Considering Appropriations Bills
Appropriations bills are generally considered under an “open” amendment process, meaning that the basic rules of the House apply. This process allows for extensive debate and the ability to offer any amendment so long as it complies with the Rules of the House and the Budget Act. There are also some forms of amendment unique to the appropriations process, specifically designed to address discretionary spending, as well as specific limitations on amendments to appropriations measures.
DEBATING APPROPRIATIONS BILLS
Under an open rule, the House conducts both general debate and debate on individual amendments in teh Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union, generally referred to as the Committee of the Whole. The Committee of the Whole offers several advantages to expedite consdieration of amendments, including fewer procedural motions, a lower quorum requirement, and reduced time for electronic votes.
Reading for Amendment and the Five-Minute Rule.
Under an open rule, an appropriations bill is “read” for amendment paragraph-by-paragraph, and amendments may only be offered to the paragraph currently open to amendment. The Clerks generally use a “scientific reading” method rather than reading each paragraph completely. After the disposition of a particular amendment, the Chair inquires whether there are additional amendments to portion of the bill, and if not, the Clerk reads the next section and begins the process again.
The five-minute rule allows the proponent of an amendment to speak for five minutes in favor of the amendment, and also allows the Chair to recognize a Member opposed for five minutes. Other members who wish to speak may be recognized by offering a pro forma amendment (to “strike the last word”), although no Member may be recognized for more than one five-minute period absent unanimous consent.
TRANSFERS AND "REACH BACKS"
Clause 2(f) of rule XXI provides an exception to the general principle that amendments may only be offered at the specific point in the reading of the bill for amendment.
This rule allows a Member to offer two “transfer amendments” en bloc, or as two amendments in one, the first decreasing spending and the other increasing spending by an equal amount. These amendments must be offered when the first amended account is reached in the reading of the bill and are not subject to a call for division.
To be in order, however, the amendments must be neutral in terms of both budget authority and outlays. Depending on the program being cut and the program being increased, the amounts of the decrease and increase may be different, depending on spending rates of the individual programs. In this particular case, it is important to ensure that the amendment does not violate the particular subcommittee allocation, even if performing a transfer. Thus, it is important to check with the Appropriations Committee or the Congressional Budget Office to ensure that the amendment is drafted correctly.
“Reach-back” or “fetch-back” amendments are new paragraphs inserted to change amounts contained in previous paragraphs and change funding amounts in the pending bill by reference. These amendments are typically offered at the end of the bill. For instance, an across the board cut is considered a reach-back amendment.
“Across-the-board cuts” should reduce each account in the measure by the same amount. If individual accounts are not specificlaly amended witha specific dollar reduction, the Appropriations Committee has no direction as to which acconts to reduce in order to reduce the overall spending in the bill and the amendment is not scored as achieving measurable savings.
Limitation amendments come at the end of the bill and limit the use of the funds appropriated in the bill. These amendments may limit spending within the bill, but only when the effect does not directly change existing law. The basic theory of limitations is that, just as the House may decline to appropriate for a purpose authorized by law, it may by limitation prohibit the use of funds for part of the purpose while approprating the remainder of it. The limitation cannot change existing law but may negatively restrict the use of funds for an authorized purpose or project.
SPENDING RECUTION AMENDMENTS
New for the 112th Congress, the end of every general appropriations bill will include a "spending reduction" account. Pursuant to the standing order contained in section 3(j) of H. Res. 5, Members may offer amendments much like a 2(f) transfer amendment, but the amounts reduced may be placed in the spending reduction account in order to demonstrate that those funds are no longer availbe for further appropriation during consideration of the bill. If the bill contains a rescission, the amount of the rescission cannot be increased and that amount is dedicated to the spending reduction account.
Additionally, it is not in order to fofer an amendment to reduce the amount of the spending reduction account. En bloc amendments offered pursuant to this standing order are not divisible.
While there is no point of order in the House rules prohibiting consideration of an earmark, the moratorium adopted by the House Republican Conference at the beginning of the 112th Congress prohibits Republican Members from “requesting” an earmark, even through the offering of an amendment. If an amendment contains an earmark, it is likely to be opposed by the Majority bill manager.
H. Res. 5 contains another standing order intended to ensure that an appropriations bill does not violate its allocation through the amendment process. A standing order carried in H.Res. 5 through the last several congresses eliminates the “automatic” motion to rise and report from the Committee of the Whole when the last lines of the bill are read, and instead requires the majority manager of the appropriations bill make a motion to rise and report, which is subject to a point of order if the bill exceeds its allocation.
If the point of order were to be upheld, the Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations is given authority to offer an amendment to bring the bill back into compliance.
PROHIBITIONS ON CERTAIN KINDS OF AMENDMENTS TO APPROPRIATIONS BILLS
Amendments to general appropriations bills must comply with numerous requirements in the Rules of the House and the Budget Act. Rule XXI of the Rules of the House describes many of the restrictions on amendments to appropriations bills. Specifically, amendments:
»» May not be offered if the amendment is drafted to a point in the bill that has already been read;
»» May not legislate or authorize new or existing programs or otherwise make changes in existing law (clause 2(c) of rule XXI);
»» May not cause the total amount of both budget authority and outlays to exceed the overall limitations established for budget enforcement purposes (§§ 302(f) and 311(f) of the Congressional Budget Act);
»» Must be germane to both the bill and the paragraph being amended (clause 7 of rule XVI);
»» May not provide appropriations to unauthorized programs or appropriate funds in excess of an explicit authorization (clause 2(a)(1) of rule XXI); and
»» May not reappropriate funds that have already been appropriated in a prior fiscal year (clause 2(a)(2) of rule XXI).
An amendment that violates any one of these rules is subject to a point of order against its consideration.