Advice and Consentby Senator Roy Blunt
Posted on 2013-06-12
BLUNT. I thank the Chair for the opportunity to speak, and I wish
to continue discussing what my good friend from Iowa was talking about.
There is a reason for the Senate. There are times when it is hard to figure out exactly what that reason is, with the lack of activity we have seen in the last couple of years, but that has very little to do with the rules of the Senate. It has a lot to do with the Senate not following its regular order, its regular procedures. In fact, when we have done that, whether it was the highway bill or the Federal Aviation Act or the farm bill, we have always produced a successful piece of legislation.
The Senate works when we let the Senate work. The Senate works when people are allowed to bring differing points of view to the Senate floor. Frankly, one of the reasons to be in the Senate is to have the ability to not only bring those ideas to the floor but to have a vote on those ideas; to let the American people know where we stand and to let the people in the States we represent know where we stand. The idea the Senate is now afraid of the amendment process is a great obstacle to the Senate getting its work done.
Another obstacle is constantly talking about changing the Senate rules. The Senate rules have served the Senate well for a long time and served the country well. The Senate rules are what define the Senate in giving individual Senators abilities they wouldn't otherwise have. This is the only body like it in the world where a bare majority can't do whatever it wants to do. If that is the way we want to govern the country, we have one of those bodies already. It is called the House of Representatives, where the majority absolutely rules, where the Rules Committee has nine members representing the majority and four members representing the minority.
I was the whip in the House for a long time--the chief vote counter in the House--and I can tell you that nine always beats four. It is not just 2 to 1, it is 2 to 1, plus 1. That is a body where the majority has incredible capacity to do whatever the majority wants to do. That is not the way the Senate is supposed to work.
We started off this year trying to agree on how to move the Senate forward in an agreeable and effective way, and now we are right back, every day now, hearing: We are going to have to think about changing the rules. When we hear the majority leader talking about changing the rules, it usually is not a good indication we will be prepared to get anything done.
The two leaders, when we started this year, agreed on a plan to make sure the Senate wouldn't unilaterally change the rules; that we would break the rules to change the rules. The thing we would have to do to change the rules is to break the rules, because the rules, once the Senate is constituted, can't be changed by just a majority of Senators. It takes more than that.
[[Page S4359]] We created two new ways for the majority leader--not the minority leader but for the majority leader--to expedite Senate action. We gave new powers to the leader. One of these rules changes passed 78 to 16. The other one passed 86 to 9. These changes gave the majority ways to consider nominations and legislation and going to conference. The minority agreed, under certain circumstances, the ability to engage in debate could and would be limited.
But now we are back again having the same discussion. The only way the majority leader would be able to get what he apparently wants would be to break the rules. There are enough rules being broken, in my view, in Washington right now. One of the problems we face is that the country, frankly, does not trust their government. When we look across the board, from the IRS to what happened in Benghazi, to what the NSA has said in answering about the retaining of records, we don't need to do yet another thing to convince people there is a reason they should not believe what people in the government say.
Let's look at a few things the majority leader said on the Senate floor over the last couple of years. On January of 2011--January 27, to be exact--Mr. Reid said: I agree that the proper way to change the Senate rules is through the procedures established in those rules, and I will oppose any effort in this Congress or the next to change the Senate rules other than through the regular order.
That was January of 2011. Mr. McConnell, in January of this year, said on the Senate floor--January 24: I would confirm with the majority leader that the Senate would not consider other resolutions relating to any standing order or rules in this Congress unless they went through the regular order process? That was Senator McConnell's question. In response, Senator Reid said: That is correct. Any other resolutions related to Senate procedure would be subject to a regular order process, including consideration by the Rules Committee.
I am on the Rules Committee, and we are not talking about any rules changes in the Rules Committee, which Senator Reid said in January of this year would have to be part of looking at that.
Of course, a lot of the discussion is: The nominations are taking too long. But these are important jobs, and there is a reason they take so long. In particular, judicial nominees serve for the rest of their lives. They are going to serve well beyond, in most cases, the President who nominates them. So they have taken a long time for quite a while.
I would think the facts are clear the Senate is treating President Obama's judicial nominees fairly and, in some ways, even better than they treated President Bush's nominees.
Already in this Congress, the Senate--in this Congress, the one that began in January--the Senate has approved 22 of the President's lifetime appointments. Twenty-two people on the Federal bench for the rest of their lives, that is already happening this year. At a comparable point in President Bush's second term the Senate had approved only five of his judicial nominees.
In the last Congress, President Obama had 50 percent more confirmations than President Bush; 171 of his nominees were confirmed. His predecessor had 119 under similar circumstances, a time when the Senate was also dealing with 2 Supreme Court nominees who, by the way, also serve for life.
I think in the first term of President Obama the Senate made the kind of progress one would expect the Senate to make on these important jobs. In fact, President Obama has had more district court confirmations than any President in the previous eight Congresses. One would think that would be a pretty good record on the part of the Senate doing its job.
The Constitution says the President nominates but, it says, the Senate confirms. In my view, those are equally important jobs. In fact, one could argue that the last job, the one that actually puts the judge on the bench, is even more important than the first job.
Overall, the Senate has confirmed 193 lower court judges under President Obama and defeated only 2. The Washington Post cited the Congressional Research Service conclusion that from nomination to confirmation, which is the most relevant indicator, President Obama's circuit court nominees were being processed about 100 days quicker than those of President Bush. President Bush's nominees took about a year, 350 days. President Obama's take about 100 days less than that.
Let's look at the other side of nominations. There is a difference in the executive nominations, I believe, because they are only likely to serve during the term of the President and not exceed that. I think that creates a slightly different standard. The process on these nominations has been pretty extraordinary in any view. If anything, the Obama administration has had more nominations considered quicker than the Bush administration.
The Secretary of Energy was recently confirmed 97 to 0. The Secretary of the Interior was confirmed 87 to 11; the Secretary of the Treasury, 71 to 26. Those are substantial votes done in a substantial time. The commerce committee that I am on just this week voted out three nominations the President had made with no dissenting votes to report that nomination to the floor.
The Director of the Office of Management and Budget was confirmed 96 to 0. The Secretary of State was confirmed 94 to 3, only 7 days after the Secretary of State was nominated. Members of the Senate knew the Secretary of State pretty well. It was easy to look at that in a quick way, but it is pretty hard to imagine a Secretary of State who can be confirmed quicker than 7 days after that person was nominated.
The Administrator for the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services was confirmed 91 to 7. The Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission was confirmed by a voice vote. Yet in spite of all of that, we are being told by the White House and by others that somehow the Senate's record on these nominations is worthy of an unprecedented rules change, and that rules change would shut out the rights of the minority to fully review and debate, particularly, lifetime judicial nominations.
The very essence of the constitutional obligation of the Senate is to look at these nominations and decide whether these people should go onto the Federal bench for the rest of their lives.
I am hopeful that the majority leader will keep his word to the Senate and to the American people and ensure that we move onto this debate that should happen--didn't happen in January--and instead of changing the rules, we do what we are supposed to do and do it in a way that meets our obligations as a Senate and our obligations to the Constitution. Let's not break the rules to change the rules. Let's get on with the important business that is before us rather than going back to the business we have dealt with months ago.
I yield the floor.