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There are many bills proposed by Congress. My understanding is that most of them get referred to committee, and no action is ever taken on them. Some make it out of committee but are never scheduled for a vote. Others are so innocuous or enjoy such broad support that they make it to the floor for a vote without any roadblocks, and pass by large majorities. Or at least, are uncontroversial enough within the majority party that they pass on a party-line vote.

Then there are bills which get scheduled for a vote that ends up never happening. In the House of Representatives, this seems to generally be because the Speaker (who sets the agenda) either changes his or her mind about whether/when the vote will happen, or because party leaders realize there wouldn't be enough votes to pass it.

Obviously, there are good political reasons not to call for a vote on a bill which will fail. But are there any procedural advantages to doing so in the House? Or is it always a purely political decision?


Some possible advantages I can envision (I don't know if any of them are real) include:

  • Making the bill easier to take up again later.
  • Preventing the need to create a new bill with the exact same text, if circumstances change such that it could muster the support to pass.
  • Leaving it "on the table" for amendments, so it can keep being worked on until people are happier with it.
  • Keeping a lower bill number, even if it later gets a total rewrite.
  • Keeping the bill out of the Congressional Record.

Are any of these real factors? Are there other procedural advantages I didn't think of?

  • 3
    As I recall, the rules are different in the House and Senate. Topically, I'm guessing that you're wondering about the rules in the House, which I believe to be specific for each bill and set by majority vote. I do remember reading that the Senate had rules such that Harry Reid would vote against bills that he wanted to reintroduce. – Brythan Mar 26 '17 at 4:00
  • @Brythan - Good point. I just clarified that I'm asking about the House in this question. – Bobson Mar 28 '17 at 0:29
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+50

Oddly enough, pulling a bill and sending it back to committee can be done to produce what is called a clean bill

Generally, after a committee has amended legislation, the chairman may be authorized by the panel to assemble the changes and what remains unchanged from the original bill and then reintroduce everything as a clean bill. A clean bill may expedite Senate action by avoiding separate floor consideration of each committee amendment.

So why do this? Bills are numbered and often times opposition to a particular bill will arise. So you send the bill back to committee, amend it, make it into a new bill, and reintroduce it. Since it now has a new number (and often a new name) people might not notice the change.

Something else committees do is they will take an unpopular bill and convert it into a rider amendment on a popular or necessary one

When appropriation bills sail through Congress, lawmakers often stow policy riders inside. This way, they can achieve policy victories that would have little chance of becoming law on their own.

“Lawmaking” or “limiting” in nature, riders can either create entirely new policy or dictate how the government spends existing funds. In 2014, for example, lawmakers attached both types of policy riders to an appropriations bill.

After the District of Columbia legalized the recreational use of marijuana, Congress—which oversees the city—added a rider that would have limited the municipal government from using any funds to normalize the drug.

  • Does the "clean bill" approach apply to the House, too? That would make a lot of sense as a reason, if it's going to be heavily modified before being reintroduced. – Bobson Apr 3 '17 at 23:19
  • Yes. Both chambers have a clean bill mechanism in committee – Machavity Apr 4 '17 at 0:18
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There is no a clear cut between political reasons and procedural considerations.

The end goal of a bill is to get it pass to have the real legal power. Canceling or delaying a vote is a procedural strategy to prevent it dying early. Calling a vote consumes the procedural resources, at least every voter's precious time and limited attention.

If it fails, it is very likely to expose all the defects and problems to the voters and draw more pressure from the media coverage. It becomes more difficult to pass at the second time, even if you invest a lot of time and effort to overhaul the bill. The hidden cost of failure is huge.

So it is better to wait for a better timing. The bill may mature, the society may change and the voters may change their minds by different reasons. Then it is possible to pass the bill at the first time.

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