The latest salvo in the Senate’s procedural war was fired yesterday when Senator Chuck Grassley (R—Iowa) introduced a resolution to limit abuse of the cloture rule—a practice frequently employed by Sen. Harry Reid (D–Nev.). Grassley was joined by at least 25 other GOP senators in sponsoring the “Stop Cloture Abuse Resolution.”
Most Americans have a limited understanding about the use of cloture in the Senate. Indeed, any familiarity with cloture comes from the claim that Republicans have been filibustering the president’s nominees. Taking advantage of this misconception, Reid recently barreled through a change in the cloture rule. As a result of Reid’s gambit, ending debate and a filibuster on executive branch nominees now only requires 51 votes; previously, 60 votes were needed.
In the past, cloture motions were usually filed only after a nomination or a bill had been debated on the floor of the Senate and members wanted to end the debate. Sen. Reid, however, has been filing cloture motions on bills and nominations the moment the Senate takes them up—before a single word has been spoken or any amendments have been proposed or discussed.
In other words, Reid has been filing cloture motions to prevent debate, not end it. The majority leader’s actions constitute both an abuse of the long tradition of extended debate in the Senate, and a warped attempt to mislead the public. Reid has made many speeches, both on the floor of the Senate, and outside its chambers, complaining about Republican obstructionism and bemoaning the large number of cloture motions he has been “forced” to file to supposedly end Republican filibusters.
But the vast majority of Reid’s cloture motions have been filed without Republicans having expressed any opposition to particular nominees or bills or even having any plans to engage in a filibuster. Reid’s filings are designed not only to prevent debate, but also as a public relations ploy: By building up the number of ersatz filibusters, Reid hopes to fool the media and the public into believing his tales of alleged GOP obstructionism.
In fact, data from a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service in February shows that the average number of cloture motions filed by Reid, before any debate has even occurred, has more than doubled in comparison to prior sessions of Congress. He obviously doesn’t want debate, but in doing so, Reid is destroying the participatory nature of the Senate as a deliberative body, and its important role in debating the important issues facing this country. As Grassley said in yesterday’s floor statement, the Senate’s rules for extended debate were intended “to prevent legislation based on short term partisan passions, to pass fewer, but better thought-out laws.” Apparently, Reid wants no debate—just a legislative rubber stamp.
Grassley’s resolution would simply change Senate Rule XXII so that a cloture motion could not be filed until at least 24 hours after the Senate takes up a nomination or bill. Is it really too much to ask that we get at least 24 hours of debate on important matters than can affect the life, liberty, and economic prosperity of Americans—like a 2,000-plus page healthcare bill that takes over a sixth of the American economy? Or a judicial nominee who may sit on the federal courts for a lifetime, issuing decisions that determine just how much power the federal government has over its citizens?
Harry Reid is the only member of the Senate engaging in true abuse of the cloture rule—abuse that Grassley says threatens to SCAR the Senate, which is, fittingly, the acronym for the “Stop Cloture Abuse Resolution.”