AMENDMENT PROCEDURE IN THE COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
When the House considers a bill in the Committee of the Whole1 under a special rule that does not specify the amending process in advance, the bill is usually read for amendment one section at a time. Appropriation bills are an exception and are read by paragraph when there are no section designations. (Special rules sometimes designate the amendments or provide for bills to be amended by title or to be open for amendment at any point.) The Reading Clerk reads one section of the bill at a time. In general, Members may offer amendments to a section only after that section has been designated but before the next section is reached. This requires Members to be on the floor and to seek recognition by the Chair at the appropriate time. The recognition of Members is within the discretion of the Chair.
A Brief Synopsis
Under the regular order, as each section is read, any amendments recommended by the reporting committee are automatically considered first without having to be offered from the floor. Quite often a special rule will provide that if the committee amendment is adopted, it becomes part of the base text for the purpose of further amendment so as not to block other Members from amending that portion of the bill. Traditionally, the Chair next recognizes other Members with amendments to that section. If two or more Members seek recognition, the Chair gives priority to Members of the committee(s) of jurisdiction over the bill, taking account of their seniority. Members of the primary committee of jurisdiction are recognized before secondary committee Members. The Chair will alternate between the parties in recognizing Members to offer amendments. Special rules commonly authorize the chairman of the Committee of the Whole to give priority in recognition to Members who have pre-printed their amendments in the Congressional Record.
A Member wishing to offer an amendment stands at the committee table on his or her side of the aisle and, when recognized by the Chair, states that he or she has an amendment to the pending section at the desk. The Clerk then begins to read the amendment. Typically, the sponsor asks unanimous consent that further reading of the amendment be dispensed with. Each amendment must be in writing. Sponsors of amendments should bring a minimum of 10 copies to the floor for the Reading Clerk, the Parliamentarian and for interested Members on both sides of the aisle. If necessary, however, Members may write amendments on the floor during the debate. (Legislative Counsel representatives are usually on the floor during the consideration of major bills.) More often than not, Members share their amendments in advance with the bill managers of both parties, although doing so is not required.
Each amendment is debated in the Committee of the Whole under the five minute rule. The Chair first recognizes the amendment’s sponsor to speak for five minutes. Next a Member opposing the amendment can claim five minutes to speak in opposition. Other Members may secure five minutes for debate by offering pro forma amendments. This is done by asking the Chair “to strike the last word.” A Member controlling five-minutes of debate time may yield to other members during that time, but must remain standing while the other Member is speaking. When the five minutes have expired, a Member may obtain additional time only by unanimous consent. The time for debating a pending amendment, or a section or all amendments thereto, can be ended or limited by unanimous consent or by a non-debatable motion.
Each amendment to a bill is a first degree amendment. Before the Committee of the Whole votes on a first-degree amendment, that amendment may be amended either by a substitute amendment that proposes to replace the entire text of the first degree amendment, or by a second degree perfecting amendment. House rules permit a second degree perfecting amendment and a substitute amendment to be pending at the same time to a first degree amendment. A perfecting amendment to the substitute also is in order. In this way, members can offer as many as four amendments before any votes must take place. After the first ten minutes of debate on an amendment, other Members may seek recognition to offer pro forma amendments for purposes of debate or to offer substantive amendments to the amendment. Voting on the amendments usually occurs in the reverse order in which the amendments were offered.
A Member requesting a recorded vote must get at least 25 Members to stand in support of the request, and will usually simultaneously make a point of order that a quorum is not present as a safeguard for rounding-up sufficient support. However, the Member will usually ask unanimous consent to withdraw the no-quorum point of order when it is clear that a sufficient number of members are present and standing to demand the recorded vote. Each amendment must be germane to the text it proposes to amend. An amendment cannot propose to amend something that already has been amended in its entirety. Whatever text the Committee is considering (the bill, a section of the bill, or a first degree amendment) remains subject to amendment until it has been completely amended or passed in the reading. Most points of order against an amendment should be made or reversed before debate on it begins.
After the Committee of the Whole has voted on the final amendment offered to the bill, it does not vote on the original text of the bill itself. Instead, the Committee rises and reports the bill back to the House with the amendments it has approved. The House then must vote on agreeing to those amendments before voting on the final passage of the bill.
1. The Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union is a committee of all 435 House Members convened for the preliminary consideration of bills from the Union Calendar under more convenient and expedited procedures and a smaller quorum requirement (100 Members) than in the House (218 Members). Following general debate on a bill, the amount and allocation of time for which is usually specified in the special rule for the bill reported by the Rules Committee (e.g., one hour of general debate equally divided and controlled by the Chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Ways and Means), the bill is read for amendment one section at a time by the Reading Clerk. In contrast, Appropriations bills are read by paragraphs for amendment when there are no section designations. [Note: Most appropriations bills only use section designations in their “General Provisions” titles.]