Extension of Morning Businessby Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
Posted on 2013-01-02
CARDIN. Mr. President, I thank Senator Udall for taking the time
and for his commitment to this institution so that it operates
correctly. I thank Senator Merkley for his leadership.
I agree with both Senators. If you are going to engage in extraordinary action such as a filibuster, you should be on the floor talking about it. That makes sense, that when the Senate is in session, we should be conducting business. We shouldn't have to go through extensive quorum calls because a single Senator is objecting to us proceeding. We want to get back to the traditions of the Senate where this becomes the greatest deliberative body in the world, where we debate issues and we resolve issues and we act on issues.
I was listening to the distinguished Senator from Alabama, and he was pointing out how he believes that the Senate is not working the way it should and that we should be debating more amendments. I think we should be debating more amendments. I think the key we need is that we need to change the way the Senate has acted and operated in recent times, and that means we need to get more legislation more quickly and actually debate bills. We have to have committees able to report out legislation that could be acted on on the floor of the Senate. We have got to bring issues to conclusion.
There are two problems here, as I see it: One, we have had individual Senators who have used their right to object to a unanimous consent, delaying almost indefinitely--in some cases killing--legislation from being able to move forward by a single objection, and a lot of times they are not even on the floor of the Senate to make that objection. They just through their leader say, We don't want this bill to move forward; and maybe, yes, we will let it move forward if you will let us have 50 amendments. That is the same as killing the bill.
So we have seen individual Senators exercising their right to object who have brought legislation to a standstill on the floor of the Senate. That is wrong. And as my distinguished colleague, the Senator from New Mexico, pointed out, the majority leader has had to file record numbers of clotures to end debate because the minority party, for whatever reason, has not allowed us to proceed with legislation for debate.
Normally the majority party has the right to determine the agenda of the Senate. They don't have the right to pass bills; that is up to a majority of the Senate. But the majority leader should have the right to bring a bill to the floor of the Senate. That has been denied over and over by the minority party. That is wrong.
I agree with my friend from Alabama that there should be the right to offer amendments. I think we should debate issues. I agree with that. But that hasn't been the problem. The problem has been that a certain number of Members have used their right to object, working through the Republican leader, blocking us from considering a lot of bills on the floor of the Senate.
So what do we need to do? We need to be able to first move legislation forward. We need to be able to bring bills out of our committees and have them on the floor for debate, get on the amendment process.
We just took up the National Defense Authorization Act. We used that process. It worked. That bill passed the Senate by an overwhelming number. We considered many amendments. By the way, every amendment was considered by a majority vote. That is how this should work. Majority rules should rule on the floor of the Senate. I agree with all of that.
The first order is to be able to bring bills to the floor in a more efficient way. The second problem we have, quite frankly, is that the Republicans have blocked the ability to orderly consider the nominations of the President, whether they are his Cabinet or subcabinet positions or whether they are the article III judges. In many cases, once we get to the nomination it passes by an overwhelming majority. I can't tell you how many nominations have been approved basically by voice vote in the Judiciary Committee that have had to wait months for consideration on the floor of the Senate. In my State of Maryland we had several nominees, not controversial at all, who had to wait month after month for confirmation before they could sit as a district court judge.
First of all, it is unconscionable to make people wait when we need to have judicial positions filled. Secondly, it is affecting us getting the very best people to step forward to serve, because do they really want to go through that type of uncertainty, not even clear whether the Senate will act on their nomination before it adjourns? So the second issue is we have to act on nominations in a more efficient way.
The third--and I agree with my colleagues here. Ultimately, the majority of this body should be able to move legislation. And at a minimum, I agree, if you are using an extraordinary measure as a minority to block legislation, you should be on the floor of the Senate speaking on that issue. Your responsibility should be to talk. If you are using a filibuster, you should be there engaged in that filibuster.
I think these are reasonable reforms that we should try to move forward. This body operates on a lot of unanimous consents; we move a lot of legislation. We have what is known as the hot line, where at the end of the day we try to clear bills and then the leader brings them to the floor for consent or voice vote. At times there are Members who put a hold on a bill, and we have had Members who put holds on hundreds of bills. They should come to the floor to object. In many cases these are [[Page S8656]] not broad bills. These are bills that affect perhaps land in New Mexico or establishing a national park in Maryland that have gone through the whole committee process and we have worked out all the cost issues so there is no cost involved. They have passed the committee by overwhelming majority votes--in most cases unanimous votes. But now you need to move them forward so we put them on the hot line, and we don't even in some cases know who is objecting. The Senator who objects should come to the floor of the Senate and object and give a reason. I know we got rid of the so-called secret holds, but they still exist today. We should operate with Members being here on the floor conducting business, not in their office either in the Capitol or in their home States. They should be here on the floor of the Senate if they intend to exercise their right to object, and then give us an opportunity to work that out so we could move legislation more efficiently.
The bottom line, what we need to do, is make this system work more efficiently. This is the greatest deliberative body in the world. We should be debating issues. That means bringing bills to the floor in a more timely way, getting on amendments in a faster way, voting and debating issues for the American people.
I applaud the Senators from New Mexico and Oregon. They have taken the leadership on bringing this to the attention of the American people. I think for too long a period of time Americans didn't focus on this issue.
Well, they are focused on it today. They understand that a lot of the bills they wanted to see passed in the 112th Congress didn't get passed and they want to know why we didn't even debate those issues.
Let us reform our rules and procedures on the floor of the Senate to reflect the best traditions of the Senate. That is what the Senator from Oregon, the Senator from New Mexico, and others are trying to do.
The Senator from Alabama talked about restoring the traditions of the Senate. I hope we can do it in a bipartisan manner. That is the way it should be done. We should come together to preserve the institution. It should work whether the Democrats are in the majority or the Republicans are in the majority. The same rules should work. Whether we are in the majority or minority, we should believe that we should come to the floor of the Senate to debate the issues that are important to our constituents.
I thank again my friend from New Mexico for allowing me to engage in this colloquy with him. I applaud him again for standing up on this issue. I know it has been difficult at times when many people come over and say, Why are you trying to change the traditions of the Senate? The truth is we are not trying to change the traditions of the Senate. We are trying to restore the Senate to the type of body it should be. I don't think there is a single Member of the Senate who believes that we conducted business in the best traditions of the Senate during these past 2 years, and that has been because we have seen the abuses of individual Senators holding up bills and not being able to debate issues. We have to overcome that. I think we have a chance to do that at the beginning of the 113th Congress, which will start in less than 24 hours from now. I am pleased that the three of us will all be in the Senate in the 113th Congress, and I hope we will have a chance to resolve these issues because I think it is critically important for the people we represent in our respective States and in the country.