Amendment Process in the Committee of the Whole

Amendment Process in the
Committee of the Whole
Judy Schneider
Specialist on the Congress
Government and Finance Division
Amendments are usually considered not in the House, but in the Committee of the
Whole, a parliamentary device designed to expedite the amendment process. For
example, in the House, Members are generally recognized under the “hour rule;” in the
Committee of the Whole, they are recognized to speak under the “five-minute rule.” A
quorum in the House is 218; in the Committee of the Whole, 100.
This report is a companion to CRS Report 98-426, Amendments on the House Floor:
Summary of Major Restrictions. For more information on legislative process, see
[] .
Reading for Amendment
Unless a special rule from the Rules Committee specifies otherwise, a bill is usually
read for amendment (second reading) by section. (Bills can also be read for amendment
by title, or be open to amendment at any point; the special rule will identify how the
measure is to be amended.) Generally, Members may offer germane amendments to a
section only after the clerk has designated that section. If the next section has been
reached, the opportunity to offer an amendment to the previous section has passed. A
Member needs unanimous consent to return to a section that has been completed.
When the first section of a measure is read or designated, amendments recommended
by the committee reporting the bill, referred to as “committee amendments,” are
automatically considered without having to be offered from the floor. (The special rule
frequently provides that each section be considered as read, thus the clerk will merely
“designate” the pending section). The special rule may provide that once adopted, the
committee amendment becomes part of the base text and open for further amendment.
Members are then recognized to offer individual amendments. Priority recognition from
the chair is generally given to members of the committee of jurisdiction, and by seniority
on that committee. Recognition usually alternates between the parties.

Debating an Amendment
Amendments are debated under the five-minute rule, with the proponent and a
member opposed being recognized to speak first. Other members can then offer pro
forma amendments, by moving “to strike the requisite number of words.” Pro forma
amendments are merely a device to gain five minutes of time without having to offer an
actual amendment. At the end of the five minutes, the pro forma amendment is considered
withdrawn. Unanimous consent is needed to speak longer than five minutes.
During debate under the five-minute rule, Members may yield to other Members, but
they may not specify a particular amount of time. Members also are precluded from
reserving any of the five minutes they are recognized for. Finally, when a Member yields
to a colleague, at any point that Member may “reclaim my time.”
Debate can be limited or ended, absent a provision in a special rule, either by
unanimous consent or by a motion to end or limit debate. (The previous question is not
in order in the Committee of the Whole.) A Member, usually the bill’s floor manager,
may ask that debate be limited on a specific amendment, a section of the bill, or the entire
measure, if it has been read for amendment or is open to amendment at any point. The
motion may specify a specific time, such as 8:00 p.m., or in a set number of hours, with
time generally divided by party, or among Members standing for recognition at the time
the motion or request is made.
Amendment Tree: Degrees of Amendments
An amendment to the base text is called a first-degree amendment. Such a first-
degree amendment can be further amended by either a substitute or a perfecting
amendment. The substitute is also subject to a perfecting amendment. As such,
perfecting amendments are called second-degree amendments, while the substitute is
considered a first-degree amendment. These amendments together constitute what is
referred to as the amendment tree.
The perfecting amendment to the amendment to the bill is voted on first; the
perfecting amendment to the substitute is voted on second; the substitute is voted on third;
and the base amendment to the text is voted on last. When an amendment has been
disposed of, and a branch of the tree is then open, an additional amendment may still be
in order, provided the amendment does not amend only what has already been amended.
Voting on Amendments
Once debate has concluded, the chair will automatically put the question on the
pending amendment and announce the voice vote’s outcome. Any Member may demand
either a division vote, where Members would stand to be counted, or a recorded vote,
requiring a sufficient second of 25 Members. In order to obtain a recorded vote when the
requisite 25 members are not in the chamber, a Member says, “I request a recorded vote
and, pending that, I make a point of order that a quorum is not present.”