Senate Unanimous Consent Agreements: Potential Effects on the Amendment Process
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
The Senate frequently enters into unanimous consent agreements (also called “UC agreements”)
that establish procedure on a bill that the Senate is considering or soon will consider. There are
few restrictions on what these agreements can provide, and once agreed to, they can be altered
only by a further unanimous consent action. In recent practice, the Senate often begins by
adopting a general UC agreement, then adds elements in piecemeal fashion as debate continues.
UC agreements often contain provisions affecting the floor amending process, most often in one
or more of the ways detailed below. For additional information on legislative process, see
http://www.crs .gov/products /guides/guidehome.shtml.
Amendments in Order and Adoption Thereof.....................................................................1
The Order in Which Senators Offer Amendments..............................................................1
The Right to Offer Second-degree Amendments................................................................1
The Time Available for Considering Amendments.............................................................2
The Subjects of Amendments.............................................................................................2
Points of Order Against Amendments.................................................................................2
Author Contact Information............................................................................................................4
he Senate frequently enters into unanimous consent agreements (also called “UC
agreements”) that establish procedure on a bill that the Senate is considering or soon will 1
consider. There are few restrictions on what these agreements can provide, and once T
agreed to, they can be altered only by a further unanimous consent action. In recent practice, the
Senate often begins by adopting a general UC agreement, then adds elements in piecemeal
fashion as debate continues. UC agreements often contain provisions affecting the floor amending
process, most often in one or more of the ways detailed below. For additional information on
legislative process, see http://www.crs.gov/products/guides/guidehome.shtml.
Under Senate rules, amendments may be offered to a bill until the bill has been amended in its
entirety (but not thereafter). A UC agreement can limit the amendments that are in order. For
example, the agreement may include a list of the only (or only additional) amendments that
Senators may offer to the bill; these amendments may be identified by some combination of 2
number, sponsor, and subject. The UC agreement may also provide that, by agreeing to it, the
Senate also be deemed to have adopted a specified amendment; for example, the agreement may
provide for the adoption of a committee substitute (and may also treat it as original text for the
purpose of further amendment).
Under Senate rules, once committee amendments to a bill are acted upon, Senators may offer
amendments to the bill in the order in which they seek and receive recognition from the presiding
officer. While the parties’ floor leaders—and, to a lesser extent, the bill’s majority and minority
floor managers—receive priority in recognition, Senate rules and precedents do not otherwise 3
specify a sequence in which amendments to a bill are to be offered. A UC agreement can provide
the order in which Senators are to offer certain amendments to a bill. For example, an agreement
may specify which amendment the Senate will consider after disposing of the pending
amendment. A more encompassing agreement may specify the sequence in which a list of
amendments will be considered.
Under Senate rules, Senators usually may propose second-degree amendments to a first-degree
amendment while it is pending, and may continue doing so until the first-degree amendment has
been completely amended. A UC agreement can prohibit all second-degree amendments, or all
second-degree amendments on a certain subject. It can also allow Senators to offer only specified
1 This report was originally prepared by Stanley Bach, former Senior Specialist in the Legislative Process at CRS. The
listed author has updated the report and can respond to inquiries on the subject. For a broader overview of UC
agreements, see CRS Report 98-225, Unanimous Consent Agreements in the Senate, by Walter J. Oleszek.
2 Inclusion of an amendment in an adopted UC agreement constitutes action on the amendment. Until the Senate has
taken some action in relation to an amendment, the Senator offering it may modify or withdraw it at will, but cannot
offer an amendment to it.
3 For example, Senators may offer amendments to any unamended section of the bill at any time.
Under Senate rules, the debate on an amendment can continue (unless cloture has been invoked)
until no Senator seeks recognition to speak on it, or until the amendment has been disposed of in
some way. A UC agreement can limit the time available for debating a particular amendment,
each of several specific amendments, or all amendments to the bill. The agreement can provide
different amounts of time for debating individual first-degree amendments, and it can provide
more time for debating first-degree amendments than for debating second-degree amendments.
UC agreements often divide control of the time for debating an amendment between the Senator
offering it and another opposing it (often the minority manager of the bill, or alternatively, the
minority leader). In addition, a UC agreement can limit the total time devoted to acting and voting
on all (or all further) amendments to a bill. For example, the agreement may specify that
consideration of amendments shall end at a time specified. Increasingly, UC agreements provide
that each of a series of amendments be considered and then temporarily laid aside rather than
voted on, and that votes then be “stacked” to occur in immediate succession on all of them at
some later point (often just before a final vote on the measure).
Under Senate rules, amendments offered to a bill need not be germane to that bill, except for
amendments to general appropriations and budget reconciliation bills or unless the Senate has
invoked cloture. A UC agreement may require that certain or all amendments to a bill be germane 4
or, more often today, that they meet the less strict standard of relevancy. Either standard may also
be applied to second-degree amendments.
Under Senate rules, an individual amendment may be subject to procedural points of order—for
example, to enforce the congressional budget process—that, if raised and allowed to stand, would
prevent consideration of the amendment. A UC agreement may waive points of order against
certain or all amendments, thereby protecting consideration of certain amendments that Senators
UC agreements can limit the amending process on the Senate floor in ways not mentioned above.5
For an explanation of how these agreements can affect other aspects of Senate floor proceedings,
see CRS Report RS20594, How Unanimous Consent Agreements Regulate Senate Floor Action,
by Richard S. Beth.
Two UC agreements from the 109th Congress follow below. Each illustrates several dimensions
on which an agreement may affect the amending process. Order No. 191 first proposes that the
Senate amend S. 1566 by virtue of agreeing to the UC agreement. It then allows for only the
listed first-degree amendments, setting time limitations for the consideration of each. Order No.
4 See Floyd M. Riddick and Alan S. Frumin, Riddick’s Senate Procedure, 101st Cong., 2nd sess., S.Doc. 101-28
(Washington: GPO, 1992), pp. 1344-1353 for precedents on germaneness under UC agreements, and pp. 1362-1363 for
those relating to relevancy.
5 See Riddick and Frumin, Senate Procedure, pp. 1314-1328 for precedents affecting the amending process under a UC
agreement. For example, if the agreement specifies a time for specific votes or time limitations on debate, a number of
precedents specify the circumstances under which further amendments may be in order but not subject to debate.
235 provides that, upon adoption of the agreement, a new “manager’s amendment” be considered
as the original text of S. 1516 for amendment and an additional named amendment be deemed
agreed to, followed by a list of the only other permitted amendments (with attendant debate
S. 1566 (ORDER NO. 191)
Ordered, That at a time to be determined by the Majority Leader with concurrence of the Democratic Leader, the
Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of S. 1566, an original bill to reauthorize the Commodity Exchange
Act, and for other purposes; provided that the amendment at the desk offered by the Senator from Georgia (Mr.
Chambliss) be agreed to; further, that the only other amendments in order be the following four amendments, the
text of which are at the desk, with no second degree amendments in order:
Smith/Stevens—Petroleum prices (1 hour equally divided)
Cantwell—Petroleum prices (1 hour equally divided)
Feinstein—Electronic energy transactions (4 hours equally divided with 30 minutes of the Minority time under
the control of the Senator from Michigan (Mr. Levin))
Conrad—CFTC’s authority (1 hour equally divided)
Ordered further, That in addition to the time specified on the amendments, there be 30 minutes of debate equally
divided on the bill and that following the use or yielding back of time and the disposition of amendments, the bill as
amended, be read a third time; further, that the Senate then proceed to H.R. 4473, the House companion, and that all
after enacting clause be stricken and the text of S. 1566, as amended, be inserted in lieu thereof; further, that the bill
as amended, be read a third time and the Senate proceed to a vote on passage and that S. 1566, as amended, be
returned to the Senate calendar. (Aug. 1, 2006.)
S. 1516 (ORDER NO. 235)
Ordered, That at a time to be determined by the Majority Leader with concurrence of the Democratic Leader, the
Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of S. 1516, a bill to reauthorize Amtrak, and for other purposes;
provided that the committee-reported substitute be withdrawn and the Managers amendment at the desk be agreed
to as original text for the purposes of further amendment, the amendment offered by the Senator from Iowa (Mr.
Harkin) at the desk be agreed to and that the only other amendments in order be the following, the text of which is
at the desk:
Sununu—Long Distance Trains
Ordered further, That there be 1 hour for debate equally divided on each of the amendments and 1 hour of general
debate on the bill; further, following the disposition of amendments and the use or yielding back of time, the bill as
amended, be read a third time and the Senate proceed to a vote on passage without any intervening action or debate;
further, that no points of order be waived by virtue of this agreement. (Aug. 3, 2006.)
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