Can committees amend bills on their own?

GovTrack user Jonathan asks:

At what point are amendments made in subcommittees considered to be adopted?  Some of the language I’ve found implies that subcommittees have the authority to amend bills without needing the approval of the whole House or Senate. So, are amendments made in subcommittee considered adopted or are they pending until approved by the parent committee, or perhaps pending until considered on the floor?

Basically you have to think of it in stages. An amendment may be adopted by a subcommittee, but it’s basically not final until the full committee writes up their report and sends the bill and the report to the floor. Then, again, it’s essentially not final because the chamber as a whole will then propose amendments and vote on the bill. (And then it goes to the other chamber, and so on.)

So committees get the first whack at a bill. Whatever they do to the bill is what goes to the House or Senate floor. After that point, the committee has no part of the process. They send their version of the bill to the floor and that’s what the chamber as a whole will consider.

There’s a procedural step called “recommitting” which means the chamber disagrees with the committee’s changes and wants the committee to fix it and then send the bill back to the floor. But that’s extremely rare.

There’s another type of committee, a conference committee, which is very different. It’s used to resolve differences between the chambers. These committees are (sometimes) formed after both chambers have passed a bill, but in nonidentical form. They’ll propose an amendment to get both chambers on the same page. Like normal committee action, the chambers as a whole have to approve that amendment, though by that point it’s usually a perfunctory step.

Thanks for your question, Jonathan!

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