Parliamentary Outreach Program


After the third reading of a bill (or resolution), but before the Speaker orders the vote on final passage of the bill (or resolution), a motion to recommit the bill, either with or without instructions, to the committee which originally reported it is in order. (Rule XVI and XVII) This motion is traditionally the right of the Minority and gives them one last chance to amend or kill the bill. Under the Republican changes to the rules of the House incorporated at the beginning of the 104th Congress, the Rules Committee may not report a special rule that denies a motion to recommit with instructions if offered by the Minority Leader or his designee (Rule XI, clause 4(b)). There are two types of motions to recommit under the rules of the House:
  1. If the motion to recommit is without instructions, adoption of the motion has the practical impact of killing the bill without a final vote on its passage. In other words, the House has said, "send it back to the committee from whence it came. We don't want it as it is." The motion is not debatable if it does not include instructions.

  2. If the motion to recommit is with instructions, the originating committee to which the bill is returned is bound to follow those instructions. Usually the instruction is for the committee to "report the bill back to the House forthwith with the following amendment." The text of the amendment is then given in full. In effect, this is a last chance for the Minority to make a germane change in the bill. The motion to recommit with instructions is debatable for 10 minutes, equally divided, but not controlled (which means neither side may yield time) between the proponent and the opponent, although the time may be extended to one hour at the request of the Majority Floor manager. If the bill is recommitted with such "forthwith" instructions, the bill is immediately reported back to the House on the spot with the amendment, the amendment is voted on, and the House proceeds to final passage of the bill. The bill does not disappear into some legislative limbo as some seem to think. It either is killed (by adoption of a straight motion to recommit without instructions) or comes immediately back (by adoption of the "forthwith" motion to recommit with instructions).
The motion to recommit is the prerogative of the Minority party. In order of priority, the Minority leader and then Minority party Members on the committee handling the bill, by seniority, have the right to offer the motion. They "qualify" to offer the motion if they state that they oppose the bill, at least in its current form. The Member who qualifies and offers the motion should also vote against final passage of the bill if the motion to recommit fails.

It is also worth noting that a motion to recommit need not instruct that an amendment be adopted. The motion may also direct that further hearings be held, or that an investigation be conducted and that a report of that investigation be made to the House, so long as the instruction is germane to the bill as amended. However, in the case of such general instructions, the committee cannot be required to report the bill back to the House forthwith, although it is certainly not precluded from doing so.