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Wonkology: In Contempt of Congress

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June 6, 2014

Strike The Last Word

The offering of a pro forma amendment that literally “strikes the last word” from an amendment or piece of legislation in order to allow a representative to speak for up to five minutes.

'Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About'

One odd habit of lobbyists is that we tend to keep a TV on our desk constantly tuned to C-SPAN. We sincerely hope that you spend far less time watching C-SPAN than we do, but in the rare times you have tuned in, you may have heard and seen a host of peculiar things on the floor of the House of Representatives. One common occurence that may make no sense to you is when a congressperson makes a motion to “strike the last word” during floor consideration of legislation or a committee markup. During this odd process, the representative makes this request, never offers a substantive amendment, and then proceeds to speak for five minutes about the underlying legislation. He or she then sits back down. What is going on here?

'I’m a Ramblin’ Man'

In the back-and-forth of the amendment process, only 10 minutes, equally divided between a speaker in favor of the amendment and a speaker against, is allowed for debate. A pro forma amendment is a procedural formality used to obtain recognition to speak outside of this rigid process. The representative will propose a pro forma amendment that would “strike the last word” of the underlying amendment so that she or he can then proceed to speak either in favor or against the legislation or amendment. If someone has already offered to “strike the last word,” the congressperson may offer a pro forma amendment to “strike the requisite number of words” because the exact same amendment language can only be used once.

'I Wanna Talk About Me'

This process occurs most frequently in the House of Representatives, though it is not formally prohibited in the Senate. While it is often used by both parties to allow additional debate time, it can also be strategically used by the minority party. For example, House Democrats staged a mini-filibuster in 2011 to delay a vote on the repeal of Obamacare. However, striking the last word has a limited range of effectiveness. Once a member’s five-minutes of additional debate time is up, she or he cannot offer an additional pro forma amendment until the consideration of the next amendment; utilizing “strike the last word” to delay the voting process thus requires a great deal of coordination.

Hear any other words or phrases on C-SPAN that make no sense? Tweet us at @TCLobbying for a definition!


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