Interbranch Warfare: Senate Amending Process and Restrictive House Rules

Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2023, Vol. 76(1) 279291
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129221082321
Interbranch Warfare: Senate Amending
Process and Restrictive House Rules
Anthony J. Madonna
and Ryan D. Williamson
While the U.S. House and Senate differ in many signif‌icant ways, perhaps the most important is the ability of House
leaders to control the legislative process through the usage of special rules, which establish the terms of debate on a bill
and can limit the number and content of amendments allowed. House members of both the majority and minority party
have complained about their recent increased usage. In contrast, the Senate lacks a comparable tool and scholars have
reported sharp increases in the number of f‌loor amendments being proposed. In this paper, we examine the increase in
proposed f‌loor amendments in the Senate; arguing that, in addition to an increased value from electoral position-taking,
the procedures employed in the House inf‌luence the f‌loor behavior of senators. Specif‌ically, we f‌ind that senators are
more likely to offer amendments to bills that were passed under a restrictive rule in the House.
senate, house, procedure, amendments, rules, reform
As Sinclair (2000, 65) explicitly states, The Senate
operates under the most permissive f‌loor rules of any
legislature in the world.As a result, by the end of the
113th Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-
NV) was under siege. Responding to an increased number
of minority party amendments, Reid frequently employed
a strategy of f‌illing the amendment treeto bar these
amendments from the f‌loor. He was criticized for this by
members of both parties. For example, Senator Orrin
Hatch (R-UT) referred to the Senate under Reid as a
shamand argued that under his heavy hand, the twin
pillars of the Senates careful deliberation unlimited
debate and an open amendment process have been
almost entirely curtailed(Hatch 2014). Senator Chris-
topher Murphy (D-CT) went so far as to say that he got
more substance on the f‌loor of the House in the minority
than I have as a member of the Senate majority(Raju and
Everett 2014). Most notably, the minority leader, Senator
Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed Reid and the Demo-
crats have turned the Senate into a graveyard of good
ideas and good democratic debate(Hulse 2014) and
pledged to restore a more open amending process should
Republicans control the Senate in the 114th Congress.
Republicans did pick up enough seats to control the
Senate in the 114th Congress. However, McConnell was
unable to keep his pledge to not f‌ill the amendment tree in
all cases. He allowed an open amendment process on the
Keystone Pipeline billthe f‌irst major bill considered in
the Senateand was greeted by nearly 300 f‌iled
amendments. Later, House and Senate Republicans crit-
icized McConnell for f‌illing the amendment tree to ensure
a vote on a cleanfunding bill for the Department of
Homeland Security. In response, a Republican staffer
called it frustrating,pointing out that they made f‌illing
the tree a central argument against Reids leadership
during the election (Bolton 2015). In June, after suffering
what was dubbed his biggest legislative defeatof the
Congress, members of both parties criticized the Majority
Leader for barring amendments to the U.S.A. Freedom
Act (Zeller 2015).
Defenders of the practice of f‌illing the amendment tree
point to the massive increase in f‌iled amendments in the
Senate in recent congresses (see e.g. Lee 2016;Madonna
and Kosar 2015 for more on the rise of messaging
amendments in the Senate). As Smith (2010,2324)
states, both majority and minority senators exploit
University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Ryan D. Williamson, Department of Political Science, Auburn University,
7080 Haley CenterAuburn, AL 36849, USA.

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