June 10, 2014

Six Appropriations Amendments in Two Fiscal Years

The Senate may begin consideration of appropriations bills during this work period. This comes in the midst of an intense debate about the way Majority Leader Harry Reid is running the Senate. He has tried to prevent Senators from both parties from fully representing their constituents by shutting down amendments on all types of legislation, including appropriations bills. Before the Reid era, appropriations were taken seriously, and Senator Reid himself followed this tradition in his first year as majority leader. But since then, appropriations bills and amendments to them have taken a back seat to Senator Reid’s more partisan ventures.

In preparation for appropriations coming to the floor, Senators should consider past appropriations debates, when amendments were freely allowed. The majority leader’s attempts at unanimous consent agreements limiting amendments to appropriations bills should be viewed with these historical numbers in mind.

Amendments to Appropriations Bills Plummet Under Reid

Amendments to Appropriations Bills Plummet Under Reid

Source: RPC staff analysis of Congressional Research Service data.

Republicans have been allowed six amendments to appropriations bills in the past two years. Democrats have been allowed only one. In contrast, during years when the GOP held the majority (fiscal years 1999-2001 and 2004-07), the Senate processed 2,271 amendments, including roll call votes on 347 amendments. On average, that works out to more than 40 amendments processed per bill, with six amendment roll call votes per bill.

Real Amendment Process Needed on Appropriations

A real appropriations debate is long overdue in the Senate:

  • Republicans have been allowed six appropriations amendments during the past two years (fiscal years 2013-14). Democrats were allowed one during this time. All the amendments came on the fiscal year 2014 Transportation-HUD bill. The Senate did not debate any fiscal year 2013 bills.
  • Republicans have been allowed 39 amendments during the past four years (fiscal years 2011-14). Democrats were allowed 18 during this time.
  • The 57 total amendments allowed in the past four years is far lower than any single year total before Senator Reid became majority leader.
  • Total amendments
    • Pre-Reid: 2,679 amendments (nine years; fiscal years 1999-2007)
    • Reid: 597 amendments (seven years; fiscal years 2008-14)
  • Average amendments per year
    • Pre-Reid: 298 per year
    • Reid: 85 per year
  • With more years in the majority, Democrats have processed less than half of the amendments processed during Republican control.
    • When Republicans controlled the chamber, (seven years: fiscal years 1999-2001 and 2004-07) the Senate processed 2,271 amendments, including 347 roll call votes. When Democrats controlled the chamber (nine years: fiscal years 2002-03; fiscal years 2008-14), the Senate processed 1,005 amendments, including 185 roll call votes.

Should Americans be Satisfied with a Handful of Amendments?

Average number of amendments processed on each appropriations bill

Should Americans be Satisfied with a Handful of Amendments?

*Average per bill figures do not include consideration of D.C. or Legislative Branch appropriations bills, which typically have fewer amendments. The Senate has only amended one of these bills in the Reid era, compared to 13 pre-Reid.

Source: RPC staff analysis of Congressional Research Service data.

Democrats Have Proposed Unrelated Amendments

Majority Leader Reid constantly claims that Republicans are demanding votes on amendments unrelated to a given bill. It turns out that Democrats are the ones who truly excel at proposing unrelated amendments to appropriations bills. A selection of these amendments in the pre-Reid era is included in the table below. Many of these amendments are perfectly legitimate policy debates to have, but they are not subjects for appropriations bills. Except Reid amendment number 1210, all of the amendments below received a floor vote.

Democrats' Unrelated Appropriations Amendments

Reid’s Control Hurts the Entire Senate

Majority Leader Reid has attempted to turn the Senate into the House by limiting amendments on all kinds of legislation. In an era of record deficits and debt, it is an insult to all Americans that Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, cannot represent their constituents when crafting the only federal spending that must be approved each year. This hurts the public’s view of the Senate and of their government as a whole.

Methodology notes: The data in the charts include initial Senate consideration of appropriations bills. It does not include CRs, conference reports, or omnibus bills. The minibus for fiscal year 2012 is counted as three separate bills, since this was the only opportunity Senators had to amend any of those bills.

Amendments are included in the data presented in this paper if they were processed by the Senate – if they received some sort of vote, be it roll call, voice, or unanimous consent. One amendment during this time period was defeated by the rarely seen division vote.

Averages do not include the District of Columbia or legislative branch appropriations bills, since these typically have fewer amendments and the Senate considered many more of these bills under the pre-Reid era. So including these bills would unfairly reward Senator Reid for choosing not bring these two bills to the floor more.

Issue Tag: Taxes