Thursday, January 27, 2011

Udall-Authored Change to Senate Rules Included in Bipartisan Agreement to Reform Senate

Udall has Long Advocated for Common-Sense Changes to Speed Up Senate’s Work, Increase Bipartisanship, End ‘Secret Holds’

Today, Mark Udall announced that a resolution he authored is part of a bipartisan agreement to change the Senate’s rules that will help increase transparency, speed up work in the Senate, and reform the broken ways in Washington , D.C. The agreement between the Democratic and Republican Senate leaders also makes other changes similar to those proposed by Udall, which are designed to help both parties work together better.

Udall’s resolution would encourage Senators to give each other enough time to read amendments on their own and then also end the ability for a Senator to delay a vote by requiring a forced reading, out loud, of an amendment if the text is made available 72 hours in advance.

“In my two years in the Senate, I’ve witnessed the rules being abused for needless delays that prevent us from doing the work the American people elected us to do. When this rule has been invoked, the effect has been to tie the Senate in knots, requiring the Senate clerks to stand and read amendments – sometimes for hours – to an empty chamber,” Udall said.

“I think we can agree on ways to work together to help speed up the business of the Senate without shifting power away from the minority party,” he continued. “This is a critical first step toward finding that common ground. It fixes one of the broken, outdated rules that have made Americans so frustrated with the Senate.”

Udall first introduced the proposal in September as one in a seven-part package designed to close technical loopholes that have been used to slow progress, and to better enable Senators from both parties to work together.

Today’s agreement between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also reflects other provisions in Udall’s original seven-point proposal, including:

· A pledge to speed up the Senate’s work by reducing the use of filibusters on a motion to proceed to a bill; and

· A pledge that would prevent the majority leader from completely blocking all amendments by the minority party in some cases.

A fourth provision in the leaders’ agreement would end the practice of “secret holds,” in which a Senator can block a bill or a nomination without identifying himself or herself. Last year, Udall co-sponsored a bipartisan bill, led by Senators Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley, to end secret holds.

Today, Udall delivered a speech on the Senate floor about his proposal.

The following is the full text of the speech, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, today we will vote on critical steps we can take to improve the way the U.S. Senate functions. The resolution before us, which I introduced, is a change that will move us one step closer to fixing some of the redundancies in our rules that unnecessarily slow down our progress and which, ultimately, make Americans frustrated with the Senate. Put simply, my proposal would encourage Senators to file their amendments 72 hours in advance of a vote to ensure members have time to review it, but then also discourage the practice of delaying a final vote by calling for an out loud reading of an amendment. This addresses concerns that we have heard from members of both parties.

All of us – no matter what party we represent – want to ensure we have the opportunity to read the provisions we will vote on. But it’s become increasingly obvious to me that we need to make some changes in our rules to ensure that the legislative process works smoothly.

My resolution would encourage Senators to file amendments 72 hours in advance – and it would prevent any Senator from creating a logjam on the Senate floor by forcing the text of that amendment to be read aloud if it is made available in advance.

In the days before copy machines and the Internet, it was probably extremely helpful for Senators to sit at their desks and hear the text of each amendment read out loud. But that practice is outdated and not the way the Senate operates. Today, technology allows us instant access to the text of amendments, and there’s no crucial need to hear them read aloud at the last minute. Most of the time, in fact, we just waive the reading and move on to a final vote.

When a full reading has been forced – it has largely brought the Senate to a halt. The effect has been to tie the Senate in knots, creating a spectacle in which the Senate clerks have to stand and read amendments – sometimes for hours – to an empty chamber.

That said, there have been cases in which one party believes that the text of a rather large amendment has been withheld from them in order to deny them adequate time to review it. I don’t want to take away power from the minority party to reasonably voice their opinions on the floor or to get the information they need – which is why my proposal is a balanced way of fixing the Senate rules.

Mr. President, my resolution is designed to help us find common ground – to prevent needless delays by allowing us to prevent the live reading of an amendment, when the text has been available long enough for everyone to have studied it in advance. Instead of allowing a single Senator to put the Senate on hold for hours by forcing an amendment to be read, a simple majority of senators would be able to collectively vote to dispense with the reading – provided it was filed on time.

This is a common-sense approach that seeks to address both the concerns of those who want more time to read amendments and those who see the forced reading of amendments as needlessly obstructive.

Chairman Schumer and Senator Alexander worked together to reach an agreement on what we’re voting on today. And I want to applaud their work and offer my very sincere thanks. I also want to thank Leaders Reid and McConnell for helping to bring this to the floor today and for reaching their own agreement to improve how the Senate works. And finally, I want to applaud the efforts of my cousin Tom Udall and Senators Merkley and Harkin for bringing attention to the concerns that so many Americans have had on this issue. While it may seem obscure to our constituents, I think this is historic progress that will ultimately make the Senate function better.

And I urge my colleagues to vote for this simple, common-sense reform of the Senate Rules.