McConnell Agrees Not to Pursue Constitutional Option “In This or the Next Congress”
Washington, DC— Democrats and Republicans reached an agreement on a rules package today that includes a pledge by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell not to use the so-called “constitutional option” to seek to change Senate rules “in this or the next Congress.”
“We are making these changes in the name of compromise, and this agreement itself was constructed with the same respect for mutual concession,” Sen. Reid said. “Senator McConnell and I both believe that our reverence for this institution must always be more important than party. And as part of this compromise, we have agreed that I won’t force a majority vote to fundamentally change the Senate – that is, the so-called ‘constitutional option’ – and he won’t in the future. The five reforms we are making, however, are significant. They will move us five steps closer to a healthier Senate.”
Under the terms of the agreement the senate will hold votes on:
· Eliminating secret holds, including the right of senators to pass their secret holds to another anonymous senator to keep a rolling secret hold;
· Eliminating the delaying tactic of forcing the reading of an amendment that has already been submitted for 72 hours and is publicly available;
· Legislation to exempt about 1/3 of all nominations from the Senate confirmation process, reducing the number of executive nominations subject to Senate delays, which will be scheduled at a future date under the terms of an agreement reached by Sens. Mitch McConnell and Lamar Alexander, Homeland Security and Government Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman and HSGA ranking member Sen. Susan Collins, along with Sens. Reid and Chuck Schumer.
In addition, in a colloquy entered into the record:
· Sen. McConnell agreed not to use the constitutional option to seek to change Senate rules “in this Congress or the next Congress.”
· Sen. McConnell agreed to reduce use of the filibuster on motions to proceed and Sen. Reid agreed to reduce the use of “filling the tree” to block all amendments.
“While we didn’t get everything we wanted to, the Senate will be a significantly better place with these changes,” Sen. Schumer said. “As a result of this agreement, there should be more debate, more votes and fewer items blocked by a single senator or a small minority of senators. Make no mistake about it: this agreement is not a panacea, but it is a very significant step on the road to making the Senate function in a better, fairer way. This would not have been possible without the continued insistence on change by Senators Tom Udall, Jeff Merkley and Tom Harkin. Their push to establish the Jimmy Stewart-style filibuster, which would require senators to actually hold the floor if they want to block a bill, is one I hope will be accepted by the other party in the future.”
Reid made the following remarks today on the rules agreement. Below are his remarks as prepared:
“Our ability to debate and deliberate without the restraints of time limits is central and unique to the United States Senate. It’s supposed to be that way. It’s in our DNA. It’s one of the many traits intentionally designed to distinguish this body from the House of Representatives, and from every other legislative body in the world. It has always been central to the Senate, and it always should be.
“But when that arrangement is abused, we have to do something. Not merely in the name of efficiency, or for the sake of a political party’s fortunes in the next election. We have to act because when abuses keep us from doing our work, they deter us from working together, and they stop us from working for the American people. And within these four walls, it degrades the relationships that make the Senate run.
“What’s special about the Senate is that this body operates by consensus. It runs on a fuel made of comity and trust. When abuses happen, or when colleagues act in bad faith, it dilutes and degrades that fuel, and the Senate stalls.
“There are nearly as many opinions on what to do about the Senate as there are Senators. Senators Harkin, Udall of New Mexico and Merkley have listened to many ideas and have worked to find solutions.
“So have Senators Schumer and Alexander. No one has worked harder than they have to find a way out of this crisis, and I admire and appreciate their efforts.
“Leader McConnell and I have worked alongside all of them, and with each other, to find common ground.
“In the spirit of compromise that we are trying to restore to the Senate, this is what we have agreed to:
“First, we have to get rid of secret holds. Last year, a single Senator held up more than 70 nominations over a parochial issue in his state. The standoff ended only after it became public.
“That was within his right. But it wasn’t the right thing to do, and the rule has to be changed. Senators will no longer be able to hide behind anonymity, and the light of day will shine harder on the Senate. I thank Senators Wyden, Grassley and McCaskill for their leadership on this subject.
“Second, we have to recognize that public servants are not political pawns. An appointment by the President to a federal agency is a great honor. In recent years, it has often become a sentence to purgatory.
“The Senate no longer efficiently performs our Constitutional duty of confirming nominees. That leaves important offices without leaders, leaves important duties unfulfilled, and unfairly leaves in limbo well-qualified nominees.
“The Senate is responsible for confirming about 300 nominees to part-time boards and commissions. Nearly all of them are non-controversial. There is no reason for Senators to keep them from their posts, but that is exactly what happens.
“This process needs to be changed, too. So we will work to cut by about one-third the number of executive nominations that require the Senate’s approval. Senators Schumer and Alexander are working with Senators Lieberman and Collins to develop legislation that will do exactly that.
“Third, we cannot afford to waste time for the sake of wasting time. One of the minority’s favorite tactics has been to force – or threaten to force – the clerks to read amendments.
“This is nothing short of showmanship, and in this day and age, almost always unnecessary. In the 18th and 19th centuries, and when Senators’ offices were no larger than their desks here on the Senate floor, hearing the clerk read aloud a bill was an essential part of the debate. Today that is no longer the case.
“During the health reform debate two Decembers ago, while snow covered Washington and Christmas neared, opponents of the bill worked hard to delay its inevitable passage.
“On a Saturday toward the end of the debate, the minority forced the nonpartisan Senate clerks to read the entirety of an important amendment to the bill. The reading started just after 8:30 a.m., and lasted until just before 4 p.m. That’s more than seven hours of time during which nobody listened to the reading of a bill everyone had already studied, after each Senator had already decided how he or she would vote on it.
“We don’t have time for this kind of gratuitous delay. So the third change we’ll make is this: If an amendment has already been filed for 72 hours, a Senator cannot force its reading.
“Finally, I have often expressed my concerns about the procedural hurdle of forcing a preliminary vote simply to determine whether we can have a second vote to determine whether we can debate a bill – the vote called cloture on the motion to proceed. It is another one of the most commonly used tactics deployed simply to frustrate progress and waste time.
“Last Congress, we had 26 cloture votes on motions to proceed. But many of these bills were not even close to controversial. We had to hold a vote on whether to hold a vote on whether to debate a bill to promote foreign tourism – the Travel Promotion Act. After wasting days of precious time, it passed 90-3.
“We had to jump through the same hoops before we could vote on extending emergency unemployment benefits, which passed with 87 votes. And before we could vote on letting the FDA regulate tobacco, which passed with 84 votes. And before we could vote on updating our food-safety laws for the first time in a century, which passed with 74 votes.
“Democrats are bothered by how often Republicans have forced procedural votes like those on the cloture on the motion to proceed. I know Republicans are equally frustrated with me for sometimes filling the amendment tree.
“So this is the agreement Leader McConnell and I have reached to clean up this waste: Just as I will exercise restraint in using my right as Majority Leader to fill the amendment tree, he and his Republican conference will curtail their habit of filibustering the motion to proceed. Both practices should be the exception rather than the rule – and starting now, they will be.
“Senator McConnell and I have prepared a colloquy reflecting our agreement on these provisions. I ask unanimous consent that it is entered into the Record, as if read live.
“Again, the changes we will agree to today are:
· First, ending secret holds.
· Second, reducing by about one-third the number of executive nominations that are subject to Senate delays.
· Third, ending the time-consuming practice of reading aloud amendments that have been publicly available for three days.
· Fourth, limiting the use of filibusters on motions to proceed to a bill.
· And fifth, filling the amendment tree only when necessary.
“I know some want us to go even further. There are just as many arguments for not going so far. But remember this: We are making these changes in the name of compromise, and this agreement itself was constructed with the same respect for mutual concession.
“Senator McConnell and I both believe that our reverence for this institution must always be more important than party. And as part of this compromise, we have agreed that I won’t force a majority vote to fundamentally change the Senate – that is, the so-called ‘constitutional option’ – and he won’t in the future.
“The five reforms we are making, however, are significant. They will move us five steps closer to a healthier Senate.
“Yes, we want the Senate to move deliberately. But we want it to move. We have to find a balance that encourages us to debate, but also enables us to legislate. We are governed by a delicate mix of rules, rights and responsibilities. To that mix, we need to add respect.
“The Senate should function as the Founders intended it to function and as the country needs it to function – not simply as slowly its rules will allow it to function.”