As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) gathers ideas to limit the filibuster, he has not ceased abusing power to block amendments he does not like.
Reid has used a parliamentary trick over the past few years to stop the minority party from participating in the amendment process called “filling the amendment tree.” Senator Mike Lee (R–UT) made an excellent speech yesterday to explain why he is using the filibuster as a means to be allowed to offer amendments on legislation.
The Senate is currently debating S. 3525, the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, a bill to “protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting.” Lee wants to offer amendments to the bill. Reid has blocked all amendments, and Lee’s only recourse to get an amendment is to filibuster the bill. This is a great example of why Senators filibuster.
I explained the process of “filling the amendment tree” in a Heritage paper titled “Tyranny in the United States Senate”:
The Senate Majority Leader moves to proceed to a bill. If the Senate proceeds to the measure, the Majority Leader offers a series of amendments to block consideration of all other amendments. The Majority Leader then submits a cloture petition, pursuant to Rule 22, to shut off debate on all amendments. This procedural ploy locks in the Majority Leader’s amendments, usually in the form of an insignificant change in the bill’s enactment date, and blocks other Senators from proposing further, substantive amendments.
Using this tactic prevents a full and fair amendment process. Lee argued that “true debate in this country, especially in this body, presupposes and depends for its existence on the availability of an open amendment process.” The Senate has moved away from the tradition of open debate and a free-flowing amendment process under Reid.
Lee made a great analogy:
When you go into a store you can decide which items you want to buy. You can decide to buy bread and milk and eggs or any combination of the three or other products you might want. However, it would be disturbing if you got to the grocery store counter and were told that you may not buy bread and milk and eggs unless you also buy a bucket of nails, a half ton of iron ore, a book about cowboy poetry, and a Barry Manilow album.
If a bill becomes a “take it or leave it” proposition, then the Senate will become more like the House of Representatives. Our Founders crafted the Senate to be a more deliberative body than the House.
Lee further argued that “it’s important for us to have an amendment process so that we can at least debate and discuss the relevant merits of each piece of legislation and, more importantly, so that we might figure out how to take a good piece of legislation and make it better.” Let Senators participate and they will be less likely to filibuster.
Both parties have been guilty of obstructing amendments from the minority party. According to Lee, Reid has filled the tree 67 times. Compare that to Reid’s recent predecessors—Bill Frist (2003–2007), Tom Daschle (2001–2003), Trent Lott (1996–2001), Bob Dole (1985–1987, 1995–1996), Bobby Byrd (1977–1981), and George Mitchell (1989–1995)—who used the “filling the tree” tactic only 36 times combined.
Reid would not have to march down the road of so-called “filibuster reform” if he would merely cease the unprecedented use of obstructionist tactics that prevent the minority party from offering amendments.