not to the funds appropriated by “this or any other act”), and if it does not impose 82
any new duty or responsibility on an official of the federal government.
However, clause 2(d) imposes special procedures relating to limitation amendments. A Member
wanting to offer a limitation to a certain paragraph of a general appropriations bill may not do so
after the clerk has read that paragraph, even though that normally would be the appropriate time
for offering an amendment in Committee of the Whole. Instead, as the bill is read for amendment,
the Committee of the Whole considers and acts on all amendments except limitations. Then, after
the bill has been completely read for amendment and the committee has voted on the last
amendment, a Representative may propose a limitation amendment relating to any paragraph of
the bill or to the bill as a whole. But clause 2(d) provides a means by which the House can vote
not to consider this or any other limitation.
Either before a Member proposes a limitation amendment, or after she offers it but before debate
begins, the majority floor manager can offer a preferential and non-debatable motion that the
committee rise and report the bill back to the House with whatever amendments the committee 83
already has adopted. The Committee of the Whole normally does not rise and report until after it
has considered all the amendments that Members wish to offer. In this case, however, the
committee can vote against considering a limitation amendment by agreeing to a motion to rise
and report before the limitation is proposed or before debate on it begins. If the motion is
rejected, the limitation amendment is in order. But after the committee votes on that amendment,
80 House Practice, ch. 4, sec. 6, pp. 78-79.
81 House Practice, ch. 4, secs. 50-59, pp. 120-136.
82 Annotations to Rule XXI, clause 2.
the floor manager again may move that the committee rise and report, and thereby preclude 84
consideration of the next or any subsequent limitation.
Thus, this special procedure under clause 2(d) permits the Committee of the Whole to cast a vote
which, in effect, can preclude Members from proposing one or all limitation amendments that
otherwise would be in order.
Clause 2(f) of Rule XXI also contains an exception to the general principle that, when a bill is
being read amendment in Committee of the Whole, Members may offer amendments only to the
part of the bill that has been read (or designated) and is open to amendment. Clause 2(f) permits a
Member to offer amendments en bloc if the combined effect of the amendments is to “transfer
appropriations among objects in the bill without increasing the levels of budget authority or
outlays in the bill.” Such amendments are in order even if they amend portions of the bill that
have not yet been read for amendment, and the amendments are not subject to a demand that they 85
be divided and considered separately.
House rules also limit the ability of Members to add so-called “earmarks” to legislation via
certain types of amendment. Under Clause 9 of Rule XXI, it is not in order to consider
amendments to bills or joint resolutions, “to be offered at the outset of its consideration for
amendment by a member of a committee of initial referral” unless the proponent has caused a list
of congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, and limited tariff benefits in the amendment (and
the name of any Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner who submitted a request to the
proponent for each respective item included in such list) or a statement that the proposition
contains no congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, or limited tariff benefits to be printed in
the Congressional Record prior to its consideration.
Clause 10 of Rule XXI is known as the House’s “pay-as-you-go,” or “PAYGO” rule. This
provision requires that bills and joint resolutions—as well as amendments thereto—that affect
direct spending or revenues must not increase the deficit or reduce the surplus over a six-year
window. This window includes the current year, the upcoming fiscal year, and the four following
fiscal years, as well as an 11-year period (the period cited above as well as the ensuing five fiscal
This requirement, like all other rules of the House, may be waived by a special rule. Beginning in th
the 110 Congress, when crafting special rules on certain measures affecting direct spending or
revenues, the Rules Committee has “strongly encouraged” Members to send their amendments to
the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), “for analysis regarding possible violations of the 86
PAYGO rule before submitting them for Rules Committee consideration.”
84 These same procedures apply to “germane amendments which retrench expenditures by reduction of amounts of
money covered by the bill.” Annotations to Rule XXI, clause 2.
85 For additional information on amendments to appropriations bills, see CRS Report RL31055, House Offset
Amendments to Appropriations Bills: Procedural Considerations, by Sandy Streeter.
86 For more information on how the PAYGO Rule may affect the House amending process, see CRS Report RL33850,
The House’s “Pay-As-You-Go” (PAYGO) Rule in the 110th Congress: A Brief Overview, by Robert Keith.
Several sections of this report have identified points of order to which amendments may be
subject. If a Representative makes a point of order against an amendment and the point of order is
sustained, the amendment may not be considered. The Speaker or the chair of the Committee of
the Whole usually does not rule an amendment out of order until after a Member makes a point of
order against it. It is the responsibility of each Member to enforce the procedures of the House,
and thereby protect her own rights, by making appropriate points of order. If no Member makes a
point of order, an amendment normally may be considered even though it violates some
requirement of the House’s legislative procedures.
When a Representative wants to make a point of order against an amendment, she usually does so
as soon as the amendment is offered, or she may reserve the point of order before the debate
begins and then make it at a later time during debate on the amendment. However, the special rule
under which a measure is being considered may waive applicable points of order against specific
amendments that Members are expected to propose. Furthermore, no point of order lies against an
amendment presented to the House as part of a motion to suspend the rules and pass a measure as
amended; the suspension procedure has the effect of waiving all points of order that otherwise
might lie against the bill or any amendment incorporated in the motion.
In almost all cases, there is only one appropriate moment for making a point of order against an
amendment: after the clerk has finished reading the amendment, or after the reading has been
dispensed with by unanimous consent, but before the sponsor of the amendment begins to debate 87
it. In some cases, therefore, a Member may insist on having an amendment read in full to give
him time to examine it. Once debate begins on the amendment, in most cases it is too late to make
a point of order against it.
The exceptions to this general rule are points of order made under clauses 4 and 5 of Rule XXI,
prohibiting an appropriations or tax amendment to a measure that was not reported by the
appropriate committee. Such a point of order “may be raised at any time;” a Member may make it
at any time that the Committee of the Whole is considering the amendment under the five-minute
Instead of making a point of order against an amendment at the appropriate time—before there
has been any debate on it—a Member may seek to “reserve” the point of order, and then make it 88
after there have been five or more minutes of debate on the amendment. There are two primary
reasons for doing so. First, the Member may want more time to study the amendment, to decide if
it is subject to a point of order and, if so, whether she chooses to make it. Second, the Member
may intend to make a point of order but prefers to allow the amendment’s sponsor (and perhaps
other Members) some time to discuss it. If a Member reserves a point of order and a colleague
then demands “the regular order,” the “chair hears and rules on the point of order as expeditiously 89
87 House Practice, ch. 37, sec. 4, p. 666.
88 House Practice, ch. 37, sec. 3, p. 665.
89 House Procedure, ch. 31, sec. 2.5, p. 698.
Members do not have any right to debate points of order; instead, the chair has discretion to
entertain as much or as little debate for his information as he wishes. Traditionally, the Speaker or
the chair recognizes the Member making the point of order to explain the basis for it—identifying
the principle, rule, or precedent that the amendment violates—and to argue in favor it. The
sponsor of the amendment next has an opportunity to defend it against the point of order, after
which the chair may recognize other Members to speak on the procedural question. The Speaker
or chair then makes a ruling, with the advice of the parliamentarian, which reflects past
interpretations of the applicable rules and precedents.
Any Member may appeal the ruling of the chair on a point of order against an amendment, in 90
which case the House then decides by majority vote whether to sustain or overturn the ruling.
But this is rarely done, and virtually never done successfully. The presiding officer of the House
has not been overruled against his will in more than 50 years. Thus, rulings of the chair, either in
the House or in Committee of the Whole, are conclusive for all practical purposes.
There have been references throughout this report to the usual or possible impact of special rules 91
on the amending process. These effects are summarized here.
First, special rules usually specify the set of procedures under which the House considers a
measure. The overwhelming majority of rules provide for consideration in Committee of the
Whole, but they may state instead that a bill or resolution is to be considered in the House or in
the House as in Committee of the Whole. On rare occasions, special rules concerning general
appropriations measures, which are privileged for floor consideration, may only waive points of
order against the measure, its provisions, and amendments to it.
Second, special rules specify the length of general debate in Committee of the Whole and allocate
it between or among committee chairmen, ranking minority members, and in rare instances, other
Members as well.
Third, special rules routinely provide for an amendment in the nature of a substitute, usually
recommended by the committee that reported the measure, to be considered as an original bill for
purpose of amendment. The effect of this provision is to make the substitute amendable in two
degrees and to direct all amendments to it, rather than to the text of the measure as introduced,
except in the unlikely event that the committee ultimately rejects the substitute.
Fourth, special rules may restrict the amendments that Representatives can offer in Committee of
the Whole. A “closed rule” precludes all amendments, or all but those offered at the direction of
the committee of jurisdiction. A “structured” rule is a restrictive special rule that either permits
only the amendments identified by the special rule or prohibits amendments on certain subjects or
to certain parts of the measure. Modified open rules permit amendments to be offered as long as
they have been preprinted in the Congressional Record. Special rules also may prohibit
amendments to amendments.
90 House Practice, ch. 37, sec. 12, pp.371-372.
91 For additional information, see CRS Report 98-612, Special Rules and Options for Regulating the Amending
Process, by Megan Suzanne Lynch.
Fifth, special rules may waive points of order against one or more committee amendments or
amendments that Members intend to offer.
Sixth, and finally, special rules typically provide for the previous question to be considered as
ordered when the Committee of the Whole rises and reports the measure back to the House. This
provision prohibits debate on the amendments that the committee has recommended and prevents
Members from offering additional amendments at this late stage of the process.
House of Representatives
The following official publications of the House contain further information on the amending
process and related procedures:
Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives of the United States,
published each Congress as a House document. (Cited in the notes as House Rules and
William Holmes Brown, Charles W. Johnson, House Practice, A Guide to the Rules, Precedents, thst
and Procedures of the House, 108 Congress, 1 session. Washington: GPO, 2003.
Procedure in the U.S. House of Representatives, 97th Congress. Washington: GPO, 1982.
Procedure in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1985 and 1987 Supplements. Washington: GPO,
Cannon’s Procedure in the House of Representatives. 87th Congress, 2nd session. House Document
No. 610. Washington: GPO, 1963.
Hinds’ and Cannon’s Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States (in 11
volumes). Washington: GPO, 1907 and 1936.
Deschler’s Precedents of the U.S. House of Representatives and Deschler-Brown Precedents of thnd
the U.S. House of Representatives (in 16 volumes to date). 94 Congress, 2 session. House
Document No. 94-661. Washington: GPO, 1977.
The parliamentarian and his assistants welcome inquiries about House procedures, and offer
expert assistance compatible with their other responsibilities.
Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process