Legislation, Presidential & Congressional Politics/Non-germane congressional riders


QUESTION: I believe most parliamentary frameworks for ordinary associations (such as Robert's Rules) require an amendment to a motion be germane. I'm struck however by the current controversy over the advancement by congressional Republicans of unrelated policy riders to the budget bill. Is there no germaneness requirement applying to congressional bills? Or if there is, why does it not apply here?

ANSWER: Dear Richard,

I apologize for my delay in answering, I couldn't get to this yesterday.

As for your question, I can only give you a general answer -- I have not been following the budget debate in any detail. In general, the US House of Representatives has a fairly strong germaneness rule -- all amendments must be directly related to the bill under consideration, and "related" is defined as pertaining to the same provisions in the US Code as those that would be affected (or created) by the bill.

However, the House also has a peculiar practice of adopting a special rule to govern the debate on each bill. Those rules set the time for debate, specify who will allocate that time, and may add other provisions. One popular provision is that "points of order will not be in order" during the debate on a particular bill. In other words, while there is a germaneness rule, the majority of the House can vote not to apply that rule to a given bill.

Now, budget resolutions do not normally require rules, so I am not sure if that is what is happening here -- but the more general point is that the majority can always waive a rule.

The Senate does not have an effective germaneness rule.

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QUESTION: I appreciate very much your thoughtful (and prompt--despite your unnecessary apology) answer. I am perplexed however by the special rule that "points of order will not be in order," which you indicate is frequently passed. That would seem to me to give absolute power to the presiding officer, who might, for example, rule for any or no reason, that a person of the opposing party may not speak or may not even vote! What am I missing here?

I'm also unclear as to the import of your remark that "budget resolutions do not normally require rules." What exactly does that mean, and how does that relate to my question? Can the House not pass the "points of order will not be in order" rule in connection with budget resolutions?

ANSWER: Dear Richard,

Like so much else, partly this is a matter of convention. The points of order that are waived are those about the bill -- whether it was introduced long enough in advance, whether it is germane, whether an appropriations bill has legislative content, etc. The minority party has guaranteed (if limited) rights in debate, and the time for debate is always divided equally between opponents and proponents. The whole thing is much too complicated for me to explain here (I'm sure I don't know all of the details myself.) If you want to get into it further, I recommend the book CONGRESSIONAL PROCEDURES AND THE POLICY PROCESS, by Walter Oleszek, a now-retired staff member of the Legislative Reference Service of the Library of Congress.

As for your second question, some committees, including Budget, have the power to introduce bills on the floor of the House, without having to go to the Rules Committee to get a rule. However, they can, indeed, choose to get a rule if they think that would be to their advantage. As I said, I have not been following the details of this debate, so I cannot tell you exactly what happened in this case.



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

QUESTION: Thank you John, for your referral to CONGRESSIONAL PROCEDURES AND THE POLICY PROCESS, which however I'm unable to consult. I have consulted both the Rules of the House [http://democrats.rules.house.gov/sites/democrats.rules.house.gov/files/documents] and Jefferson's Manual [http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/SDoc103-8.pdf]. (As I'm sure you know, the Rules of the House rely on Jefferson's Manual on all matters on which the Rules of the House themselves are silent, per that document's Rule XXIX.) In neither document can I find any reference to a rule or motion that points of order will not be in order, which, as I've previously suggested, would seem to give absolute power to the presiding officer, and which is certainly not recognized in other contexts. (I'm a retired professional parliamentarian.)

My research may of course be faulty. If you can direct me to any reference in either document supporting the use of such a strange motion or rule, I'd be grateful indeed. Or if it might take too much of your time, I'll understand.

Best holiday wishes,

Dear Richard,

I'm sorry, but I don't think I can take this any further. If you read the Congressional Record, or look through the texts of various rules, you will find many instances where points of order are waived -- I can assure you that it happens! However, I am not an expert on the details.

One thing that you might look into are the books giving precedents -- i.e., previous rulings on points of order. These include Hinds' Precedents of the House of Representatives, Cannon's Precedents, and Deschler's Precedents. These are used by the House Parliamentarian in making rulings.

That's about the extent of my knowledge!



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John C. Berg


How Congress works, how to influence Congress, how Congress can be improved, how state legislatures work, how to influence state legislatures, how the Massachusetts legislature works, how to influence the Massachusetts legislature, why the presidential debates are unfair, how to improve the presidential debates, why the US electoral system is unfair, how to improve the US electoral system, how to end the two-party monopoly


Political activist for 40 years, currently working on the Ralph Nader presidential campaign. Professor of political science for 26 years.

American Association of Political Consultants, American Political Science Association, International Political Science Association, Caucus for a New Political Science, International Political Science Association, National Society for Experiential Education

Polity, Policy Studies Journal, Journal of Politics, Legislative Studies Journal, author of Unequal Struggle: Class, Gender, Race, and Power in the US Congress (Westview Press, 1994).

PhD Harvard University 1975
MA Harvard University 1973
BA with Honors University of Wisconsin 1964

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