Senate Amendment Process: General Conditions and Principles

Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress

he amending process in the Senate provides lawmakers an opportunity to make changes in
the text of a measure (or pending amendment) during its consideration. Senators generally
have wide freedom to offer as many amendments as they want, including nonrelevant T

changes. In fact, an important feature of the Senate is that it lacks a general germaneness rule.
This absence grants any Senator an opportunity to raise issues and to offer extraneous “riders” to
pending legislation. However, Senators’ freedom to amend and to offer nonrelevant amendments
can be restricted in certain circumstances, such as when the Senate invokes cloture (which limits
further debate on a measure and imposes a germaneness requirement on amendments) or agrees
by unanimous consent to restrict the offering of amendments.
The Senate’s amending process can be complex, but it is subject to certain conditions and
principles. Whether these conditions and principles apply in all circumstances may be
problematic, because the Senate might waive them by the unanimous consent of the membership.
The point to remember is that sometimes there may be a gap between amendment theory and
senatorial practice. (For discussion of details associated with the types (perfecting and substitute),
degrees (first degree and second degree), and forms (motions to strike, to insert, or to strike and
insert) of amendments, see CRS Report 98-614, Amendments in the Senate: Types and Forms and
CRS Report 98-853, The Amending Process in the Senate.)
A variety of general conditions influence the amending process. Three merit some mention. First,
there are certain factors which affect any Senator’s eligibility to offer floor amendments. One
factor is spatial. Are there any “limbs” (or places) left on the amendment tree? An “amendment
tree” is one of several charts in Senate Procedure: Precedents and Practices that depict the
number and effect of amendments that may be pending at the same time. Another factor involves
time. Is the amending process regulated by a time-limitation agreement that may specify when or
in what order amendments are to be offered and which limits debate on each one? Still another
factor is contextual. For instance, are there formal (the imposition of cloture, for instance) or
informal (the floor managers want to pre-approve changes to the pending measure) circumstances
that impinge on the amending process?
Second, when a measure is the pending business on the floor, several amending practices are
typically in play right at the outset. For example, (a) amendments are to be read unless the
reading is dispensed with by unanimous consent. (b) Committee amendments, and amendments
thereto, take priority over floor amendments to the bill. (c) The measure is open to amendment at
any point (unless the Senate by unanimous consent decides to do it another way). Unlike the
House, the Senate does not proceed section-by-section or title-by-title when it amends legislation.
(d) Amendments may be debated at length subject to the invocation of cloture or the motion to
table. Third, under Senate Rule XIX, the presiding officer is obligated to recognize the first
Senator who addresses the chair. Senate precedents modify this stricture by granting priority
recognition first to the majority leader, then to the minority leader, and then, respectively, to the
majority and minority floor managers of the legislation. These preferential recognition precedents
grant the majority leader the option to control the floor and to fill the amendment tree.
Senate Procedure outlines a number of principles that guide the amending process. Some of them
include the following:

• The original text of a measure is amendable in two degrees. (A first degree
amendment is a change to the text of the bill; a second degree amendment
proposes to change the first degree amendment.)
• Senators are free to modify or withdraw their amendments until the Senate takes
“action” on them. Precedents stipulate, for instance, that action includes ordering
the yeas and nays on the amendment. Sometimes Senators immediately get
“action” on their amendment. The result: they may lose their right to modify their
proposal but they gain the right to amend it. Under cloture, it requires unanimous
consent for a Senator to modify his or her amendment.
• Any Senator may demand the division of an amendment if it contains separate
and distinct parts that can stand on their own. However, under Senate Rule XV,
any amendment to strike out and insert is not divisible. Under cloture, an
amendment may not be divided by a Senator as a matter of right.
Worth another mention is the Senate’s principle of germaneness. There are four instances when
the Senate may function with a germaneness requirement for amendments. They are as follows:
Senate Rule XVI requires the germaneness of amendments to general (but not special)
appropriations bills; when cloture has been invoked; if the Senate enters into a unanimous consent
agreement that stipulates that amendments are to be either germane or relevant, or both; and when
statutes such as the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 require that amendments be germane, in
this case to concurrent budget resolutions and reconciliation bills.
Walter J. Oleszek
Senior Specialist in American National Government, 7-7854