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Washington, DC, September 21, 2010.
Hon. Lamar Alexander,
Dear Senator Alexander: The U.S. Senate once was considered ``the world's greatest deliberative body.'' This no longer is the case as the Majority Leader commonly abuses Senate rules and traditions to prevent debate and obstruct other Senators from offering amendments to legislation.
As you know, historically, the cloture process authorized by Senate Rule XXII has been used sparingly. According to Senate Procedure and Practice, ``Between 1917 and 1962, cloture was imposed only five times.'' Fast forward 50 years later, a report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), reveals a clear trend by the majority of limiting debate by immediately filing cloture on nearly all legislative questions.
Under Democrat control of the Senate, 219 cloture motions were filed in the 110th and 111th Congresses combined. Perhaps most troubling, 171 of these cloture motions were filed after the Senate had considered the legislative question for one day or less. In contrast, when the Republicans were in charge in the 108th and 109th Congresses, only 84 cloture motions were filed.
Additionally, the Majority Leader has regularly abused a procedure known as ``filling the tree,'' to exclude the minority from offering amendments to bills. According to CRS, he has employed this tactic 39 times on major pieces of legislation since the start of the 110th Congress. The result of this practice was the passage of legislation spending hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars without members of the minority having the opportunity to raise issues of importance or to improve legislation. To put this number in perspective, this represents a drastic increase from the mere fifteen occasions former Majority Leader Frist ``filled the tree'' in 108th and 109th Congresses combined.
Majority Leader Reid's use of ``filling the tree'' combined with filing cloture entirely preempts any input from the minority into legislation and destroys the two distinguishing characteristics of the Senate--the right to fully debate and amend legislation.
Too many Americans are upset, even angry, that their voices are not being heard in Washington. The majority's abusive practice of suppressing debate undermines the Senate's debate traditions as well as the cherished American rights of free speech and dissent. As a caucus, we should commit ourselves to ensuring a more open and deliberative process that protects the rights of every Senator to express the views of the taxpayers they were elected to represent.
Tom A. Coburn, M.D.
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