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Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Amending Process in the Senate

Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on Congress and the Legislative Process

A bill is subject to amendment as soon as the Senate begins to consider it. Committee amendments are considered first; then Senators can offer amendments to any part of the bill, generally, in any order. Senators may debate each amendment without limit unless the Senate (1) agrees to a motion to table (kill) the amendment, (2) agrees to a unanimous consent request to limit debate on the amendment, or (3) invokes cloture, limiting debate on the amendment or on the bill and all amendments to it.

There are several different types of amendments. A first degree amendment proposes to change the text of the bill; a second degree amendment proposes to change the text of a first degree amendment that the Senate is considering. Third degree amendments are not allowed. An amendment may propose to strike out language from a bill (or a first degree amendment), to insert new language, or to replace language by striking out and inserting. In general, an amendment that proposes to replace the entire text of a bill is known as an amendment in the nature of a substitute; an amendment to replace the entire text of a first degree amendment is known as a substitute amendment. An amendment, especially in the second degree, that makes some lesser change is known as a perfecting amendment.

Depending on the kinds of amendments that Senators offer and the order in which they are recognized to offer their amendments, Senators can offer anywhere from three to 11 amendments before the Senate has to vote on any of them. “Amendment trees” are the graphic ways of depicting these possible situations.

The Senate only requires that amendments be germane when amendments are offered (1) to general appropriations bills and budget measures, (2) under cloture, or (3) under certain unanimous consent agreements and certain statutes. Otherwise, Senators can offer amendments on any subject to any bill. There are several general restrictions on the amending process. For example, it is not in order to propose an amendment that proposes only to amend language in a bill that already has been amended. However, it is possible to re-amend that language in the process of amending a larger portion of the bill. There also are special provisions in Senate rules to limit amendments to appropriations bills if those amendments propose unauthorized appropriations or changes in existing law. The Senate can, and sometimes does, choose not to enforce these restrictions.

The Senator who has offered an amendment may withdraw or modify it at any time until the Senate has taken some action on it, such as by amending it or by ordering a rollcall vote on it. Senators also may demand that certain amendments be divided into two or more parts. A rollcall vote on an amendment is ordered at the request of at least eleven Senators. The Senate’s amending process changes under cloture. For example, no amendment can be offered under cloture unless a Senator submitted it in writing before the cloture vote occurred.

Date of Report: March 15, 2013
Number of Pages: 36
Order Number: 98-853
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