A picture of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
Sheldon W.
Democrat RI

About Sen. Sheldon
  • Rules Changes

    by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

    Posted on 2013-01-01

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    WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I have the greatest respect for the Senator from Wyoming and considerable affection. Indeed, he is my ranking member on the HELP Committee, and he has been kind enough to offer his perspective on this question of the rules change. I will reciprocate by offering my perspective.

    We were in the caucus the other day. Our leader reported that during the time Lyndon Johnson was the majority leader, which was a very active and disputatious time in the Senate, he faced one filibuster, and Leader Reid reported that he had faced 391, I think was the number he used. So clearly the use of the filibuster as measured by the number of cloture motions is completely out of control.

    The Senator from Wyoming correctly points out that filling the tree is a challenge to the minority, but I believe, if I recall correctly--I was planning to speak on something else, and I don't have the numbers exactly accurate at hand--I believe the number of times the tree has been filled is something like 70. So there is a huge disparity between the number of times the majority leader has filled the tree and the number of times he has been forced to file cloture.

    The reason is that very often there is not agreement on amendments. While on a major bill, an open amendment process is good, I believe, and we have seen examples of that recently on this floor--Senator McCain and his work on the Armed Services bill, along with [[Page S8620]] Senator Levin, is an example--there are also times when filibuster by amendment takes place and it becomes abusive.

    I can remember sitting in the chair where the distinguished Senator from Ohio is now sitting and watching Senator Kennedy on the floor. He had a bill that would raise the minimum wage. We often get big, fat bills on the floor. This was a bill that I think was literally one page. It was the smallest, shortest bill because it was just changing a number, basically.

    Hundreds of amendments--literally hundreds of amendments had been filed against it. When the majority leader is faced with that--many of them were completely nongermane and not relevant--when the majority leader is faced with a circumstance where hundreds of amendments are filed on a small bill like that, it is easy to see why you have to move forward by trying to limit the time because the whole rest of the session could have been devoted to that bill if you can't get control. If you can't get an agreement--and very often, agreement is withheld as to a fixed number of amendments--then you have no choice but to take your best shot with the bill by filling the tree.

    Even if I am right that the number is 70, I contend that the number of what the minority might consider a malicious filling of the tree might be a number considerably smaller than 70. Many of them might be made necessary by the actions of the minority by offering hundreds of amendments and by refusing to enter into agreements to offer a reasonable number.

    I think it is a problem, but I think on balance I stand by the view I have expressed before that there is an unprecedented level of obstruction in this body, and I say that with some humility because the distinguished Senator from Wyoming has been here a bit longer. I have been here only for 6 years. But that is what people who have been here for many, many years confirm--that there has been really nothing like it.


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