In Search of Killer Amendments in the Modern Congress (WP-06-03)
Charles J. Finocchiaro and Jeffery A. Jenkins
In recent years, a number of studies have examined the incidence of “killer amendments”—that is, amendments that once adopted cause a bill that previously had majority support to fail—in Congress. Yet most of these studies have been either case specific, focusing on the legislative maneuverings around a single issue or bill, or temporally limited, focusing on strategic activity in only one or two Congresses.
In this paper, the authors begin a comprehensive research agenda for the systematic study of killer amendments in Congress. Using a dataset that codes each House roll-call vote from the 83rd through the 108th Congresses (1953-2004), they identify those bills that were successfully amended and subsequently went down to defeat, a necessary condition for the existence of a killer amendment. They then examine these cases in greater detail, using both macro-level spatial analyses and micro-level case studies. Their results indicate that killer amendments are rare, although they uncover five cases, four of which are new, that appear to fit the characteristics of true killers.