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Killer Amendment

The use of a “killer amendment” — sometimes called a “poison poll amendment” or “wrecking amendment” — is a legislative strategy of using an amendment to severely change a bill’s intent for the purpose of killing a bill that would otherwise pass.

This tactic is usually employed by lawmakers who oppose a bill but recognize that they lack the votes to defeat it outright.

By introducing an amendment that adds provisions contrary to the bill’s original intent or that garner broader disapproval, these lawmakers aim to create divisions among supporters, thereby derailing the legislation.

The killer amendment operates on a bit of political jujitsu; it uses the strength of the bill’s support against itself.

Essentially, if the amendment is adopted, the bill’s original backers may withdraw their support, effectively killing the bill.

Conversely, if the amendment is not adopted, opponents can leverage the proposed changes to criticize the bill, suggesting that its failure to incorporate the amendment represents a flaw.

In the U.S. Congress, for example, a killer amendment could involve adding a hot-button social issue to a bill focused on economic reform.

This could alienate legislators who support economic reform but disagree on social issues, thus sapping support from the bill and causing its defeat.

Killer amendments can be particularly effective in bicameral legislatures where a bill has to pass through both houses to become law.

Even if a bill survives a killer amendment in one chamber, the changes may make it unacceptable to the other, necessitating further amendments and negotiations that can delay or doom the legislation.

Such amendments are a staple of realpolitik within legislative bodies, requiring a keen understanding of both the formal rules of legislative procedure and the informal dynamics of political alliances and enmities.

Use of “Killer Amendment” in a sentence

  • The Senator, aware that she couldn’t defeat the environmental bill outright, introduced a killer amendment that attached controversial oil drilling permissions, causing many original supporters to back away.
  • Advocacy groups are rallying their base to oppose what they see as a killer amendment that would strip essential patient protections from the healthcare reform package.
  • During the committee markup session, the chair managed to deflect several killer amendments aimed at gutting the core objectives of the education funding bill.