Klobuchar pushes to reform Senate rulesIn a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar urged her colleagues to support reforms to Senate rules that would increase transparency and restore accountability.
By: Staff Report, Alexandria Echo Press
Washington, D.C. – In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar urged her colleagues to support reforms to Senate rules that would increase transparency and restore accountability.
Klobuchar highlighted the need to end the use of secret holds, a practice that allows one or two members of the Senate to prevent nominations or legislation from reaching the Senate floor without identifying themselves, and pushed for changes to the filibuster that would result in more open debate in the Senate.
Klobuchar introduced a rules reform package with U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and 18 other senators. The legislation would eliminate secret holds, require senators who wish to filibuster nominations or legislation to physically stay on the Senate floor and debate the issue, and guarantee that both the majority and minority parties have the ability to offer amendments on legislation.
Here is the text of Klobuchar's speech for the floor:
"As we begin the 112th Congress, I want to briefly congratulate my colleagues on how we ended the 111th Congress. We had an incredibly productive lame duck session – ensuring that taxes were not raised on middle class families during an economic downturn and ratifying the New Start treaty, among other items. We worked together to solve common problems. This was not always the case during the last Congress, but we ended on a high note.
"But as our work begins anew today, we all know there is still a great deal of work to be done: We have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure that American workers can find jobs, to get our economy back on track, to find long-term solutions to our mounting deficit. Because of the urgent business that still confronts us, I am hopeful that my fellow senators will agree with me this week that it is not time for 'business as usual.' It is time to fix the Senate rules.
"The elections on November 2 sent a message to every member of Congress. The American people aren’t interested in partisan bickering… or procedural backlogs… or the gamesmanship and gridlock that prevent elected officials from doing their jobs.
"We weren’t 'hired' by our constituents to hide behind outdated Senate rules as an excuse for not accomplishing things or not taking tough votes – but that’s just what the current Senate rules allow us to do.
"A couple of examples put into sharp relief just how dysfunctional our current system can be.
"First, we have to permanently end the practice known as 'secret holds' – which basically allows one or two members of the Senate to prevent nominations or legislation from reaching the Senate floor without identifying themselves.
"When I came to the Senate in January 2007, the first thing we did was pass an ethics reform package that tried to bring an end to this.
"Under the rules we adopted then, as soon as a Unanimous Consent motion was made regarding a specific nominee or bill, a Senator placing a hold had to submit to the Majority Leader a written “notice of intent” that includes the reason for their objection. No later than six days after that submission, the hold would be printed in the Congressional Record for everyone to see.
As the old saying goes, 'Sunshine is the best disinfectant.' By making the hold public, and forcing Senators to be accountable for their actions, we thought we could have an open debate about the reasons behind the hold.
"We thought we could move more quickly towards addressing the reasons for a hold – if they were legitimate – and then proceed to an up-or-down vote they deserve.
"Unfortunately, there are some Senators who are playing games with the rules. They’re following the letter – but not the spirit – of the reforms we adopted. Now, Senators can 'tag-team' holds. Two senators can switch off placing a hold on the same nominee or bill every five days, and the hold will never be published in the Congressional Record. To me, this sounds a lot like gaming the system.
"By placing secret holds on various nominations, senators prevent the President from assembling the team he needs to run the Executive Branch; this summer, for example, secret holds were placed on two members of the Marine Mammal Commission for months while the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster was continuing to play out in the Gulf region.
"A second example is filibuster reform. It is a longstanding tradition in the Senate that one senator can, if she chooses, hold the floor to explain their objections to a bill – we think of Jimmy Stewart’s character Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as a shining example of individual conscience because he stayed on the Senate floor to the point of exhaustion in order to stymie a corrupt piece of legislation.
"This is not how the filibuster works in practice today, however. Today, an individual senator virtually has the power to prevent legislation from being considered by merely threatening to filibuster; at that point, the Majority Leader must file a cloture petition in order to move to that piece of legislation. This adds a great deal of time to an already-crowded Senate calendar.
This is not governing… this is not how we do “the people’s business”… this is not how we come together to find practical solutions to our common problems. Our current system is a far cry from Jimmy Stewart.
This is why I’ve been working with a group of other Senators who share my belief that we can do better. In fact, we must do better, because the problems we continue to confront are simply too complicated to allow one party to bring legislative action to a standstill.
We’ve developed a series of responsible reforms to the Senate filibuster rules that will help us run a more effective institution – but which will still preserve the rights of the minority in the deliberative process.
Our guiding principles are simple: We need increased transparency and accountability.
We need to end the practice of secret holds, for example, because our constituents deserve to know when a senator objects to moving forward with a particular bill or nomination.
We also need to reform the filibuster – by making senators who want to filibuster stand by their objections and hold the Senate floor if they genuinely object to considering a particular bill or nomination.
If an issue is so important that a senator wants to take hours or even days to make his or her point – that is their right. But they must also be accountable for that choice to the American people – they must actually be willing to make their points on the Senate floor. In short, we want to increase the amount of debate that happens in the Senate; members should not be allowed to filibuster by threat alone.
These reforms are moderate proposals to change the way the Senate does business so that we can better do the American people’s business. Fundamentally, changes like this would result in increased transparency and accountability – two guiding principles of democracy that we would be well-served to remember as we begin the 112th Congress."