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Wonkology: Filling the Tree

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December 5, 2013


What is it?

Filling the Tree is a tactical procedure employed by the Senate Majority Leader to limit the opportunity of the minority party to amend a piece of legislation by filling every possible avenue of an amendment "tree."

'The amendments were hung by the chimney with care'

Just as Christmas tree branches can only hold a certain number of ornaments and lights before a branch falls, so too there is a limit on the number of possible ways to amend legislation in the Senate. Depending on the type of legislation, there are four possible sizes of "trees" that allow for between three and 12 amendment positions. Here's a simple diagram that may help you visualize the process. When the "tree" is full, no further amendments may be considered. However, a branch of the “tree” remains open to additional amendments as long as it has not yet been filled.

'He went straight to his work, and filled all the amendments'

By tradition, the Senate Majority Leader is the first to be recognized to offer amendments. Being first in line allows the Majority Leader to file enough amendments to block the minority from bringing up their own amendments for consideration.

In the last few decades, Filling the Tree has become more frequent as partisanship has increased in the Senate. In January 2013, the Senate adopted a rule for the current Congress only that would enable both the majority and minority parties to offer “priority amendments,” encouraging a bipartisan amendment procedure. Nevertheless, Majority Leader Harry Reid filled the tree during the immigration bill debate in June following passage of the Corker-Hoeven compromise amendment, prohibiting further amendments to the bill.

He sprang from his desk, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight, "Happy passage to all, and to all a good-night!"

Happy Holidays from the Thompson Coburn Lobbying & Policy team!