A picture of Senator Richard J. Durbin
Richard D.
Democrat IL

About Sen. Richard
  • Extension of Morning Business

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2013-01-02

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    DURBIN. I thank the Senator from New Mexico and the Presiding Officer, the Senator from Oregon, for their leadership in talking about rules reform. They are relatively new to the Senate. I have been here a few years and I have seen a dramatic change, and it is not for the better.

    I can recall when I came here fresh from the House of Representatives, as the Senator from New Mexico did, and I had my first amendment on the floor. A lady named Lula, who was the floor manager on the Democratic side, came up to help me, this brandnew freshman, with this first amendment. She said to me: So let me explain that you have 1 hour and then the Senator on the Republican side will have 1 hour.

    I said: Well, is that equally divided? She said: No, you have an hour.

    To say to a Member of the House ``you have an hour'' is just unthinkable. You get an hour for a special order at 11 o'clock at night; otherwise, 60 seconds is considered to be a luxury in the House. I didn't know what to do with an hour and I certainly didn't use it all. But it is an example of a time when amendments came to the floor with real debate, and there was a Senator from South Carolina who opposed my amendment on the floor as well.

    I can also remember coming to the floor and offering amendments literally on the spur of the moment on something I thought was worthy. I didn't always win, but that wasn't the point. I wanted to have debate and then a vote and it happened. Now that is almost unheard of. We go through these vote-athons, where we have these long series of amendments with 60 seconds of debate before the vote. It troubles me because that isn't what the Senate is supposed to be about.

    I had a friend of mine in the House--the Senator from New Mexico probably heard of him--Mike Synar of Oklahoma. Mike Synar used to listen to Members of the House of Representatives whining and crying about the [[Page S8661]] controversial amendments they were forced to vote on. Mike Synar, who was rather candid in his comments, said: If you don't want to fight fires, don't be a firefighter. If you don't want to vote on controversial amendments, don't run for the House of Representatives. That is what we are here for.

    I tend to take the same point of view, maybe because after a few years a Senator votes on everything at least once.

    But we have to get back to where we aren't just lurching, as we are now, from one quorum call to another, an empty Senate Chamber, waiting for something to happen. There is a lot out there for us to talk about, and we should. I think the American people would feel a little better about us if we sat down and at least honestly debated an issue and voted with some frequency.

    What we are trying to do now is to stop what I consider to be the gross abuse of the filibuster. What we have been through here has destroyed the functionality of the Senate. To think any person can come to the floor and basically bring this place to a halt not just for an hour or a day but maybe 1 week, that goes way beyond what I believe was the intent of creating this body. We wanted to be here in those historic moments of titanic debates over issues that changed the course of history and to reflect and respect the rights of the minority. But now it has become one sad example of obstructionism after another.

    I think the Senator from New Mexico is moving in the right direction. I am not sure we will achieve exactly what he wants, but I can say we wouldn't have this conversation unless the Senator from New Mexico and Senator Merkley had shown such initiative for years--they have been at this for years, if I am not mistaken--and I do believe it is going to end up in changes to Senate procedure, which I support, that will try to make people stay on the floor.

    I have one example. The Senator from New Mexico may remember when a Senator from Kentucky, now retired, Senator Jim Bunning, objected to the extension of unemployment benefits. We wanted to extend them for literally millions of Americans, and he stood up at his desk on the Republican side and said, ``I object,'' and then sat down. That was the end of the story. That was really the end of the debate.

    So I went to the floor, and I said: I just want to give notice to the Senator from Kentucky I am going to renew that request every half hour, so you better return to the floor--because he has to object every time. This was late at night.

    We mobilized a number of people in the cloakroom, and we came to the floor and we kept it going. Finally, he got up and complained he was missing the University of Kentucky basketball game on television because of this. I thought: Several million people are missing unemployment benefits because of this too.

    So that is in the nature of what the Senator is trying to achieve. If there is something important enough to stop the course of the Senate activity, to stop the business of the Senate, then you should be prepared to be on the Senate floor and argue your case and bring your allies with you. If they will join you, then perhaps you will have a debate that is worthy of this body.

    Unfortunately, we now have Members who make their objection and leave for dinner or for the weekend or to attend a wedding, which happened once, and you do not see them again, and the Senate waits and waits and waits. That does have to come to an end.

    I thank the Senator for his leadership on this important issue. I do not know that we will take it up tomorrow, but I think we will take it up very soon, and we should.

    I thank both Senators.


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