Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Legislative Process & Authority

The following is an extract from the OpenCongress pages on "how a bill becomes a law". This is relevant not only to HR 2965, which is currently in Conference Committee, but also importantly to the deceitful, harmful, and arguably unauthorized actions by the Conference Committee that was entrusted to reconcile the House & Senate versions of the bill that became HR 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Those actions excluded NIH from its statutory obligation to provide $229 million for SBIR/STTR from the stimulus funds alloted to the agency.

Authority of Conferees

The conference committee is sometimes popularly referred to as the "Third House of Congress". Although the managers on the part of each House meet together as one committee they are in effect two separate committees, each of which votes separately and acts by a majority vote. For this reason, the number of managers from each House is largely immaterial.

The House conferees are strictly limited in their consideration to matters in disagreement between the two Houses. Consequently, they may not strike out or amend any portion of the bill that was not amended by the other House. Furthermore, they may not insert new matter that is not germane to or that is beyond the scope of the differences between the two Houses. Where the Senate amendment revises a figure or an amount contained in the bill, the conferees are limited to the difference between the two numbers and may neither increase the greater nor decrease the smaller figure. Neither House may alone, by instructions, empower its managers to make a change in the text to which both Houses have agreed.

When a disagreement to an amendment in the nature of a substitute is committed to a conference committee, managers on the part of the House may propose a substitute that is a germane modification of the matter in disagreement, but the introduction of any language in that substitute presenting specific additional matter not committed to the conference committee by either House is not in order. Moreover, their report may not include matter not committed to the conference committee by either House. The report may not include a modification of any specific matter committed to the conference committee by either or both Houses if that modification is beyond the scope of that specific matter as committed to the conference committee.

Under a recent reassertion of a Senate rule, Senate conferees are bound to consider only those matters that bare a certain relevancy to a House or Senate provision in conference.

The managers on the part of the House are under specific guidelines when in conference on general appropriation bills. An amendment by the Senate to a general appropriation bill which would be in violation of the rules of the House, if such amendment had originated in the House, including an amendment changing existing law, providing appropriations not authorized by law, or providing reappropriations of unexpended balances, or an amendment by the Senate providing for an appropriation on a bill other than a general appropriation bill, may not be agreed to by the managers on the part of the House. However, the House may grant specific authority to agree to such an amendment by a separate vote on a motion to instruct on each specific amendment.

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