Senate Democrats Overturn Parliamentarian & Precedent Thursday To Impede Floor Amending As They Further Entrench Supermajority Cloture
Compounding a track record of irresponsible and dishonorable conduct and historic levels of public disapproval, there’s a disturbing trend accelerating in the Senate, that’s further centralizing the power of our representatives in the hands of the few among them who control the two private, hierarchical, corporate-profit-funded Party organizations. A trend that is evidently designed to enable Party bosses to increasingly dictate, in private, the details and the outcome of all important legislation in the Senate.
Those, now led by Harry Reid, who wield that top-heavy power – courtesy of the public and private abdication of their Senatorial responsibilities by Party Caucus members – are working hard to further consolidate the power that Senators have already ceded to them to shut down, at will, the daily floor business of the Senate. [Via, in particular, the unchallenged – as out of order – “Fake Quorum Call” that functionally recesses the “in session” Senate each and every day (facilitating the routine replacement of the Senate’s default simple-majority regular order with the Party-preferred, optional supermajority Rule 22 cloture order), in addition to the unanimous daily agreement to “deem expired” the “Morning Hour”.]
Whether through the months of White House-instigated backroom wheeling and dealing between a select few Party members on the debt ceiling and national budget (while the Senate Budget Committee, under Democratic control, was deliberately idled), or in the secretly-conducted (“closed”) multi-day markup of the far-reaching National Defense Authorization bill in Carl Levin’s Armed Services Committee this year, or in the Harry Reid-conceived undemocratic Joint Select Super Committee (which hasn’t held a public business meeting since its first brief organizational meeting on September 8th), most Senators, under Democratic Party control, seem focused on one primary objective: to remain out of public view and off the public record while they help their Party leadership to do the dirty work of their campaign contributors – which, in the case of the Reid-led Democrats (plus Bernie Sanders and Joseph Lieberman) at present, still means regularly taking dictation from the President. [Never mind all that pretty, abstract talk about the vital role of the “separation of powers” that Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer waxed eloquent about before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.] The more despised these tactics become, the more the Senate Democrats, under Reid, seem to double down on their backroom behavior and its practiced deceit, and on their public efforts to avoid accountability, such as blocking so-called “hard” votes by abusing the powerful motion “to table” so as to cast roll call votes, without debate, to kill a measure without formally considering it on its merits, pro or con. [10/31 addition for the record: Even as its members disgracefully continue to ‘gather’ in private for off-the-record ‘conversations,’ while refusing to convene any public meetings or engage in any public deliberation since the committee’s first and only public meeting on 9/8 (which preceded several limited public “hearings”), sometime between October 7 and October 21, 2011 the Joint Select Super Committee abruptly changed, apparently without notice, the domain name of its official website, and fails even to refer traffic that finds its brand-new but already-defunct original website to the current site (unchanged except for the site’s name).]
Knowing that the media (similarly driven by corporate profit above all) and Party-aligned writers and bloggers are unlikely to accurately explain, undistorted by self-serving Party spin, the latest ugly example of this undemocratic, power-centralizing trend in the Senate, this is my Senate-aligned, as opposed to Party-aligned, account of the overturning of existing Senate precedent (related to a rarely-invoked motion to suspend the rules) that I watched Senate Democrats quickly fall into line to support yesterday evening, October 6, 2011 – a vote, held without any public debate, that those Senators voluntarily cast to reduce their own power as individual Senators to publicly create and revise federal legislation on the Senate floor in future.
I happened to tune in C-SPAN2 Thursday evening at about 6:44 p.m. Eastern, to see what further damage the Senate had managed to do this week (to their institution, if not to their country), knowing that, as usual (and despite having just returned from a week off), by then Senators would be attempting to flee D.C. for their long weekend (made longer this weekend by Yom Kippur and Columbus Day).
I’d earlier heard, via C-SPAN, that President Obama had summoned his Democratic Senate subjects (Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, and Patty Murray) to the White House for a 5:30 p.m. meeting yesterday, presumably to review presidential re-election campaign strategy as it relates to legislation written and ordered to pass the Senate by the White House (see: the American Jobs Act, whose Reid-revised text, filed as S. 1660, is not yet available at the Government Printing Office, though the Senate will be voting on a cloture motion to proceed to the bill Tuesday evening, as arranged just before the Senate adjourned for the weekend at 10:00 p.m. Thursday). So I expected that I might see Harry Reid attempting to obediently execute the President’s will on the Senate floor, post-meeting.
When I tuned in, a vote was in progress, but C-SPAN was unable to describe the vote beyond the fact that it was a “procedural vote” on the pending currency “misalignment” bill (aimed at China, and written/sponsored by Chuck Schumer, Sherrod Brown and Lindsey Graham). Given the bill’s posture (post-cloture, after a Democratic cloture motion had passed, with 62 votes, earlier in the day), a vote to require the attendance of Senators, because (as usual) a Constitutional quorum was not present in the Chamber, seemed the most logical explanation for the roll call. Except that the Party-line vote was the reverse of the typical attendance vote (Republicans were voting Aye, Democrats were voting No).
I waited and watched, and soon noticed that some serious Democratic arm-twisting was taking place in the well of the Chamber. The reason for that arm-twisting became quite clear, when the vote concluded at 7:22 p.m., and (as soon as Democrats Reid, Udall of NM, Durbin and others stopped blocking them by refusing consent to lift a Reid-imposed Fake Quorum Call) a couple of Republican Senators (Bob Corker of TN and Roger Wicker of MS) thankfully stood up to challenge and protest with integrity what had just taken place (their facial expressions and tones of voice speaking volumes).
Here’s Senator Corker:
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Tennessee.
Mr. CORKER. Mr. President, thank you for recognizing me.
I really do not want to speak. Here is what I want to happen. I think Members on both sides of the aisle believe this institution has degraded into a place that is no longer a place of any deliberation at all. I would like for you [meaning Harry Reid] and the minority leader to explain to us so that we have one story here in public as to what has happened this week to lead us to the place that we are. That is all I am asking. That is all I want to know. Explain how the greatest deliberative body, on a bill that many would say was a messaging bill in the first place, ended up having no amendments, and we are in this place that we are right now. I would just like to understand that.
Here’s Senator Wicker:
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Mississippi.
Mr. WICKER. I thank the distinguished majority leader for yielding. I will not take long.
I have been in the Senate 4 years now, and I think my colleagues know I do not come down to the floor and spout a lot of hot air. But I have to be heard tonight.
I will agree with my friend the majority leader on one thing: This is no way to legislate. He said those words a few moments ago, and I agree.
We have become accustomed to a procedure, and I have disagreed with that procedure, but it has been the regular order during the time I have been here; that is, the usual practice is a bill is brought to the floor, and the majority leader immediately offers every amendment that can possibly be offered in a parliamentary way, thus filling the amendment tree and preventing other Senators from offering amendments.
Then cloture is filed [by the Democrats] and we don’t have an opportunity to have a full hearing. I am told this has not always been the practice, but we have been accustomed to that practice.
What happened tonight is far different from that. I think that is why my friend from Tennessee propounded the question to the majority leader. We had a bill–and it may be a messaging bill, but if it were passed, it would be a significant piece of legislation. I think both sides acknowledge that. No amendments were allowed precloture and no amendments have been allowed postcloture. The majority leader, this very day, after the cloture vote assured the Senate that we would be operating under an open process. He said those words. Not only that–and perhaps the majority leader, when I finish in a moment or two, could correct me–I believe I heard the majority leader say we would be allowed to offer motions to suspend the rules on a number of amendments, and debate would be allowed.
What occurred was that Senator Coburn offered his motion to suspend the rule on his amendment. We assumed we would be able to do this on at least a few amendments. But the very first amendment that was offered, the majority leader suggested to the Chair, and made the point of order to the Chair, that it was dilatory–one amendment. That was deemed dilatory by the majority leader, and the Parliamentarian correctly instructed the Chair to overrule that suggestion by the majority leader, upholding the precedent of the Senate. And one by one, Democratic Members of this body had to march down and vote to overrule the Parliamentarian of this Senate for the very purpose of shutting down the chance to offer one single amendment, when the majority leader well knew he had the votes to win. But our rules have, I thought, been designed–and I think our society is designed this way–around the concept that the minority has an opportunity to be protected; the minority has an opportunity to be heard in this body, of all bodies.
What we have done tonight–unless we can remove that–is we have changed the [interpretation of the parliamentary] rules of the Senate on a messaging bill, on a matter that the majority leader had the votes on. That is my objection. That is why I am so disturbed about the overreaction and heavyhandedness of this move.
This is not a matter of supporting the leader on one bill that he wants to get us out of town on. This is precedent. Unless we can change it, we have forever changed the right of the [minority (and majority)] to be heard postcloture. I am saddened about that.
[Note that Senator Wicker had voted in favor of cloture Monday on the motion to proceed, to support bringing the currency bill before the Senate, but opposed cloture on the bill itself Thursday, after amendments had been blocked, while Senator Corker voted against cloture both Monday and Thursday. Neither Senator was the author of any of the seven amendments that were going to be offered by way of post-cloture motions to suspend the rules (the seven amendments were McConnell/735, Coburn/670, Barrasso/672, Hatch/680, Cornyn/677, DeMint/689, & Johanns/692 – with Johanns substituting for Paul/678, because Paul had volunteered by Thursday evening to withhold offering his amendment on this bill; Reid claimed that only Johanns/692 was secretly objected to in his Caucus).]
In response to those challenges, Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell publicly elaborated on the Party machinations that had just led the majority Democrats – save for Ben Nelson of Nebraska and the absent Barbara Boxer – to overrule the Parliamentarian and existing Senate precedent in order to block any attempt by any Senator to simply offer amendments to legislation, post-cloture, by way of a motion to suspend the rules (a suspension motion that requires 67 votes for passage).
Here’s the procedural language that Harry Reid used to get the ball rolling, starting at 6:33 p.m., and the result of the vote, announced at 7:22 p.m.:
Mr. REID. I call up the motion to suspend rule XXII, including germaneness requirements, filed yesterday by Senator Coburn for the purpose of proposing and considering amendment No. 670.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report the motion.
The assistant legislative clerk read as follows:
The Senator from Nevada [Mr. Reid], for Mr. Coburn, moves to suspend rule XXII, paragraph No. 2, including germaneness requirements, for the purpose of proposing and considering amendment No. 670.
Mr. REID. Mr. President, I make a point of order that the motion to suspend is a dilatory motion under rule XXII [the optional Cloture Rule].
The PRESIDING OFFICER [Mark Begich of Alaska]. The point of order is not sustained.
Mr. REID. I appeal the ruling of the Chair and request the yeas and nays.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there a sufficient second?
There is a sufficient second.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The question is, Shall the decision of the Chair stand as the judgment of the Senate?
The clerk will call the roll.
The assistant legislative clerk called the roll.
Mr. DURBIN. I announce that the Senator from California (Mrs. Boxer) is necessarily absent.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Are there any other Senators in the Chamber desiring to vote?
The result was announced–yeas 48, nays 51, as follows:
[…Roll Call 157…]
The PRESIDING OFFICER. On this vote, the yeas are 48, the nays are 51. The decision of the Chair does not stand as the judgment of the Senate. Therefore, the point of order is sustained.
This Party-line-forced change to post-cloture Senate precedent, Rule 22 floor procedure, and future parliamentary process was effected with no public debate by Senators of either Party, after a short scripted speech was read by Harry Reid – who later admitted that he’d been planning this move since Thursday morning (presumably with the knowledge of his mute Caucus, “independent” Bernie Sanders included, and with his upcoming White House meeting in mind).
There was so little public discussion on the floor about Thursday’s move (since it resulted from Reid privately conniving with his Caucus to pull this off as some sort of partisan “win” against minority Republicans in the Senate, rather than as any sort of necessary reform to Senate procedures), that no explanation or recitation of the specific precedent that was being challenged and overturned was publicly proffered. But as Reid undoubtedly knew, if, in fact, such a post-cloture motion to suspend the rules for the purpose of proposing an amendment (which is akin to a unanimous consent request to do the same) in fact qualified as “dilatory” under Rule 22, his point of order was a wholly-unnecessary move, because Rule 22 precedent already “requires” the Chair to rule any such dilatory amendment out of order, without prompting from the floor (notably, no such ruling had been made). In addition, existing precedent under Rule 22 decrees any post-cloture “non-germane” amendment out of order, if any Senator makes a point of order against it.
So presumably all that Reid, or any other Senator, had to do to deep-six without a vote 6 of the 7 Republican amendments (the 6 admittedly non-germane amendments that Senators were hoping to offer via the motions to suspend), was to make a point of order as to their lack of germaneness, that the Chair would have sustained – without requiring any appeal or vote to overturn existing Senate precedent. Yet, notably, it appears that even that step was not necessary Thursday for Democrats to avoid voting on these motions to suspend, because, with the tree filled by Reid, it was necessary for the Republicans in question to first receive unanimous consent before their motions to suspend post-cloture would be in order for the purposes of offering an amendment, as indicated by a parliamentary inquiry McConnell made Thursday evening. [See, too, my 10/12 Addendum to this scenario, added in the fourth-to-the-last comment below. The response to McConnell’s inquiry was: “The PRESIDING OFFICER. Once an amendment slot is available, the motion to suspend is in order.“ Note that “tree” in the phrase “filling the tree” is a reference to the diagram that illustrates the necessary parliamentary sequence for offering amendments to legislation pending before the Senate.]
(In other words, absent unanimous consent, none of these, or any other, amendments had been able to be called up pre-cloture, because Reid filled the amendment tree on Tuesday immediately after the motion to proceed to S. 1619 had been agreed to. Likewise, as indicated by that response to McConnell’s parliamentary inquiry, absent unanimous consent, none of these amendments were in order to be called up – this time by motions to suspend – post-cloture either, because the tree was still filled. Whereas, when the tree is not filled – as should be the normal course of events – then, unlike the situation Thursday (with the tree filled), unanimous consent would not be required before a Senator could make such a motion to suspend to offer an amendment post-cloture, as things stood before Thursday’s change in Senate precedent. So because Reid had filled the tree, Reid was the only one able to make the motion to suspend, in Coburn’s name, that he made Thursday evening – see above – without unanimous consent. Before he could do so, Reid first had to “withdraw” at least one of his pending amendments that was helping to fill the tree. And that’s exactly what Reid did when he started this stunt at 6:33 p.m. Thursday: Reid first partially unfilled the tree – withdrew his own second-degree nonsense blocking amendment to make an amendment slot available – and then immediately made a motion to suspend the rules for the purpose of proposing a Coburn amendment, in order to then make a point of order against his own motion to suspend. So on top of everything else that flows from Reid’s grossly-undemocratic abuses of power in blocking Senate floor amending, no Republican was independently going to be able to make a motion to suspend post-cloture without first receiving unanimous consent to do so. That power only exists – like the pre-cloture regular order power to amend – when an amendment slot is available – that is, when the tree is not pre-filled by nonsense amendments designed only to prevent the Senate from legislating in public. Thus, the Senate precedent that was created, without debate, by the majority Democrats Thursday evening, 10/6, in effect permanently “filled the tree” post-cloture for all future legislation, blocking consideration of any and all amendments for which the Senate has not already given its unanimous pre-cloture consent for their sponsor to be allowed to pierce the Fake Quorum Call long enough to simply offer them on the floor for a vote.)
So Reid, like many abusive Party bosses that have preceded him, particularly in the House, is apparently intent on further institutionalizing the supermajority option of Rule 22 cloture (which was written to bring debating filibusters to an end, not to empower Majority Leaders at the expense of the rest of the Senate) as the de facto regular order of the Senate, and is therefore working to block methods of resisting his majority’s abuse of that rule. And that effort, in turn, is quite likely laying the groundwork for a future move, by his Party or the other, to reduce cloture to a simple-majority option to force votes on the Senate – which, with it, as in the current House, would eviscerate the (now-atropyhing) right of extended debate in the Senate. If Senators genuinely do value their (and every future Senator’s) right to debate in the Senate, they’d damn well better start meaningfully acting to push back against this backroom/fake quorum call/cloture abuse, by forcing a return to decentralized power in the Senate – because no one else is going to do it for them, least of all Party leadership.
It’s at this point that conventional, Party-framed reporting will no doubt veer off into the land of Party myth, by asserting that Reid’s hand was forced because, supposedly, all 100 Senators must agree before the Senate, under regular order and its default (simple-majority) rules, has the ability to vote on motions to proceed, or on amendments, or on final passage of legislation and nominations, absent the voluntary filing of a supermajority cloture motion (by the Senate’s majority Democrats). The way the Parties tell it, because each Senator has the right to “object” to unanimous consent requests (the Democrats, including the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Chuck Schumer, have renamed such objections “filibustering,” essentially without challenge from the co-opted media), therefore anything and everything that the Senate does requires either unanimous consent, or a supermajority (60-vote) cloture vote to proceed. And, further, the reason the Senate supposedly constantly “needs” 60 votes to do anything is solely because of minority Republicans and their assorted objections to various Democratic unanimous consent requests to waive regular order in one way or another (again, this is usually dishonestly summarized for partisan advantage as minority “filibustering”).
Incredibly, thanks to its slavish devotion to serving and enforcing the two-party system, the American national media has yet to learn or to inform the public that those Party myths are absolutely false, and that the present state of the Senate is entirely the voluntary doing of the two Parties, and, in particular with regard to the present abuse of supermajority cloture, the fault of the majority Democrats in the Senate. A dysfunction that originates in the immobilization of business on the Senate floor through the voluntary abuse by both Parties of the Fake Quorum Call – as I’ve exhaustively detailed here at FDL; see, for example, this diary and this diary.
The reason the Parties, and their loyal subjects, cling to those convenient myths is to hide the real reasons for what is disgracefully not being done, on a daily basis, in the Senate: public debate and legislating. [Please pay attention to these realities of the system that you’re hoping to join, Elizabeth Warren & Company.]
The pending “misaligned currency” bill – S. 1619 – is a case in point. After 79 Senators voted to bring “debate” on the motion to proceed to a close on Monday (after a grand total of one hour of debate), Harry Reid quickly abused his power (by “filling the tree”) to ensure that not a single floor amendment was given the opportunity to even be offered on the bill from Monday/Tuesday through Thursday, by Senators of either Party. [Reid blamed McConnell for Reid’s action, because Senate Democrats are – again, disgracefully – afraid to defeat (or, apparently, even to amend) Obama’s Jobs bill in public, and McConnell was planning on offering Obama’s Jobs bill as an amendment to S. 1619.]
Despite that lack of amending ability (and against Mitch McConnell’s advice to his Caucus) the Senate invoked cloture a second time Thursday (this time with 62 votes, to bring “debate” on the bill itself to a close). And thus, as noted above, the vote on final passage will now take place next Tuesday evening. But some Senators aren’t as ready as others to abandon their duty and role as federal legislators in deference to corrupt Party leadership, and thus, unsurprisingly, some in the minority have tried to find ways around the Majority Leader’s repeated, undemocratic, and historically-unprecedented, moves to “fill the tree” (block all amendment slots that may be used to call up floor amendments for debate and a vote without the need for unanimous consent). For example, Senator DeMint, and then Senator Coburn, recently started offering occasional Motions to Suspend the rules (again, those motions need 67 votes to pass, so are generally doomed to fail), simply to obtain an opportunity to offer amendments and receive a vote on them on the Senate floor when Party leadership has prevented the Senate from working its will.
Predictably, this has raised the ire of the vindictive, passive-aggressive Majority Leader and his loyal subjects, and he apparently decided it was time to teach Tom Coburn a lesson, to discourage independent thinking and principled action in the Senate that might threaten Reid’s grip on power (something Reid’s already masterfully succeeded in doing within his own Caucus, as Thursday’s petty, destructive performance by Democrats/Sanders/Lieberman made crystal clear).
But the more Reid and his Caucus clamp down on the ability of Senators – in both the majority and minority – to do their job as elected representatives of the people, the more some in the minority, at least, are predictably going to resist and fight back, as they absolutely should, if only for the sake of the institution’s crucial role in the design of our federal system – an institution that Reid obviously values primarily for the power and privilege it gives him, rather than for its irreplaceable role in an accountable, democratic self-government.
So, the grand total of seven (mostly non-“germane”) Republican amendments to S. 1619 (each needing 67 votes simply to be considered, post-cloture, by suspension of the rules) never got a chance to be offered or heard (including the Obama Jobs Bill amendment), because Reid (that is, as he said, the members of his Caucus, in private) wouldn’t unanimously agree to the seven specific amendments (from among dozens or more) that the Republicans agreed to limit themselves to (the sticking point was a Johanns amendment about “farm dust”), and therefore unanimous consent was not reached to work around Reid’s filled amendment tree. [Despite this, the currency bill will apparently pass the Senate, late Tuesday, though the House leadership seemingly has no intention of bringing it up.] Apparently not a single Democrat or “independent” had any ideas about how this currency legislation might be improved that they cared to actually offer as an amendment to the legislation on the floor (despite, for example, Jim Webb speaking Tuesday about just such an amendment he’d introduced to S. 1619), so only Republican amendments were at issue. With a disagreement about 1 amendment out of 7 thus blocking unanimous consent on motion-to-suspend amendment votes, Reid immediately proceeded to his Point of Order stunt, with the intention of overthrowing Senate precedent with an unnecessary and ill-considered Party power play, confident that the media would favorably misreport his action, the reasons for it, and its profound implications for hopes of a future return to open, full and fair democratic deliberative process in the Senate.
Yet, as I indicated above, Reid’s sudden power play almost didn’t work. Unfortunately, though, unlike (to his credit) Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor and Claire McCaskill couldn’t withstand the lobbying of their Party Bosses, and finally gave in to the peer pressure, likely against their better judgement and for no good reason, to side with the Party over the institution in which they serve. I replayed the C-SPAN video to verify the following arm-twisting chronology during the voting [the voting began at 6:40 p.m.; the preliminary roll call had been read off by the Clerk by 6:55 p.m.; Al Franken, tellingly, can be heard and seen yukking it up, mid-vote]:
A reminder of the question on which they were voting: Shall the decision of the Chair [in response to Reid’s “point of order”] stand as the judgment of the Senate?
7:00 p.m. Ben Nelson of Nebraska votes “No.”
7:00 p.m. Mark Pryor of Arkansas votes “Aye.”
7:01 p.m. Dick Durbin begins speaking to Pryor in a corner on the Republican side of the well of the Senate Chamber.
7:02 p.m. Harry Reid joins Durbin, and Durbin leaves Pryor to Reid.
7:02 p.m. Claire McCaskill of Missouri enters the well of the Chamber, but doesn’t vote, and soon moves out of sight.
7:03 p.m. Ben Nelson of Nebraska returns to the well to change his vote to “Aye.”
7:03 p.m. Dick Durbin immediately begins talking to Nelson, and is soon joined by Dianne Feinstein.
7:06 p.m. Pryor and Reid move together to the Senate Parliamentarian at the desk, and Pryor begins a long consultation with the Senate Parliamentarian; Reid joins the huddle around Ben Nelson.
7:07 p.m. McCaskill comes back into sight in the well, and soon Reid and Dianne Feinstein, and later Chuck Schumer, engage her. Ben Nelson leaves the Chamber without changing his vote.
7:08 p.m. Carl Levin starts listening to the conversation Pryor is having with the Parliamentarian.
7:10 p.m. Levin puts his arm around Pryor and starts a conversation with him, in front of the Parliamentarian.
7:13 p.m. Pryor turns and signals to the Clerk to change his vote to “No,” and moves off to the side, still in conversation with Levin.
7:14 p.m. McCaskill finally votes “No,” and moves off to the side, still in conversation with Feinstein.
No other votes are cast, before the Majority Leader finally allows the tally to be announced at 7:22 p.m.: 48 Ayes, 51 Noes – meaning that “the ruling of the Chair [as provided by the Parliamentarian in accordance with Senate precedent] does not stand as the judgement of the Senate.” [And, therefore, no Senator in future, unless this precedent is likewise overturned, may make a motion to suspend the rules to offer an amendment, post-cloture, and the Chair must independently enforce that precedent on Senators.]
So while Senate Democrats were busy hiding from and successfully preventing public floor votes on “bad,” “tough,” and all other amendments to their currency bill all week, what was being done in the Senate? We may well ask, considering that the federal fiscal year began on October 1 with only one of twelve appropriations bills for the year adopted by the Senate, and a Continuing Resolution due to expire on November 18th (or just about the time that the Super Committee needs to be adopting any unamendable recommendations that seven of its members may agree to make).
As it happens, Majority Leader Reid’s distorted, White House-focused priorities were clearly exposed by this summary from John McCain on Monday about the undone work of the present Congress, as week after week the Senate Chamber stands empty and idle, with the Fake Quorum Call suspending floor business:
Mr. McCAIN. […] First, we authorize. Then we are supposed to appropriate. The Senator from Nevada, the distinguished majority leader, and I came to the Senate together more years ago than we would like to remind some of our colleagues. But 20-some years ago, when we came to this body, we regularly took up authorization and appropriations bills. We took them up one by one, we had debate, and we had amendments.
By the way, the practice of filling up the tree [to block floor amending], which both sides of the aisle in this body are guilty of, was not heard of in those days.
I know the majority leader’s time is valuable. I would just remind my friends that the legislative calendar, which is here, is waiting consideration.
Here are just a few of the authorizing bills waiting consideration. The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012. The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs has approved the Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act. The Senate Finance Committee has approved the Airport and Airway Trust Fund Reauthorization Act. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has approved the Surface Transportation Extension Act.
Today is October 3–the third day of fiscal year 2012–and guess how many of the 12 annual appropriations bills have passed this body? The answer is one. It is not as if the bills are not ready for floor consideration. They have been cleared and placed on the legislative calendar. So why not bring them to the floor for debate and amendments–the Agriculture appropriations bill, the Commerce, State, and Justice appropriations bill. All of these, by the way, should have been preceded by authorizing legislation.
What has happened around here, unfortunately, for the majority of the Members of the Senate is that by virtue of the fact that we do not take up authorization bills for the functions of various branches of government, it renders the appropriations process transcendent in the deliberations and conclusions this body has made, thereby making members of the Appropriations Committee have an unwarranted, in my view, but certainly far more impactful role in the Senate than the members of the authorizing committees.
I intend to continue to work in this body and with some of the newer Members to change that process, to require appropriations bills to reflect the authorizing committees’ legislation, that the Appropriations Committee not be permitted to authorize, which is not their role, which over the years has become more and more prevalent and routine.
The responsibilities–not the privileges but the responsibilities–of those of us on the authorizing committees, including the Armed Services Committee this year, have been abrogated and overcome by a process which is clearly gridlocked.
I recognize the presence of the majority leader on the floor. I yield to the majority leader and then will return to my remarks following his.
Mr. President, as I was saying, we have only 1 of the 12 authorization bills that has been considered by the Senate to date, which was the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs appropriations bill. The Senate passed that bill on July 20. Congress did not enact a single one of the annual appropriations bills through regular order last year or a budget last year or this year. What kind of message do we send the American people when they are suffering under unprecedented and unacceptable economically difficult times? We are sending the message that either we are unable or unwilling to address the issues that are affecting their very lives.
I hope the majority leader will agree to change his priorities and bring the bill to the floor. I will continue to work to resolve concerns he or the administration has expressed concerning the [defense authorization] legislation itself. But because the executive branch has concerns about legislation and objections to legislation, that should not prevent it from coming to the floor of the Senate. That should not be a reason why the Senate should not exercise its responsibilities to debate, to amend, and to authorize all these much needed priorities for the men and women who are serving our country with courage and efficiency.
Harry Reid’s blinkered partisan thinking results in his failing to recognize or appreciate that his obvious decision to make it his primary job, as Senate Majority Leader, to promote the incumbent President’s re-election, is functionally no different and no better than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s publicly vowing to make it his job to prevent the incumbent President’s re-election. Reid and McConnell are in fact simply two sides of the same corrupt coin of the Party realm in Washington, D.C., and our democratic institutions of government continue to suffer the consequences – this week, it was the Senate’s turn to take another blow – of these destructive and widely-despised Party vs. Party wars.