After all of the general debate has concluded, either by all time having been consumed or both sides yielding back the balance of their unused time, the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole will direct the Reading Clerk to read the bill for amendment. This is the so-called “second reading” of the bill. Under the standing rules of the House, a bill is read for amendment by section (or by paragraph in the case of an appropriations bill), although a special rule may provide that it be read by title for amendment, or that it be considered as read and open for amendment at any point. A special rule may also specify the order in which amendments must be offered.
The special rule frequently provides for each section (or paragraph or title) to be considered as read. In that case, the Reading Clerk only designates each section as it is reached.
Offering an Amendment:
If a Member wants to offer an amendment, he or she must be on the Floor when the Clerk reads to the point at which the amendment is in order. At that point, the Member asks for recognition to offer the amendment. If a Member misses the opportunity to offer the amendment at the proper time, he or she may not be able to offer the amendment at all unless unanimous consent is granted to return to the appropriate place in the bill or the Member is able to redraft it to amend a subsequent section of the bill that has not yet been read for amendment. In general, Members should be sure that their amendments comply with the rules of the House.
Amendments must be “germane” to the bill and to the section to which it is offered. (See clause 7 of rule XVI for an explanation of germaneness.) Failure to comply with this rule means that the amendment may be ruled out of order if a point of order is made against it. Amendments should be reviewed by the office of the Parliamentarian well in advance of the debate to ensure its germaneness and compliance with House rules.
Members are also advised to have the Congressional Budget Office review their amendment and consult with the Committee on the Budget in order to ensure their amendment complies with budget enforcement rules.
Amendments should be shared with the appropriate members of the committee of jurisdiction unless the element of surprise is desired. Review by the committee of jurisdiction, which may recommend alternative language to make an amendment more acceptable, will enhance the prospects for passage.
Members should also provide sufficient copies of their amendment (a minimum of ten) to the Reading Clerk on the rostrum. The Member may either take the copies to the Clerk in advance or may send the amendment to the desk as the Member offers it from the Floor.
Members should make sure the Floor and cloakroom staffs have information about their amendments so they can communicate them to the membership by posting them at the leadership desk on the Floor and in the cloakroom, and by informing Members over their pagers if record vote(s) are ordered.
Time Limits Under the Five-Minute Rule:
Under the normal process of debate during consideration of amendments, the author of an amendment is recognized for five minutes, followed by recognition of a Member who wishes to speak in opposition for five minutes. Other Members may speak for five minutes by standing to seek recognition and saying, “Mr. Chairman (or Madam Chairman), I move to strike the last word.”
This pro forma amendment is simply a device to get time without having to offer an actual amendment. Once a Member is finished speaking on a pro forma amendment, it is considered to have been automatically withdrawn and no vote is required on it.
When speaking under the five-minute rule, a Member may be able to obtain additional time by asking unanimous consent to proceed for the additional time desired. If an objection is heard, the Member may not proceed with additional debate time. Unlike general debate, time under the five-minute rule is not allocated to any specific Member, unless specifically provided for in a special rule. Additional time can be obtained by unanimous consent or by asking other Members who have not consumed all of their five minutes to yield time. When all Members who wish to be heard on an amendment are finished, the Chair puts the question to a vote.
In addition to time limitations that may be imposed by special rules governing consideration of bills, clause 8 of rule XVIII outlines the manner in which the time for debate may be limited — either for tactical advantage or because all parties agree that enough debate has occurred. Such limits are proposed by a Member, usually the manager of the bill, asking unanimous consent that all time on an amendment and all amendments thereto be limited to a specified amount of time. A Member may ask that all debate on an amendment (or section) and all amendments thereto end at a certain time. These requests may be granted “without objection” or, if an objection is heard, they may be offered as a motion and be subject to a vote.
Protecting an Amendment:
It is advisable for Members to have their amendments printed in the Congressional Record (where they will be numbered accordingly) before their consideration. There are occasions in which a special rule governing a bill will require amendments to be printed in the Congressional Record prior to their consideration. Normally, however, such special rules, if open, will provide preferential treatment for pre-printed amendments. There is a special box for such amendments on the lower tier of the rostrum. If the Member submits an amendment for printing, it must be signed in the upper right-hand corner. Facsimile copies are not acceptable. Once printed in the Congressional Record, the Member is assured five minutes to speak on the amendment under an open rule, as will one opponent, even if a time limit is imposed by the Committee of the Whole. However, this protection will not apply if the special rule governing the bill adopted by the House includes a time limitation or the rule does not include the Member’s amendment in the list of amendments that are to be made in order. The time for consideration of amendments may be limited overall by a rule, or the rule may specify time limits for each amendment made in order.
How to Get a Vote on an Amendment:
Once all debate has concluded on an amendment, the Chair will state, “The question occurs on the amendment offered by the Gentleman (or Gentlewoman) from (State). All those in favor will say aye. Those opposed will say no.” Then the Chair will announce the outcome of the voice vote. Typically, if any Member is dissatisfied with the outcome of the voice vote, he or she may demand a recorded vote on the amendment.
NOTE: Rarely will a Member demand a “division” vote before requesting a recorded vote. Under this little-used procedure, the Chair will first ask those in favor to rise, then those opposed. The Chair will count the Members and announce the total. If the Member is still unsatisfied with the outcome, a record vote may be requested.
In order to obtain a record vote in the Committee of the Whole, 25 Members must rise to be counted by the Chair. As noted earlier, a point of no quorum can be made pending the request for a record vote in order to get more Members to the Floor to support the request. If so, the Member should say: “Mr. Chairman (or Madam Chairman), I request a record vote and, pending that, I make a point of order that a quorum is not present.” If a sufficient number of Members stand, the point of no quorum should be withdrawn and the request for a record vote restated.