Amendments Between the Houses

Amendments Between the Houses
Elizabeth Rybicki
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
The House and Senate must approve an identical version of a measure before it may
be presented for the President’s approval or veto. If the House and Senate approve
differing versions of a measure, the differences must first be resolved. One way to do this1
is through an exchange of amendments between the houses.
When the House or Senate passes a measure, it is sent to the other chamber for
further consideration. If the second chamber passes the measure with one or more
amendments, it is then sent back to the originating chamber. In modern practice, the
second chamber often substitutes its version of a measure as a single amendment to the
measure as passed by the first chamber. The first chamber then may accept the
amendment or propose its own further amendment. In this way, the measure may be
messaged back and forth between the House and Senate in the hope that both houses will
eventually agree to the same version of a measure.
The House and Senate may use this method in an attempt to resolve their differences
in a variety of circumstances: prior to a conference, instead of a conference, or even after
a conference (as amendments in either true or technical disagreement). As an alternative
to conference, this procedure can be useful in a variety of circumstances, particularly
when the measure is not controversial or the differences between the House and Senate
are relatively small. It is also used occasionally when time pressures or other
circumstances make the requirements for a formal conference undesirable.2 In addition,
while conference reports receive a single vote, resolving differences by exchanging more
than one amendment allows for separate votes on different elements of a bicameral
When the House or Senate considers an amendment of the other chamber, it does not
yet formally disagree to that amendment. At this stage, the House or Senate may concur

1 This report was written by James V. Saturno. The analyst listed as the author is available to
answer questions on the topic.
2 For information on the potentially time-consuming steps required to arrange for a conference
committee in the Senate, see CRS Report RS20454, Going to Conference in the Senate, by
Elizabeth Rybicki. For information on other procedural requirements in connection with
conference committees, see CRS Report 98-696, Resolving Legislative Differences in Congress:
Conference Committees and Amendments Between the Houses, by Elizabeth Rybicki.

in the amendment, thus ending the process, or concur in the amendment with a further
amendment of its own, proposing a new text to the other chamber. At any point, either
house may choose not to act or it may insist on its own position and formally disagree
with the amendment posed by the other. If a chamber insists on its position and formally
disagrees with the amendment, it reaches the “stage of disagreement” necessary to allow
the two chambers to proceed to conference.
This procedure allows two degrees of amending. The amendment of the second
chamber to the measure is considered the text that is subject to amendment. Each
chamber thus has one opportunity to propose an amendment to the amendment from the
other. The House may extend the amendment exchange to another degree, however, by
unanimous consent, a motion to suspend the rules, or under the terms of a special rule
reported by the Rules Committee. The Senate can extend the amendment exchange to
another degree by unanimous consent, or, if the House has already amended the text in
the third degree, by motion. Generally, however, the provisions of an amendment between
the houses are the subject of informal negotiations, and an extended exchange of
amendments is rare.
Consideration of Senate Amendments by the House
When the Senate passes a House bill with one or more amendments, it is messaged
back to the House, where it is normally held at the Speaker’s table. The bill may be
referred to a committee at the Speaker’s discretion, but this would be likely only if the
Senate has included substantial nongermane matters in its amendment that would fall in
the jurisdiction of a committee different from the one that considered the original matter
in the bill.
One limitation on the use of amendments between the houses is that, before reaching
the stage of disagreement, Senate amendments generally are not privileged in the House.
This means a Member cannot interrupt the regular order of business to move that the
House consider a measure with a Senate amendment if the subject of the amendment
would normally need to be considered in Committee of the Whole (generally matters
related to appropriations, or authorizations, appropriations, or revenues). The only motion
that can be made on the House floor at this stage is a motion to go to conference with the
Senate if made at the direction of the committee(s) with jurisdiction over the subject of
the measure.
The House, however, may choose to consider Senate amendments by one of several
methods that overcome this limitation. The House floor manager may ask unanimous
consent to concur in the Senate amendments or concur with an amendment. Either case
would normally only occur when the provisions in question are noncontroversial since
objection by any Member would cause the request to fail. (This procedure does not allow
for any debate, although another Member will often reserve the right to object, allowing
the floor manager to clarify the purpose and content of the request.) As an alternative, or
if an objection is made to a unanimous consent request, the House may also consider
Senate amendments either by a motion to suspend the rules (when such a motion is in
order) or under the terms of a special rule.

Consideration of House Amendments by the Senate
Senate consideration of House amendments is less restricted by chamber rules.
Senate Rule VII provides that a motion to proceed to consideration of such an amendment
is privileged, and, therefore, decided without debate. The rule also provides that any
question pending when the motion is made be suspended (but not displaced). Under
Senate precedents, before reaching the stage of disagreement, a motion to concur in House
amendments has precedence over a motion to disagree and go to conference, and a motion
to concur with an amendment has precedence over either.
If the Senate agrees to a motion to concur or concur with a further amendment, the
amendment itself would be debatable and amendable under the regular rules of the Senate.
As a result, the Senate typically takes action on an amendment of the House after
negotiations that lead to the expectation that the amendment will be disposed of readily,
often by unanimous consent. In the absence of such an expectation, the Senate would
typically proceed to conference in order to negotiate a resolution to any serious
disagreements within the Senate or with the House. In the 109th (2005-2006) and 110th
(2007-2008) Congresses, the Majority Leader has, on occasion, attempted to restrict both
Senate floor amendments and debate by offering all the motions available in connection
with the disposition of House amendments (sometimes referred to as “filling the tree”)
and filing cloture on the base motion.3 If a sufficient number of Senators (60 under most
circumstances) agree to invoke cloture, then after a maximum of 30 hours of
consideration, the Senate votes on any pending motions.

3 See, for example, Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 152, September 27, 2006, pp.
S10616-10618; Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 152, December 8, 2006, pp.
S11658-11659; Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 153, July 31, 2007, pp. S10400-10401;
Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 153, September 26, 2007, pp. S12122-12123;
Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 153, December 12, 2007, p. S15218, Congressional
Record, daily edition, vol. 154, May 20, 2008, p. S4475.