Legislation, Presidential & Congressional Politics/amendments to bill blocked


QUESTION: A news report stated that the majority did not allow any amendment to the farm bill just passed. How were amendments prevented? Can you refer me to the provision of Jefferson's Manual or the House Rules authorizing this action?

ANSWER: Hi Richard,

In the House of Representatives, the Rules Committee determines the rules under which a bill will be considered.  The Rules Committee can decide how long the debate will be and what, if any, amendments will be considered.  The House has always had a Rules Committee, and since 1880 that Committee has had the power issue separate rules for each bill that reaches the floor.  This makes it an extremely powerful committee which is typically closely controlled by the Speaker.  The House as a whole has the power to override a rule attached to a bill, but such an action is highly unusual.

It may seem unfair or undemocratic.  However, it is certainly not a new practice.  The majority has long used it to contain the minority in the House.  The Senate does not have a Rules Committee.  Debate is typically unlimited in the Senate, including offering amendment, unless there is a unanimous consent agreement to the contrary.  

I hope this helps!
- Mike

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks, Mike.

Can you refer me to the section of Jefferson's Manual or the House Rules that gives the Rules Committee that power?

ANSWER: Jefferson's manual applies to the Senate.  The practice of special rules only applies to the House.

The House rules do not explicitly State that the Rules Committee shall have the authority to assign a special rule to each bill that is considered by the full house.  That is a matter of practice based on precedent.  Rule X says only that the rules committee shall have jurisdiction over rules and joint rules, other than those related to the code of conduct.  However, the House rules clearly recognize that authority.  Rule XVII 2(b) clearly recognizes the authority when it talks about a bill being referred to the committee of the whole after the Rules Committee has provided "a special order of business for consideration of the measure..."

- Mike

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: 1. Mike, I believe you're mistaken with respect to the applicability of Jefferson's Manual to the House. House Rule XXIX clause 1 provides:

"...the rules of parliamentary practice comprised by Jefferson’s
Manual shall govern the House in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with the Rules and orders of the

2. I cannot find Rule XVII 2(b), or any sub-clause of clause 2. Do you think you might have given me a mistaken reference?

With regard to the first point about Jefferson's manual: I guess the House Rules do incorporate by reference some of the parliamentary practices outlined in Jefferson's Manual by reference in Rule XXIX to the extent they do not conflict with House Rules.  But quite a few of the House rules contradict Jefferson's Manual, and nothing in the Manual discusses creation of special rules for bills.

With regard to the second point, my mistake.  I meant to write Rule XVIII 2(b).  It is at the bottom of page 30 here (page 32 of the PDF):  http://clerk.house.gov/legislative/house-rules.pdf

- Mike

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Michael Troy


I can answer just about any question about U.S. Political history, Constitutional law, the legislative process, elections, etc. I enjoy Presidential and Congressional historical trivia, but can answer more substantive questions too.


Former Staff member for a Congressman and Senator. I also worked on about 10 Congressional and Presidential campaigns (only one that won). For a short time, I worked in the legal department of the Federal Election Commission.    I have a B.A. in Political Science.

Former LBJ Fellow (paid fellowship for Congressional Staff).
Pi Sigma Alpha (Political Science Honorary Society).

Washington Post
Washington Times

J.D. University of Michigan
B.A. George Washington University (Poli. Sci. major).

Awards and Honors
LBJ Fellow
Truman Scholar

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