Amendments in the Senate: Types and Forms

Amendments in the Senate: Types and Forms
Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
Distinctions Among Amendments
The amending process is central to the consideration of legislation by the Senate, and
the rules, practices, and precedents that underlie this process frequently depend on
distinguishing among amendments based on their type and form. The way in which an
amendment is crafted, and the circumstances in which it is offered, can have an impact
on its consideration. When an amendment to a measure is offered in the Senate, and
while the amendment is pending, it is normally in order for other amendments to be
offered dealing with the same portion of the measure. The relative precedence of an
amendment determines whether it can be offered while another amendment is pending,
and, if it can, that it be voted on first. Amending opportunities available in the Senate
depend on what amendments have already been offered, and several different
“amendment trees” can develop depending on circumstances. Precedence depends on the
relationship between the degree, form, and scope of the pending amendments and the ones
to be offered. Distinguishing among the types and forms of amendments therefore has
implications for what alternatives the Senate may choose among, and how many
amendments may be pending at one time. For more detail on these implications, see CRS
Report 98-853, The Amending Process in the Senate. For more information on legislative
process, see [].
Degrees of Amendments
A fundamental aspect of the amending process in the Senate is that it is limited to
two degrees. Generally amendments may be offered to the measure under consideration
(first-degree), and to amendments to the measure (second-degree). Second-degree
amendments have precedence over first-degree amendments. That means not only that
second-degree amendments are offered while a first-degree amendment is pending, but
also that they must be disposed of before the Senate can vote on the first-degree
amendment, as it may have been amended. Senate rules do not allow third-degree
Forms of Amendments
Amendments may also be distinguished by whether they are posed in the form of
(1) a motion to strike out some existing text from a measure (or from a first-degree

amendment); (2) a motion solely to insert some new text into a measure (or into a first-
degree amendment); or (3) a motion both to strike out some existing text and insert
something new (in either a measure or a first degree amendment).
This distinction is integral in structuring the choices that the Senate may choose
among because the Senate allows different amendment trees to develop depending on the
form of the first amendment offered. The Senate assigns higher precedence to
amendments to insert and amendments to strike and insert than to amendments to strike
out. Although an amendment to strike is not itself amendable, Senate procedure allows
Senators to “go behind” an amendment to strike, and first consider amendments to the
portion of the measure proposed to be stricken. In this way, when one of the effects of
an amendment is to eliminate some text from a measure, the Senate may first consider
alternatives to that text.
Scope of Amendments
A third way to distinguish among amendments is by their scope. The procedural
scope of an amendment is defined in relation to the text the amendment would effect, and
is not indicative of any substantive policy changes that would result from the proposed
amendment. Generally, the Senate considers an amendment to be a substitute if it would
replace all of a pending text. A perfecting amendment is one that inserts text or replaces
less than a complete text. An amendment drafted as a motion to strike out and insert may
be treated as a substitute or as a perfecting amendment depending on what is being
stricken and the procedural situation in which it is offered.
In certain circumstances, both a substitute and a perfecting amendment may be
pending simultaneously. For example, when a first-degree amendment to insert new text
in a measure is pending, a second-degree amendment that would be a substitute for the
first-degree amendment could be offered. Moreover, a perfecting amendment has
precedence over a substitute directed to the same text. Therefore, while the second-degree
substitute (to a first-degree amendment) is pending, a second-degree perfecting
amendment may also be offered, and would be voted on first. The principle behind this
is to allow alternatives to be “perfected” before the Senate must choose between them.
When a first-degree amendment to strike and insert is offered and no other
amendment is pending it is considered a substitute for a portion of the measure. However,
a special case arises when a it is offered in the form of a motion to strike out everything
in a measure after the enacting clause (or the resolving clause in the case of a resolution)
and insert a different text. Because committees frequently report their recommendations
to the Senate in this form, Senators typically focus their consideration on the substitute,
although amendments to the text of the measure itself would be in order. An amendment
in the nature of a substitute is not treated as a first-degree amendment. Instead it is
subject to two degrees of amendment, similar (but not identical) to the situation that
would arise if it were the text of the measure. Amendments in the nature of a substitute
are rarely offered except at the recommendation of a committee, and would be in order
only when no other amendment of any kind is pending.