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Markup Marathon: What Does "Strike the Last Word" Mean?

by Countable | 3.9.17

If you've been following the marathon markup sessions in the House committees working on the Obamacare replacement, you might have heard representatives saying, "I move to strike the last word." Usually, that’s followed up by the chair of a committee mumbling “without objection, the gentleman/woman has five minutes,” and the representative speaking.

So, what the heck just happened, there?

Let’s start at the beginning. When you hear this, it is very likely in a committee, during debate and markup of a bill. A markup is simply a hearing where amendments to a bill are debated and voted on, before the committee decides whether to send the bill to the floor for a final vote on passage.

Here’s the rub. House rules say that each amendment can only be debated for 10 minutes – five minutes for those in support, and five minutes for those opposed. But, members of Congress love to hear themselves speak sometimes.

That’s why they use a little trick. That trick is called offering a pro forma amendment. Pro Forma, in Latin, means "for the sake of form," or, a formality.

That’s exactly what a pro forma amendment is. As a formality, a member can simply say they’re offering an amendment to the amendment under debate, and get their own five minutes to speak. They never even have to submit a real amendment. Just verbally saying they’re offering one, as a formality, gives them five minutes.

When a member says they "move to strike the last word" it, too, is part of that formality. They’re asking to strike, or delete, the very last word of the amendment under debate, indicating that they’re offering a pro forma amendment to replace that last word.

Then, when their speaking time is done, their short speech is inserted into the record, without a vote on their formality of an amendment ever being taken.

Members can do this for every amendment offered to any bill under debate in the committee. But, they can only do it once, per amendment. A lawmaker cannot, for example, move to strike the last word five times for one amendment, to try to get 25 minutes of speaking time.

Because Senate rules on speaking time are looser than the House, you’ll almost always hear this procedure used in the House, not the Senate. It can be used in the Senate, too, but there’s rarely a need.

So, next time you hear a representative say they "move to strike the last word," the easiest way to translate that is, “I want permission to speak for five minutes about this amendment under debate.”

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(Photo Credit: YouTube screengrab)


Written by Countable

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