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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.

Charles J. Finocchiaro, Department of Political Science, University at Buffalo, SUNY

Jeffery A. Jenkins, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University

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