Extension of Morning Businessby Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
Posted on 2013-01-24
CARDIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the period of
morning business be extended until 6:30 p.m. today, and that all
provisions of the previous order remain in effect.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, first, let me compliment Senator Harkin for his incredible leadership in bringing to the attention of this body something I think everyone understands; that is, with the procedures of the Senate and the way it is operating today, there is a problem. There is a very serious problem.
All one needs to do is to turn on C-SPAN to see the Senate in a quorum call for hours to know there is a better way for us to operate. All one has to do is to look at a week that goes by where there are very few recorded votes to know there is opportunity for debate and action that is being lost in the Senate. We can do better. The procedures we are following today, the way that is being honored by the Members of the Senate, we need to change the rules and procedures of the Senate.
I want to thank the majority leader and the Republican leader for negotiating and getting together to understand the frustrations that are out there in both of our caucuses and to try to come up with reasonable changes in our rules. I see Senator McCain is on the floor, and I acknowledge his leadership, along with that of Senator Levin. I was honored to work with that group, along with Senators Pryor, Schumer, Barrasso, Alexander, and our former colleague, Senator Kyl. We sat for hours debating, and it was very educational for me, Mr. President, because I listened to the concerns of my Republican colleagues--and it was a lot different than what I heard in the Democratic caucus--and I think we both learned a lot from each other.
But there was general agreement that there is a real problem in the operation of the Senate, and we have an obligation to take a look at our rules and see whether we can't modify the rules so we can have the type of deliberation, debate, and voting that is expected of the Senate.
One of the problems that became very apparent to all of us is that individual Senators are able to block the consideration of amendments and bills on the floor of the Senate indefinitely. That is wrong. My colleague from Arizona pointed out that someone could be in their home State and offer an objection, and a bill could be brought to a standstill. That is not how the Senate should operate. We should be able to consider legislation, and individual Senators should not be able to block the consideration of that legislation.
I could give examples of hundreds of bills that have been reported out of our committees in the Senate that have never reached the floor of the Senate. Quite frankly, the reason is an individual Senator blocked consideration, and it would take the majority leader too much time to go through cloture motions in order to bring those issues to the floor of the Senate.
We also have seen an abuse of the 60-vote threshold. The 60-vote threshold shouldn't be the standard working procedure of the Senate. A simple majority should control our actions. Yet in too many cases we have used the 60-vote threshold in order to move legislation forward.
We have also seen that it is very difficult to bring amendments up for consideration. It has been very difficult to get action on individual amendments on the floor of the Senate. So we need to change our procedures. We need to be the great deliberative body which historically the Senate has been.
I want to compliment many of my colleagues--I already mentioned the group that worked on some suggested rules changes and made those recommendations to the majority leader and the Republican leader--but I also want to thank my colleague, Senator Harkin, who just spoke, for his leadership on this issue, as well as Senators Merkley and Tom Udall, who have been leaders on this matter. We have brought this to the attention not only of our colleagues but to the attention of the American people, and they expect us to take action to improve the operation of the Senate.
Let me talk a moment about the negotiated agreement between the Democratic leader and the Republican leader--between the majority and minority leaders--and what I understand will be recommended to us very shortly, and I hope we can act on it as early as this evening.
First, one of the frustrations is that we find it difficult to bring a bill to the floor of the Senate in a motion to proceed. The threat of a filibuster on the motion to proceed has denied us the opportunity to even start debating an issue. Under the agreement I expect will be brought forward, the majority leader will have two additional opportunities to start debate on an issue.
First, if the Republican leader is in agreement, they can bring that bill to the floor immediately, without any preconditions. That could particularly work well on institutional issues that need to be dealt with, such as appropriations bills, so that we can get onto appropriations bills a lot sooner than we can today.
There is then another opportunity where the majority leader could bring a bill to the floor without the fear of a filibuster, without having to file cloture, by offering amendments. There would be a guaranteed right to offer up to four amendments: two by the minority, two by the majority. That gets us started on legislation.
Now, it is very interesting, if one looks at the process that has been used where bills come to the floor and where we are most pleased by how the process has worked--such as in the case of the national defense authorization bill, postal reform, and the Agriculture bill in the 112th Congress--in each of those cases the committees voted on the bills, they came to the floor with the managers, we started on the bills, and we completed the bills. I think we were all pretty proud with the manner in which those issues were handled on the floor of the Senate.
Under this process, the majority leader could get us started. The managers can get us started on legislation. Once we start on legislation, once we start debating the issues, we can see what amendments are out there, and we can try to manage the time appropriately and actually get action and debate and votes on the floor of the Senate on the amendments and on final passage.
I do think this empowers our committees. We all spend a lot of time in our committees. We are there for the hearings, we want to see committee markups, but we also like to see the products we bring up in the committee be the major work on the floor of the Senate. Well, now, with this reform and the ability of the leader to bring forward a bill that has come out of our committees, our committee products will be more respected, and we will have a better legislative process because we are using the products that come out of our committee. We are respecting the work of our committees. We are rewarding our chairmen and ranking members working together and bringing legislation to the floor of the Senate.
I think that is a real major improvement and something that will allow the Senate to operate in the way it should.
We also allow for conference committees to be formed in a more expedited way. Right now it could take three cloture votes to get into conference. We contract that into one. I think that is going to be the recommendation.
I had the honor in the 112th Congress to serve on a conference committee that dealt with the payroll tax extension. We got our work done, brought a bill to the floor of the Senate and the House, and got it enacted into law because we were able, in a very open and transparent way, to work with our colleagues in the other body, resolve our differences, and bring legislation forward. I might be wrong, but I think that was the only conference committee that operated in the 112th Congress. There haven't been many. I think most Members of this body would be hard-pressed to remember when they last served on a conference committee. Yet we know there are significant differences between the products that come out of this body and the products that come out of the other body. We need to reconcile those differences. Being able to go into conference allows us the opportunity to let [[Page S257]] the legislative process work the way it should.
One of the procedures the majority leader is going to talk about is that once cloture is invoked, if you have to use cloture, you have 30 hours. But you don't guarantee 30 hours. That 30 hours is the maximum. Each Member is entitled to only 1 hour to speak, and a quorum call during postcloture can be considered dilatory if we have already established a quorum.
The majority leader and the minority leader are going to talk about the fact that postcloture, if you want to speak, come to the floor and speak. If you don't, the Presiding Officer should put the issue to the membership for vote so we can expedite issues and not waste a full day letting the 30 hours expire.
There will also be recommendations to deal with nominations. We were extremely frustrated. I served on the Judiciary Committee. I had the opportunity to recommend to the President several appointments to the Federal bench. It took months for these noncontroversial nominees to be approved on the floor of the Senate. It truly affects our ability to recruit the very best to serve on our courts.
The same thing is true with the President on his team to have in place, and there will be recommendations to shorten the postcloture time if a cloture vote is needed on judicial nominations to, I think, 2 hours, and sub-Cabinet appointments to around 8 hours. That allows the leader to be able to bring these issues to the floor without the threat that it would tie us up for weeks to take up just a couple appointments.
These are all major improvements. Let me make it clear. If I were writing the rules of the Senate, I would go a lot further. I know I might be in the minority in this body, but I happen to believe in majority rule. I happen to believe the majority should make the decisions. I think there should be adequate time for debate, et cetera. The Senate is different than the House. I accept that. But at the end of the day, I am in favor of majority rule. But I am also in favor of trying to get our rules done in a bipartisan manner because, quite frankly, the Democrats may not be in the majority forever.
If we look since 1981 through the end of this Congress, but for Senator Jeffords' decision in May of 2001 to become an Independent and caucus with the Democrats, the Senate would have been divided as follows: Sixteen years under Democratic control, 16 years under Republican control, and 2 years split 50-50.
I think it is very important we all understand these rules need to work regardless of which party is in the majority. That is why it is the right thing to do to negotiate between the Democrats and Republicans rules that can withstand the test of time and be fair to both the majority and the minority.
Once again, I would have majority rule. That is what I believe and I know there will be a chance to vote on that and that is how I will express my vote. But I do believe it is best for us to work together, Democrats and Republicans, and come together with a true compromise on the rules changes. I think that is exactly what Leader Reid and Leader McConnell have done. They have taken the recommendations of many of us, they have listened to a lot of us, they have listened to both caucuses, and they will come forward with recommendations that will allow this body to carry out its responsibilities in a more effective way--in a way that is better understandable to the American people, where we can get on legislation a lot sooner, debate issues a lot quicker, take up amendments and actually vote on amendments and be able to move legislation that comes out of our committee and approve nominations in a much more efficient way.
To me, that gives us an opportunity for a new start in the Senate as we begin the 113th Congress. Let's hope the cooperation we see developing on the changes of the rules will allow us to work together to deal with the problems of the Nation in a more collegial way, recognizing that compromise is how this country was formed, listen to each other, and move legislation in the best traditions of the Senate.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Arizona.