US Capitol

The Senate is engaging in a debate today on a Wyden/Grassley Amendment to the War Supplemental spending bill that will further restrict the rights of minority members in the Senate to slow passage of expensive legislation and controversial nominees.

Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have an amendment to end the rights of Senators to place a so called “Secret Hold” on nominations and legislation.  A hold is the threat of a filibuster and a means for one member to force the Senate to follow its own rules.  Abolishing the hold is a terrible idea for the advocates of small government because the practical effect would be to rid the Senate of rules and traditions that protect the wallet of the American people.

First of all, the hold really isn’t a problem because most of the bills passed by the Senate today are conducted under unanimous consent agreements without holds.  Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) points out that “94% of all bills pass (the Senate) by unanimous consent.”  Conservatives are upset with the bullying tactics of the majority in the Senate who want to pass those other 6% of bills with no real consideration or participation by the American people.  DeMint argued today on the Senate floor that “what this means is that 94%” of all bills pass with “no debate, no vote, no reading of the bill, no online disclosure…”  This cuts the American people out of the process, because they are not allowed the opportunity to participate in some insider strategy where Senators are asked to pass a bill with no vote, no debate and no participation by the American people.  DeMint wants to eliminate the practice of “Secret Consent.”

The Washington Post complained that about the “Secret Hold” rule and they argue that DeMint’s action in offering an Amendment to the Wyden/Grassley Amendment during the Financial Services Reform debate prevented a vote on the matter.  The Washington Post argues:

SOUTH CAROLINA Republican Sen. Jim DeMint would like to see an end to the insidious process known as the “secret hold.” Or so we are told. Mr. DeMint’s actions suggest otherwise. This month, without any warning, he effectively prevented a planned vote on an amendment to end secret holds by attaching a controversial measure to complete construction of a border fence. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) — who, by the way, voted for an earlier version of the border-fence provision — withdrew his amendment.

The great irony is that Senator DeMint offered an amendment to the Wyden Amendment, and Senator Wyden withdrew his amendment rather than allow a vote on the DeMint and Wyden Amendments.  In the end, Wyden used some procedural trickery to thwart the will of the Senate to get a vote on the DeMint Amendment.  To most Americans, the Senate’s complex procedures are confusing, yet they want bills and nominations to be debated and to result in a recorded vote.

The Post further argues that it is a terrible result of the rules of the Senate that a single member can “effectively prevent a vote” unless the Majority Leader is willing to take time consuming actions to make it happen.  More complaining from the Washington Post:

The Senate is a body that functions, to the extent that it does, largely through the process of unanimous consent. Absent unanimous consent to vote on an amendment, a piece of legislation or a nominee, the rules governing filibusters and cloture kick in, consuming floor time. A single senator can thus gum up the works and effectively prevent a vote unless the majority leader is willing to devote the necessary attention to making it happen. That may sound bad enough, but the real travesty occurs when the objecting senator does not have to come forward to identify himself or herself and explain the reason for the hold. This is government in the dark, not government in the light.

The Senate functions under rules, yet they are constantly suspended by unanimous consent.  As DeMint points out, 94% of bills pass without a vote and without a secret hold.  The Senate’s rules are so important to the Congressional legislative process, because they are complex.  They must be followed and understood to get a bill to the President’s desk.

Basically, Senator DeMint and other conservatives are objecting to the suspension of the rules to secretly pass legislation.  Somehow, in the eyes of the liberals at the Washington Post, it is a terrible thing to argue that the rules should be followed and that a single Senator can force the Senate to follow it’s own rules.  They argue that a single Senator can “gum up the works” – is that such a bad thing?  If Senators fail to defend their individual right to force the Senate to follow the rules, then it will cost you average American billions in secretly negotiated and passse bills.

Individual Senators will lose power to the Senate Majority Leader, both Republicans and Democrat Leaders, if this rule is changed and the American people will be completely cut out of the process.  Hopefully Senators will dig in and defend the right to preserve the Senate tradition of a “hold.”