Freshman Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, speaking to Anderson Cooper of CNN, on Friday, May 20, 2011:
Senator Rand Paul: “We go week after week in the Senate and do nothing. I feel like sometimes I should return my check because I go up, they do no votes and no debate. Look at this horrendous debt crisis – we don’t debate that either.”
Anderson Cooper: “Really, you feel like that? You feel like you’re not doing anything there?”
Paul: “Yes. I feel… Absolutely. We go up week to week and there’s no debate in Congress. No debate in the Senate. We sit idly by. Some weeks we vote on two-three non-controversial judges and we go back home. It, really…”
Cooper: “Why is that?”
Paul: “I’m trying to get a vote on Libya. They say they don’t have time. I was told, when I wanted to bring up my resolution on Libya – which I did force them to [for, literally, ten minutes], but I had to kinda capture the floor…”
Cooper: “It got tabled like 90-10…”
Paul: “Yeah, and they weren’t too happy with me because I used some parliamentary procedures to gain access to the floor, and they came running down to the floor. They were apoplectic that I had taken over the floor, and the thing is is that we should be having these debates on the floor – they don’t want to have any debate. I’m asking right now to vote on Libya – I have a resolution saying we’re in violation of the War Powers Act. It’s hard for me to get the floor unless I somehow sneak on the floor when no one’s looking to try to get a vote. Why would we not want to debate great Constitutional questions? When I ran for office, that’s what I thought – there will be great and momentous debates on the floor. We don’t have any because they prevent the debates from ever even beginning.”
Cooper: “Senator Rand Paul, appreciate your coming on. Thank you.”
Paul: “Thank you.”
In the U.S. Senate, this is what nothing sounds like.
At 9:36 a.m. on Thursday [6/9], a clerk with a practiced monotone read aloud the name of Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii). The chamber was nearly deserted. The senator wasn’t there. Not that she was really looking for him.
Instead, the clerk was beginning one of the Capitol’s most arcane rituals: the slow-motion roll calls that the Senate uses to bide time.
These procedures, called “quorum calls,” usually serve no other purpose than to fill up empty minutes on the Senate floor. They are so boring, so quiet that C-SPAN adds in classical music: otherwise, viewers might think their TV was broken.
This year–even as Washington lurches closer to a debt crisis–the Senate has spent a historic amount of time performing this time-killing ritual. Quorum calls have taken up about a third of its time since January, according to C-SPAN statistics: more than 17 eight-hour days’ worth of dead air.
“It’s not even gridlock. It’s worse than that,” said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University who once ran for the Senate himself as a Democrat. He said “gridlock” implies that somebody was at least trying to get legislation passed.
Instead, he said, this year “they’re not even trying to get something done.”
To an outsider, a quorum call looks like a serious–if dull–piece of congressional business. A clerk reads out senators’ names slowly, sometimes [usually] waiting 10 minutes or more between them [and rarely getting beyond the first few names].
But it’s usually a sham. The senators aren’t coming. Nobody expects them to. The ritual is a reaction to what the chamber has become: a very fancy place that senators, often, are too busy to visit.
This is [part of] what happened: Decades ago, senators didn’t have offices. They spent their days at their desks on the Senate floor. So clerks really needed to call the roll to see if a majority was ready for business.
Now, senators spend much of their time in committee rooms, offices and elsewhere. If no big vote is on the horizon, often nothing at all is happening on the Senate floor.
But Senate rules don’t allow for nothing to happen.
After 12 minutes, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) showed up. “I ask [unanimous consent] that the proceedings of the quorum be dispensed with,” he said. That’s how quorum calls usually end: The next senator who wants to speak asks for a halt.
After Warner gave a brief speech on the value of federal workers, it happened again. “Mr. Akaka,” the clerk said. Twenty-one minutes of silence.
At a deli in the Senate’s basement, it was clear this was wearing on people. One Capitol employee asked another: Where are you working today? “Senate chamber,” his buddy replied. “Shoot myself in the head.”
These sham roll calls have been a feature of Senate debate for decades, but this year has been special: According to C-SPAN, the Senate has spent more than 32 percent of its time in quorum calls. That’s more than in any comparable period dating to 1997.
The main reason seems to be the bare-bones agenda pursued by the Senate’s Democratic leaders: There have been just 87 roll-call votes so far, compared with 205 in the same period during 2009. Senate Democrats have not even proposed an official budget; the strategy appears to be to shield vulnerable incumbents from controversial votes on spending.
“Why are we here?” asked Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a critic of the large number of quorum calls this year. “The Senate is not operating the way it was designed, because politicians don’t want to be on record.”
A crucial point that’s summarized by Fahrenthold’s “But Senate rules don’t allow for nothing to happen” is that, in the absence of that “slow-motion” roll call that I call the Fake Quorum Call – which never comes to an end on its own, and may only be lifted by unanimous consent or by the Majority Leader, unless and until some Senator has the guts to challenge the Party status quo by asking that the Senate’s parliamentary rules be enforced – or of any actual floor debate, the Presiding Officer is required under the rules and precedents of the Senate to put the pending question (whatever it is – a motion to proceed, an amendment, a bill, a nomination) to a simple-majority vote of the Senate:
“When a question is pending, and a Senator addressing the Chair concludes his address to the question, and no one immediately seeks recognition, it is the duty of the Chair to state the pending question to the Senate.” – Riddick’s Senate Procedure
Which is a fact that should help illuminate how insidious (and wholly unnecessary) it is that the current Party majority in the Senate now routinely abuses the optional Rule XXII cloture motion process, in the absence of obstructive floor debate – thereby preventing routine Senate debate and amendment (the transaction of Senate “business” without the need for unanimous consent), while simultaneously imposing supermajority thresholds for the adoption of legislation and confirmation of nominees in the Senate. The only reason for the current Democratic majority to avoid the use of the default simple-majority Senate rules, given the absence of actual debating filibusters in the Senate for almost two decades now – via their resort to the optional supermajority rule and procedure (which was created in 1917 to overcome rare obstructive floor debate) – is to avoid public debate and unpredictable democratic legislating, conducted in the open by the representatives of the people. [A reason that routinely translates into “Republican filibusters” in Democratic Party-speak, as embraced and amplified by Party hacks and widespread journalistic malpractice.]
So, although David Fahrenthold (and certainly most of his colleagues) may not realize it, that “slow-motion” Senate roll call that never actually determines whether a Constitutional quorum is present (in the empty Senate Chamber) is doing a lot more than “biding the time” of the Senate, and it’s seriously damaging the institution. The constant imposition of the Fake Quorum Call, unchallenged by any Senator, and deployed in lieu of a simple Senate recess – which would make the Senate’s inaction plain for all to see, and which the Senate routinely agrees to every Tuesday, at midday, while members attend their private Party luncheons – creates the need for unanimous consent simply to conduct ordinary business on the Senate floor. That vests inordinate power in a few hands at the top of each Party organization, and those Party bosses, in turn, regularly try to privately “deal” in the backrooms for a unanimous way to the floor through their self-imposed Fake Quorum Call blockade of the Senate floor.
It’s the increasing imbalance of power between the three branches of government brought home to the Senate, where the elected power-holders in the institution allow others to wield their power for them. [And no, the absent Senators aren’t all off conscientiously attending committee hearings that conflict with Senate floor sessions (despite a Senate rule, for good reason, precluding that, which must be waived daily) – as the appalling absentee rate at important Senate committee hearings repeatedly demonstrates.]
That supermajority, backroom style of proceeding is of course implicitly embraced by Party leaders like Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, who deliberately, and contentedly, put the President and their Party (that is, their campaign-fundraising organization) before the Constitutional separation of powers and the weighty responsibilities of their high legislative office:
It is a legitimate and timely question, because we are now in negotiations at the highest levels–between the President and the leaders in the House and Senate–to try to find some way through our impasse. – Dick Durbin, June 30, 2011
Senator Durbin isn’t, of course, speaking of a Senate or House “impasse” on any specific piece of legislation, or on any conference committee report negotiation, or on any other formal legislative measure that’s actually been introduced under regular order, given full public hearings in Congressional committee(s), and full committee deliberation and acceptance, before reaching the Senate floor for further public debate and careful amendment pending a final simple-majority vote. Far from it. That would require the democratic involvement of all committee members, and of all members of the Senate representing every state and all the people, in proportion to the power that the voters actually gave their representatives, and only them, to craft and pass legislation, for signing or returning by the President. In other words, that regular, deliberative legislative order would remove both the inordinate influence of a Senate minority that’s been granted co-equal status by the majority Party Congressional leadership and the President, and the unhealthy interference of the Executive Branch of government in the Congressional process and policy outcome, while placing the proceedings and the debate on the public record where they belong.
Freshman Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (who defeated Senate veteran Russ Feingold last fall, likely in significant part because of Feingold’s unapologetic embrace of the Executive Branch-designed, backroom-created healthcare bill), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, June 28, 2011:
But what kind of process is this? A few people talking behind closed doors, far from the view of the American public, is that the process that is going to decide the fate of America’s financial situation, of our financial future? Is this how the U.S. Government is supposed to work? I don’t think so. Of course not.
Unfortunately, this has become business as usual in Washington. As a manufacturer, I know if the process is bad the product will be bad. Business as usual in Washington is a bad process. […]
I am pretty new here. I don’t pretend to understand everything that makes the Senate work, or maybe more accurately what doesn’t allow the Senate to work. But I do know the Senate [as presently operated under tight Party control] runs on something called unanimous consent. So unless we receive some assurance from the Democratic leadership that we will actually start addressing our budget out in the open, in the bright light of day, I will begin to object. I will begin to withhold my consent.
The Senate needs to pass a budget. It shouldn’t be that difficult.
Let me start the process by throwing out a number–$2.6 trillion. That is $800 billion more than we spent just 10 years ago. The $2.6 trillion is the amount President Obama, in his budget, said the Federal Government would receive in revenue next year. If we only spent that amount of money we would be living within our means. What a concept.
If we want to spend more than $2.6 trillion, Members of Congress, members of this administration, should go before congressional committees and openly justify what they want to spend, how much they want to borrow, and how much debt they are willing to pile on the backs of our children, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren. They should explain just how much of our children’s future they are willing to mortgage.
The American people deserve to be told the truth. Unless that happens, I will begin to withhold my consent. Unless there is some assurance the Senate will take up its budget responsibilities in an open process, I will begin to object.
Madam President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will [pretend to] call the roll.
The assistant editor of the Daily Digest proceeded to [pretend to] call the roll.
Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
Mr. JOHNSON of Wisconsin. I object.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Franken). Objection is heard.
Mr. SESSIONS. I thank the Chair.
[Now, watch carefully, citizens, as the Fake Quorum Call is magically, invisibly, and seamlessly transformed here by the Majority Leader (with a signal to the Senate Clerk/Parliamentarian at just about 6:00 p.m. on 6/28) into a rare real quorum call (making it, under Senate precedents, an actual “quorum call”), so that he may be recognized at its conclusion to offer a unanimous consent request regarding a bill, since Senator Johnson is objecting to the normally-routine unanimous consent requests to lift the Fake Quorum Call that’s meanwhile blocking all Senate floor action (absent a quorum, the Senate must round up Senators, or adjourn):]
The assistant bill clerk continued with the call of the roll, and the following Senators entered the Chamber and answered to their names:
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. A quorum is not present. The clerk will call the names of absent Senators.
The bill clerk resumed the call of the roll.
Mr. REID. Madam President, I move that the Sergeant at Arms be instructed to request the attendance of absent Senators, and I ask for the yeas and nays.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Casey). Is there a sufficient second? There is a sufficient second.
The question is on agreeing to the motion of the Senator from Nevada. The yeas and nays are ordered and the clerk will call the roll.
The bill clerk called the roll.
Mr. REID. I announce that the Senator from Illinois (Mr. Durbin), the Senator from California (Mrs. Feinstein), the Senator from Hawaii (Mr. Inouye), the Senator from Wisconsin (Mr. Kohl), the Senator from Missouri (Mrs. McCaskill), the Senator from Nebraska (Mr. Nelson), the Senator from Arkansas (Mr. Pryor), the Senator from West Virginia (Mr. Rockefeller), the Senator from New Mexico (Mr. Udall), the Senator from Virginia (Mr. Webb), and the Senator from South Dakota (Mr. Johnson) are necessarily absent.
Mr. McCONNELL. The following Senators are necessarily absent: the Senator from Missouri (Mr. Blunt), the Senator from Georgia (Mr. Chambliss), the Senator from Oklahoma (Mr. Coburn), the Senator from Illinois (Mr. Kirk), and the Senator from Arizona (Mr. Kyl).
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Bennet). Are there any other Senators in the Chamber desiring to vote?
The result was announced–yeas 44, nays 40, as follows:
The motion was agreed to.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. With the addition of Senators voting who did not answer the quorum call, a quorum is present.
The majority leader.
Mr. REID. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the following pending amendments be agreed to: [Etc.]
So congratulations, and well done, Freshman Senator Ron Johnson, for taking one small step (that I doubt Russ Feingold ever dared take) to challenge the corrupt Party practices that subvert and pervert the design of the Senate, even though it incurred the displeasure of inconvenienced colleagues of both Parties – as Johnson soon hinted in response to Reid’s unanimous consent request:
Mr. JOHNSON of Wisconsin. Mr. President, I realize a number of people in this Chamber are asking why I am doing this. First of all, I think it is important for everybody to realize that–and I certainly mean no offense to anybody in this Chamber–I did not run for the Senate because I wanted to be a Senator [for the sake of being a Senator]. I ran for the Senate because I realized we are bankrupting this Nation.
I think the evidence is quite clear, if we take a look at the budget deficit for just the last 3 years: $1.4 trillion, $1.3 trillion, and for this year estimates as high as $1.65 trillion. We have incurred over $4 trillion worth of debt in just the last 3 years, and our Nation’s debt stands at $14.3 trillion. We have reached our debt limit. Our debt is almost the size of our entire economy.
I have been watching Washington for 32 years from Oshkosh, WI, and I realized that Washington was pretty broken. I have been here now for 6 months, and I haven’t seen anything here that convinces me otherwise.
The Senate has not passed a budget for over 2 years. Of the six pieces of legislation we have passed–only six pieces of legislation we have passed from this Chamber have actually become law, and of those six three dealt with last year’s business. They were pieces of legislation dealing with this year’s budget that should have been passed last summer.
The bottom line is the Senate is fiddling while America is going bankrupt.
As I mentioned, the debt ceiling has now been reached. What are we doing about it? The answer is virtually nothing. We are scheduled to go on recess next week. We should not be doing that. We should be staying in session. We should be debating. We should be developing a budget. Bottom line, all we are doing is waiting for the results of a negotiation between a limited number of people, conducted behind closed doors, far away from the view of any American citizen.
Is this the process we are going to rely on to prevent the bankruptcy of America? Is this on what we are placing the future of America? I hope not.
Note that, under Riddick’s Senate Procedure, Page 1075:
A quorum call must be completed and the Chair announce the presence of a quorum in order for it to constitute a quorum call which requires the transaction of business before another quorum call can be suggested; when a quorum call is vitiated by unanimous consent before it is completed it is not a quorum call. [1982 precedent, informed by 1967 practice]
But please also note, Senators and others, from the same source, on Page 1060:
The call for the regular order when the Chair orders the call of a quorum requires the Chair to insist that the Clerk call the roll; the making of a point of order at that point before the quorum call begins by a Senator that a quorum call was not in order would present a different situation as distinguished from a call for the regular order; should a point of order be made that a quorum was not in order, the Chair would be forced to rule on whether or not a quorum call was in order at that time under the existing circumstances. [1972 precedent]
Translation: Existing Senate rules and precedent with regard to (real) quorum calls would have to be formally announced and, for a change, enforced by the Parliamentarian through the Presiding Officer (unless and until challenged and overturned), should any single Senator raise a “point of order” to try to begin to stem the tide of abuse of the Fake Quorum Call, as deployed by the Parties to idle and block public Senate floor business, in favor of the backroom control of proceedings by a handful of Party bosses.
Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee (which hasn’t met since April 5th), echoed Johnson’s laudable sentiments the next day, Wednesday, June 29, 2011:
The Republican House has set forth their plan, but the Democratic Senate has not done so. This year the Senate has not produced a budget, has not met to work on a budget, and has not passed a budget in 791 days. We have not had a budget in 791 days. During that time we have increased the debt of the United States by $3.2 trillion and have spent over $7 trillion.
On the Senate floor we spend week after week on bills that have little or nothing to do with this increasing danger to our economy. We name courthouses and post offices, but we do not deal with the gathering financial storm.
We also owe the American people an honest, open debate on the debt limit, the debt ceiling we have. This should not be talks behind closed doors by only a few Senators, Congressmen, maybe the Speaker, the Vice President, or now maybe the President. Are they the ones to decide this? Aren’t we all elected to do so?
Then should we be faced with a situation in which this small group, having produced what they consider the perfect deal, brings it to the Congress and demands, in a period of panic and fear, that it must be passed without any significant amendment or the country would have a crisis?
We have seen that before. Is that good business? I do not think so.
Let the Congressional Budget Office provide an estimate of what the spending alterations and the tax alterations will be. Let the Budget Committee meet to address the impact of these proposals. It is time to remove the blindfold.
Since the election in November, the Congress, divided between a Democratic Senate and Republican House, has seen an increasing reliance on closed-door meetings to resolve our greatest public challenges. In so doing, I think Congress has once again ignored the public will. Ultimately, our challenges can only be solved through the democratic process. Let’s hold votes–dozens if necessary. Let’s hold hearings. Let’s have an open debate. Democracy may be messy. It may be contentious. But it is the best system we have and the only system that works.
So let’s have the debate. Let’s have it out here in the open. And let’s allow the American people to participate and help decide. But until we work on a budget, until we work on the debt limit, until we work on the people’s business, we do not have a right to go home and adjourn with a looming deadline–supposedly August 2–by which decisions have to be made. I believe to do so would be to fail the public.
As for the substance of Johnson’s complaint about the lack of Senate work this year on its own budget blueprint for the federal government, as he did in the 6/29 excerpt Jeff Sessions has for weeks been making the same case; no matter the typical partisan motives that may drive Sessions and/or Johnson, I think these facts speak for themselves (note, too, this article that indicates that Kent Conrad finally has a draft budget ready to present for the consideration of the Senate Budget Committee):
Mr. SESSIONS. I thank Senator Johnson for his leadership on this issue.
As the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, I share my colleagues’ disappointment that we have not functioned. It is good to see Senator Ayotte and Senator Johnson, who are members of that committee. We worked hard to get prepared some weeks ago on the assumption that the Senate would meet its statutorily required duty; that is, to produce a budget.
I am holding up title 2, section 632 of the United States Code, and it is the Budget Act. It requires that the Congress annually produce a budget. We have now gone 792 days without a budget.
The first line of the act is: On or before April 15 of each year, Congress shall complete action on a concurrent resolution on the budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1 for the next fiscal year.
We haven’t done that. It also says we should meet by April 1.
Senator Conrad, our Budget chairman, Democratic chairman and able, experienced chairman, was prepared to go forward. It is pretty clear to me that the majority leader decided we shouldn’t have a budget process.
Last year, the Budget Committee produced a budget out of committee, but the majority leader failed to bring it up for vote on the floor. As the leader, he has the power generally to control that fact and was able to do so. This year, he said it would be foolish to have a budget; and, basically, we would not even meet in committee to have a budget.
Six months have gone by, and we have not had any hearings, we have not had any votes on the floor. We haven’t seen any legislation. So I think this is an unacceptable method. I think it undermines the classic constitutional duty of Congress to appropriate money and deal with taxes.
Yet Majority Leader Harry Reid does have priorities – not so much priorities of his own, or of his institution, but instead of the President who Reid abuses his power to submissively serve, in the name of Party and fundraising largesse, reinforced by Reid’s instinctively-authoritarian nature.
This, for example, is the priority that Harry Reid (and 16 of his Democratic colleagues) decided last Thursday should be at the top of the Senate’s agenda when it reconvenes late tomorrow, Tuesday, July 5th, never mind the overdue budget or the looming debt ceiling deadline, which was nominally the reason Reid canceled the Senate’s planned week-long recess last Thursday morning:
Mr. REID. Mr. President, I move to proceed to Calendar No. 88, S.J. Res. 20.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report the resolution by title.
The legislative clerk read as follows:
A joint resolution (S.J. Res. 20) authorizing the limited use of the United States Armed Forces in support of the NATO mission in Libya.
Mr. REID. I have a cloture motion at the desk.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The cloture motion having been presented under rule XXII, the Chair directs the clerk to read the motion.
The legislative clerk read as follows:
We, the undersigned Senators, in accordance with the provisions of rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate, hereby move to bring to a close debate on the motion to proceed to Calendar No. 88, S.J. Res. 20, a joint resolution authorizing the limited use of the United States Armed Forces in support of the NATO mission in Libya.
Harry Reid, John F. Kerry, Daniel K. Inouye, Jeff Bingaman, Joseph I. Lieberman, Benjamin L. Cardin, Al Franken, Jack Reed, Richard J. Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, Carl Levin, Ben Nelson, Jeanne Shaheen, Mark R. Warner, Dianne Feinstein, Bill Nelson, Mark Udall.
Mr. REID. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the vote on the motion to invoke cloture occur at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, July 5, and the mandatory quorum under rule XXII be waived.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Got that? Immediately after “moving to proceed” to the war-authorizing resolution, S.J. Res. 20 – before one word had been spoken on the floor for or against the motion to proceed, and after less than a minute had elapsed since he made the motion to proceed (a motion Reid made just before the Senate adjourned, at 6:51 p.m. on Thursday, until Tuesday afternoon, not including a brief pro forma session Friday morning) Senator Reid, joined by 16 Democratic colleagues, filed a cloture motion “to bring to a close debate on the motion to proceed.” [Which, speaking of Senate “recesses,” is of a piece with how Majority Leader Reid has been working overtime, at least since June 16th, to smooth the way for this particular resolution.] That cloture motion will, under the rules, automatically receive a cloture vote on Tuesday, specifically, by unanimous consent, at 5:00 p.m., as arranged for the convenience of traveling Senators, according to Reid earlier Thursday:
That is why the Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, the day after the Fourth. We will do that because we have work to do. We will be in session that week–that is next week–with our first vote on July 5. We will determine what time that vote will be on July 5, likely in the afternoon because of the travel problems with the Fourth of July the previous day.
If asked by the media, Harry Reid no doubt would protest, through one of his spokesmen, that the Republicans “filibustered” or “blocked” or “obstructed” S.J. Res. 20, “forcing” Reid and the Democrats to attempt to choke off debate immediately by filing a (supermajority) cloture motion, instead of letting the floor debate take its simple-majority course, upon Reid’s filing of the motion to proceed (accompanied by a lifting of the Fake Quorum Call).
In fact, however, Reid filed that cloture motion late Thursday, 6/30/11, to force a floor vote on S.J. Res. 20 at a set (predictable) time, to avoid the need to lift the Fake Quorum Call or to provide any time for floor debate beyond the maximum of three hours that early-returning Senators Tuesday afternoon might be able to make use of (on Tuesday Reid may well typically proclaim, as part of his injured-innocent routine, that the Senate has been “considering” this measure for “four days” already – as a result of his last-minute actions on Thursday while the rest of the Senate was on its way home for a four-and-a-half-day weekend). Reid & Company filed their cloture motion Thursday evening as soon as they could after Reid received an objection to his request Thursday afternoon to waive the regular, default order of the Senate (public debate included), in an effort to put the war resolution immediately before the Senate without preliminary debate:
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senate will resume legislative session [after confirming General Petraeus to be the new CIA Director, 94-0].
The majority leader.
Mr. REID. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Finance Committee be authorized to meet today at 3 p.m. [to take up new “free trade” agreements, as Senator Menendez soon made clear]
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?
Mr. McCONNELL. I object.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard.
Mr. REID. Mr. President, I now ask unanimous consent that at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, July 5, the Senate proceed to the consideration of Calendar No. 88, S.J. Res 20, a joint resolution authorizing the limited use of the U.S. Armed Forces in support of the NATO mission in Libya.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?
Mr. JOHNSON of Wisconsin. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, this is a very important issue. I understand a number of my colleagues have worked very hard to bring this issue to the floor.
But the fact is, it simply does not address the fact that we are bankrupting this Nation. I do object.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard.
As Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s recent statement above encapsulates, and unlike some of the promising freshmen whose words and actions are helping to expose the undemocratic abuses of Party control of Congress, most of our Senators today – particularly those not deemed to be among the handful of “leaders” of their egalitarian, non-hierarachical legislative body by the two hierachical Parties or by the hierachical White House – act for all the world as though they have no more power or more meaningful role to play in our national policy debates than the average blog writer or commenter. So does the Senate today amount to no more than a televised blog, when it comes to “debate” about the debt limit, the federal budget, the economy, war, and all the rest? Should the Senate be more than the speechifying-but-powerless (save for occasional rubber-stamping) institution that President Obama, for one, no doubt prefers that it be? Or do we, like the highly-paid members of the national media assigned to cover our government, prefer to remain in the familiar comfort zone of ceaseless argument and speculation about the personality and unseen backroom conversations and actions of one man in the presidency (and/or of the public antics of anticipated contenders for his office in the next campaign)?
Shouldn’t we be asking our Senators (and our Representatives) why they ran for, and remain in, elective public office, in the name of representing their constituents in our nation’s hard-won self-government, if they desire only to obey orders from a few Party bosses and/or the President (whose Constitutional role is to “faithfully execute” the democratic will of the Legislative Branch of government, not to dictate to it), on matters of the most consequence to the nation?
It’s probably safe to assume that the jaded majority of incumbent Members of Congress are past caring about the intended and essential Constitutional role of their branch of government, or about the necessity of separation of powers for the preservation of the Republic and individual liberty, or about the irreplaceable value of democratic self-government, so long as they perceive their own seat as safe for the foreseeable future. Those self-serving members will no doubt continue to unquestioningly salute Party dictates as long as they can get away with it. We should clearly and publicly identify them and encourage worthy opponents to challenge them, but probably not waste our time trying to reason with them to change their behavior.
My focus instead is on those few (though significant beyond their numbers) Senate (and House) incumbents who, of late, seem to be demonstrating some genuine and courageous, if tentative, independence from the corrupt Party control of Senate operations – on the PATRIOT Act renewal, on the President’s Libyan war, and, as indicated above, on the proposed backroom-deal-dictated future of the entire federal budget. And I think it’s tremendously important for the future of our self-government and nation that we recognize, encourage and commend those few Congressional insiders who are noticeably thinking twice about the usurpations of the power of Congress by today’s two congressional/presidential campaign-fundraising organizations – the Democratic and Republican Parties.