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Congress-ese: Substitute…For Another Bill

Chris Ford,
Washington Legislative Office
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August 29, 2008

O.K. class, we’re back with another round of Congress-ese, your ever-informative glossary of the arcane and questionable vocabulary of our federal government.

Today’s word is Substitute.

A substitute is a motion, amendment or entire bill introduced in place of pending legislation. Passage of a substitute replaces the original bill. However, the substitute may also be amended.

Substitutes are normally used by committee chairs to make changes throughout a bill by striking all the text in the underlying bill and replacing it with new language. They can also be employed to resolve differences between two competing committee bills, mainly to incorporate changes — which can be very minor and/or technical — so that members don’t have to explicitly vote on each one individually.

Substitutes can be both good and bad. For example, the Senate Judiciary Committee attempted to substitute a better alternative to the disastrous FISA Amendments Act earlier this year (which would have been good). The Senate being the Senate, unfortunately, decided to vote against the Judiciary Committee’s substitute. So now we’re stuck with government agents reading our overseas emails and listening to our overseas phone calls without warrants (which is bad).

So that’s it for this week’s Congress-ese. But don’t worry — we’ll be back after Labor Day when Bryan Fisher, one of the newest additions to the ACLU family, tells us all about the exciting world of Rules Committees.

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