Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had pledged to offer an unchanged version of the President’s American Jobs Act as an amendment to the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Bill (S. 1619). Reid stopped a vote on the President’s so called jobs bill by filling the amendment tree. Last year I wrote about Reid’s obstructionism and argued that Reid’s strong arm tactics by constantly filling the amendment tree as a means to block out all amendments were against the spirit and letter of the Senate’s rules.
Reid will fill up all of the possible amendments to the bill with technical corrections as a means to prevent Senators from offering substantive amendments. This will block out amendments from the other 99 Senators. A Senator will then have to get the consent of Reid to offer an amendment. This is not a good faith application of the Senate’s rules.
This tactic is when the Majority Leader uses the tradition of being recognized first to offer amendment after amendment to block out all other amendments. It is a way to get a bill passed unchanged and a means to stop Senators from offering amendments.
Reid had filled the tree then he filed cloture on the bill to end debate.
After Reid blocked consideration of the McConnell amendment, Senator McConnell filed something called a motion to suspend the rules.
Some Republicans have used the tactic of filing motions to suspend the rules in order to get a vote on amendments after debate is complete. Seven amendments were pending as motions to suspend the rules. Motions to suspend the rules can only be done after a filibuster and after the Senate invokes a motion to shut off debate.
Reid raised a point of order against motions to suspend the rules after cloture is invoked. He argued that the pending amendments, including the McConnell Amendment, amounted to a second filibuster and were dilatory. A dilatory action is a delaying action. There are existing precedents in the long history of the Senate where the Senate has disallowed stalling tactics what were deemed “dillatory.”
Here is what Reid said on the Senate floor:
Now since the Senate amended rule 22 in 1979, cloture has been a process to bring the Senate consideration to a close. The fundamental nature of cloture is to make consideration of the pending measure finite. The terms of rule 22 provide that the question is this: and I quote, “it is the sense of the Senate that the debate shall be brought to a close.” Indeed, late this morning the Republican Leader stated, and I also quote what my friend, the Republican Leader, said. “if 60 senators are in favor bringing a matter to a conclusion, it will be brought it a conclusion.” That’s just what happened a few minutes ago.” So I repeat, that’s what the Republican Leader said. Now, notwithstanding the clear nature of the cloture rule to provide for finite consideration of a measure, a practice has begun in this Congress that has undermined the cloture rule. The practice has arisen with senators filing multiple motions to suspend the rules for the consideration of further amendments.
Reid concluded that he was going to move to obliterate the precedent.
Unless the Senate votes to change its precedents today, we will be faced with a potentially serious series of motions to suspend the rules and that is a result that a functioning democracy cannot tolerate.
Reid then called up motion to suspend the rules to consider an amendment by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and made a point of order that the amendment was dilatory. It seems illogical to call up and offer an amendment, then to argue that the amendment is dilatory.
Senator McConnell responded that Reid had agreed earlier to allow votes on these amendments, yet he backed away from the agreement.
So what is about to happen is that the Majority is trying to set a new precedent on how the Senate operates. For the record, my preference would have been to consider amendments on both sides under a regular process, which we could have done earlier this week. Instead, we have been locked out and in a few moments, the rules of the Senate will be effectively changed to lock out the Minority party even more.
Not only did Reid offer the motion to suspend for Senator Coburn, he had agreed earlier to allow a vote on the amendment. It does not follow that the Coburn, nor the McConnell motion to suspend the rules was a stalling tactic. The parliamentarian advised the Chair of the Senate that the amendments were not dilatory. Reid appealed the ruling of the chair and the Senate voted 48-51 to support the Chair.
Alex Bolton at The Hill reports:
The maneuver is arcane but momentous. If a simple majority of the Senate votes with Reid and strikes down the ruling, the chamber’s precedent will be changed through the unilateral action of one party. Republicans had considered using this maneuver, dubbed the “nuclear option,” in 2005 to change Senate rules to prohibit the filibuster of judicial nominees. Democrats decried the plan and the crisis was resolved by a bipartisan agreement forged by 14 rank-and-file senators known as the Gang of 14.
This effort by Democrats further restricts the rights of Republicans to offer amendments to bills. If Republicans take control of the Senate in the next Congress, then Democrats will have less opportunity to offer amendments to bills. This new precedent will restrict the rights of the minority and individual members of both parties.
Source material can be found at this site.