Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The "People's House"; "Secret Holds"; & "Shadow Filibusters"

Jan 5: As the new 112th Congress gets rolling, on the surface there is talk of cooperation and bipartisanship; however, behind the scenes, both sides are digging in to advance their separate and quite different agenda.
    Newly elected Speaker of the House John Boehner's (R-OH) delivered remarks at opening session of the 112th Congress which  convene today at 12:00 PM ET. Speaker Boehner said, "We gather here today at a time of great challenges. Nearly one in ten of our neighbors are looking for work. Health care costs are still rising for families and small businesses. Our spending has caught up with us, and our debt will soon eclipse the size of our entire economy. Hard work and tough decisions will be required of the 112th Congress. No longer can we fall short.  No longer can we kick the can down the road.  The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions."
    Speaker Boehner also indicated, "The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them.  That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people's House. This is their Congress.  It's about them, not us.  What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves."
    "Our aim will be to give government back to the people. In seeking this goal, we will part with some of the rituals that have come to characterize this institution under majorities Republican and Democratic alike. We will dispense with the conventional wisdom that bigger bills are always better; that fast legislating is good legislating; that allowing additional amendments and open debate makes the legislative process 'less efficient' than our forefathers intended. These misconceptions have been the basis for the rituals of modern Washington.  The American people have not been well served by them."
    "We will not always get it right.  We will not always agree on what is right.  A great deal of scar tissue has built up on both sides of the aisle.  We cannot ignore that, nor should we. My belief has always been, we can disagree without being disagreeable to each other.  That's why it is critical this institution operate in a manner that permits a free exchange of ideas, and resolves our honest differences through a fair debate and a fair vote.  We may have different – sometimes, very different – ideas for how to go about achieving the common good, but it is our shared goal.  It is why we serve."
    In the opening session of the Senate, Senators are debating possible changes in the Senate rules relating to filibuster and the ability of individual Senators to place anonymous "holds" on bills and appointments. A petition by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) reportedly has 15,000 signatures. Senator Merkley says, "It's a simple idea:  Require Senators who filibuster to stay on the floor and explain to the American people why they think they are right and a majority of Senators are wrong. It also requires Senators who wish to obstruct the Senate to spend time and energy making their case. . . Have no doubt, the modern Senate is broken and we have to fix it. During 2010 the Senate didn't pass a budget, didn't get a single one of the 13 appropriation bills passed, and didn't vote on over a hundred nominations for judges and executive branch appointments." 
    In a January 5, release Senator Udall said, "The House of Representatives passed more than 400 bills that the Senate never debated. We didn't pass a budget, we only passed one authorization, government nominees were needlessly delayed, many before passing by near-unanimous votes, and judicial posts remain vacant. And when obstruction happened, it typically came in the form of "secret holds" or "shadow filibusters" that the American public never saw. The Senate is broken and today we have an opportunity to start fixing it. The Constitution says that 'each house may determine the rules of its proceedings,' and today I will submit a rules reform package that improves accountability and transparency, while preserving minority rights."
    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in an opening statement, "In the new Congress, Democrats will find pragmatic ways to solve the problems facing our country and to revive the economic growth and innovation that have made America the global leader it is today. We will continue to reach out to Republicans as partners in problem solving -- in the hope that they will make decisions based on common sense and not on the extremism that has recently gripped their party. We have many new challenges. Above all, Democrats will focus on creating jobs. There are too many Americans right now who have been doing everything they can to find a job -- but jobs just aren't there. As of November, there were still five unemployed Americans for every job opening."
    Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (D-KY) delivered remarks on the Senate floor saying, "First, I'd like to take a moment to welcome back all of my colleagues, but particularly the 13 new Republican senators who make it official today. Americans are looking for creative, principled leaders. I'm confident this impressive class of new Republicans will not disappoint. I'd also like to welcome my good friend, the Majority Leader. At a time when some people think the two parties in Washington can't even agree on the weather, I'll note that Senator Reid and I get along just fine. I expect it'll stay that way, and I look forward to working together again. The big changes today are of course happening across the dome, and I'd like to welcome the many new Republican members of Congress who've come to Washington to change the way things are done around here. In this, they'll be led by a very talented and determined Ohioan whom I'll now have the great honor of referring to as Speaker Boehner."
    Despite the pledges of goodwill between Senators Reid and McConnell, the rhetoric was thick between Senate Democrats and Republicans on budget cuts, health care and regulatory reform. And, on the first issue debated regarding a change in the Senate rules, Minority Leader McConnell said, "recent proposal to change the Senate's rules by some on the other side is such a bad idea. For two years, Americans have been telling us that they're tired of being shut out of the legislative process. They want to be heard. And the response they're now getting from some on the other side, instead, is a proposal to change the Senate rules so they can continue do exactly what they want with even fewer members than before. Instead of changing their behavior in response to the last election, they want to change the rules. . .  I would suggest that this is precisely the kind of approach a supermajority standard (i.e. 60-vote rule) is meant to prevent."
    Access excerpts from Speaker Boehner's opening remarks (click here). Access a release from Senator Udall (click here). Access a video from Senator Merkley (click here). Access the complete statement from Sen. Reid (click here). Access the complete statement from Sen. McConnell (click here).