The rules of the House today still provide for a Committee of the Whole to process all revenue measures and bills that directly or indirectly appropriate money. However, until last week the COW had not been used since the first session of the 116th Congress in 2019.
So why was it suddenly back the week of July 18 to process an omnibus appropriations measure that combined six of the 12 regular money bills into one? The most obvious answer is to lend stature to the six, non-member delegates from D.C., American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Marians, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Thanks to a rule change in 1993, they were allowed to vote in the COW, but not in the House, at least in those Congresses in which Democrats were in the majority and made the rules.
But, in 2020 they were shut out from any floor voting when the Democratic majority stopped using the Committee of the Whole. The delegates were obviously very upset and pressured for restoring their floor voting privileges in the COW. (They are still members of the standing committees and fully participate in those proceedings.)
One of the more recent practices in the House has been to make a multitude of amendments in order to major bills – 650 to the defense authorization bill the week of July 11, and 190 to last week’s omnibus appropriations measure. The way the House has managed this gargantuan challenge is to give the bills’ floor managers authority to bundle multiple amendments into single, en bloc amendments. On the appropriations bill, for instance, 639 amendments were filed with the Rules Committee which then made 190 of them in order for floor consideration. The appropriations’ floor managers for the six-part bill then proceeded to bundle 188 of those amendments into eight en bloc amendments, five of which were adopted, and three rejected. The number of amendments in each en bloc varied from two to 45, with most averaging around 30.
The use of these massive, en bloc amendments, whether in the House, as with the DoD authorization, or in the COW, as with the appropriations bill, is not a shining example of deliberative democracy, let alone of comprehensibility. Whether the House continues to use the Committee of the Whole in the future or not, en bloc amendments are here to stay on mega-amendment bills. The best that can be said of it is that it is a time-saving device; the worst is that it is a mockery of democracy.