The committee stage
This Government bill was referred to the Finance Committee as the "lead committee", as well as being referred to other committees for their opinion, including to the Committee on Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. Designation as the "lead committee" means that this committee is responsible for the further handling of the bill. The lead committee must, in keeping with Rule 62 of the Rules of Procedure of the German Bundestag, recommend to the Bundestag a definite decision - the acceptance of the bill, the acceptance of amendments decided upon by the committee, or the rejection of the bill - and is obliged to attend to matters referred to it "without delay". It therefore cannot, either for political reasons or because of a heavy workload, put a bill on the "back burner". If it does so, there is the risk that, in keeping with Rule 62, paragraph (2) of the Rules of Procedure, a parliamentary group may, after ten weeks of sittings, demand that the committee submit a report to the plenary giving its reasons for not having considered the bill. Such a report may then be placed on the agenda of the Bundestag for debate, during which the committee can expect to be criticised for its lack of action.
If a particular bill covers different subjects, it is referred to one or more committees in addition to the lead committee. These committees submit their comments and proposed amendments to the lead committee, which includes them in its report to the plenary. The deliberations of the lead committee conclude with the submission of a report and recommendation to the plenary, on the basis of which the bill is given a second reading.
This particular bill had significant implications for the federal budget (see section D above). The procedure for bills which entail high public expenditure is more complex than for other bills: in such cases, the Budget Committee is instructed by the plenary to investigate whether the bill is compatible with the budgetary situation. Unlike the comments of the committees asked for an opinion, which must first be submitted to the lead committee, the Budget Committee’s report, known as the "96 report", since it arises from Rule 96 of the Rules of Procedure, is submitted directly to the plenary for the second reading. The lead committee is therefore not free to decide whether to accept or reject the reservations of the Budget Committee, as it can with regard to the comments of committees asked for an opinion. It would be unacceptable for individual specialised committees to have so much freedom with regard to the budget: under Article 110 of the Basic Law, budget revenue and expenditure must be balanced. If a bill envisages additional spending, which cannot be met under the current budget, the plenary of the Bundestag must ensure that such expenditure is covered; otherwise, the bill cannot be adopted. The Budget Committee submits a recommendation as to how these funds can be found. Thus, in the case of such bills, known as "finance bills", the Budget Committee must be involved in the deliberations and must submit an independent report.
Under provisions laid down in the Rules of Procedure, the committees are relatively free to organise their work and draw up their agenda. There are, however, certain common procedural rules which every committee must follow. Thus, for every bill referred to them, the committees must appoint rapporteurs from among their members. The rapporteurs are generally appointed on the proposal of the parliamentary groups. They share with the committee chairperson the responsibility for supervising the progress of deliberations, drawing up the results of deliberations and, in particular, for signing the report submitted to the plenary. The rapporteurs must familiarise themselves thoroughly with the content and main political points of the bill. They must also consider statements relevant to the bill, read specialist literature in the relevant field and take into account the wishes and demands of interest groups as well as opinions in the press concerning the bill. The rapporteurs, moreover, liaise between the committee and their respective parliamentary group in the discussion of the bill. They ensure that their parliamentary groups are kept informed of the committee’s latest conclusions and deliberations of the committee and keep the committee informed about the views and demands of the parliamentary groups.