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Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I would only add that the practical effect of where we are, not having been allowed to offer any amendments during the consideration of this bill, is we are left with motions to suspend. As the majority leader indicated, we are going to have some discussions about how many motions to suspend the majority will, shall I say, tolerate. The bad part of all of this from the Senate's point of view as an institution is that the minority is put at a substantial disadvantage.

Having said that, as the majority leader indicated, the floor staff is going to work together and see whether we can come up with some list of motions to instruct that will at least allow the minority to have some voice in the course of the consideration of this piece of legislation.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The majority leader is recognized.

Mr. REID. Mr. President, there are a number of things we can do. We can do the motions to suspend. We are happy on this side to, with consent, just do amendments. That is fine over here.

I don't want to get into a long debate, but I have been in a situation during the entire pendency of this legislation to have amendments allowed. I said that yesterday. I have no problem with that. The problem we had is that the Republican leader offered the President's jobs bill in a form that is not the President's jobs bill. I told him this morning: If you want to vote on that, fine. We will do that. We will have a vote on that today. It can either be a motion to suspend the rules or it can be a regular amendment. I feel that way about all the motions to suspend that have been filed.

There are times when I accept the blame of not allowing amendments. There are times that certainly I am willing to take that burden of being criticized but not on this one. Not on this one. I have said publicly and I have said privately to the different Senators, Democrats and Republicans, that amendments could be offered. I don't want to get into a long debate about that.

Mr. McCONNELL. Would my good friend yield for a question? I listened very carefully to what the majority leader said. We interact every day. What my good friend has just said is that he would be more than happy to have amendments he gets to pick. He gets to pick what amendments we get to offer. That is not, I would say to my good friend, the view of the minority as to how we ought to operate. We ought to be able to determine what amendments we are going to offer, not my good friend the majority leader. What he is saying, in effect, is, yes, he would be prepared to allow us to offer amendments, but he would select which of our amendments might be appropriate. That is not a place that the minority, no matter which party is in the minority, would like to find themselves.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The majority leader.

Mr. REID. Mr. President, we have tried to set up a system here that is fair. Fair is in the mind of the person who says ``fair,'' and I understand that. We have had an open amendment process here, and that has led, because of the intransigence of the Republicans, to getting nothing done. Offer an amendment, and there is no way to get rid of it. So the system we have on this bill may not be the best in the world, but with what has been going on in the Senate, sometimes we do the best we can with the tools we have. There was no way of managing this legislation other than how I just described it. People can imagine what this place would have been like had we had a simple ``anybody can offer anything they want''--get the troops out of Afghanistan and on and on with all the many things people would have done in this legislation.

So without ``he said, she said,'' or I guess in this instance ``he said, he said,'' I think what we should do is try to finish this legislation today. The motion to suspend has been filed. That is fine with us. Let's try to work through as many of those as we can and see if we can finish this today; otherwise, we will finish it tomorrow.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Republican leader.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I would only add the way the Senate used to work was the majority didn't pick the amendments the minority chose to offer, but there was some ability to determine whether it got a vote because any Senator could prevent a time agreement on the opportunity to get a vote on an amendment. So it wasn't totally freewheeling. Then at some point, if 60 Members of the Senate thought we ought to move to conclusion, we would. It was a much more orderly and open process, leading to the same result, which is that if 60 Members of the Senate wanted to end the matter and bring it to a conclusion, they could. So my complaint is about what we do before we get to the 60 votes, which I think in this particular instance is unfair to the minority.

Now, my party was divided on this issue. Some Members were for it; some Members were against it. That meant for sure that at some point 60 votes were going to be achieved and it was going to pass. The problem, I would say to my good friend, is what we did before then, which has the practical effect of putting the minority in the position where it gets no amendments at all or is, once again, at the sufferance of the majority with motions to suspend at the end, in which we are basically--the majority determines how many we get, and all of that.

This level of control is not necessary, in my judgment, in order to make the Senate move forward because, I will say again before I yield the floor, if 60 Senators are in favor of bringing a matter to a conclusion, it will be brought to a conclusion. That is what just happened a few minutes ago.

So I hope we can move forward in a more orderly process in the future, and maybe we can work out some agreement to have motions to suspend this afternoon that will not require us to be here tomorrow.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The majority leader.

Mr. REID. The Republican leader and I came here about the same time. I remember the good old days too. But everyone who follows government at all knows that during the last Congress and part of this one, the No. 1 goal of Republicans has been to stop legislation from moving through here--look at what has happened this year--and they have been fairly successful doing that, I have to acknowledge.

I have said publicly, and I say here today, I admire my friend, the Republican leader, because he was very candid with what his goal is in this Congress: to make sure President Obama is not reelected. That has been their goal. As a result of that, legislation has been very slow moving, and we have not been able to legislate as we did in the good old days.

So let's now try, with the situation in which we find ourselves, to work through this on a bipartisan basis. This is a good piece of legislation. Let's see if we can get through these amendments. I am confident we can. We have two outstanding floor managers for both Senator McConnell and for me in Gary Myrick and Dave Schiappa. They do great work. They are going to try to sift through all of this stuff and put us on a pathway they can show Senator McConnell and I will work and, if folks agree, we will get out of here today; otherwise, we will do it tomorrow.

Mr. McCONNELL. My good friend referred to ``the good old days.'' The good old days weren't that long ago. I can remember just a few years ago when my party was in the majority in this body, and I was the assistant leader, making the point with great repetition while listening to a lot of grumbling that the price for being in the majority is, you have to take bad votes; you have to take votes you don't like in order to get legislation across the floor and finished.

So this is not ancient times we are talking about where the minority actually got votes, took votes, and were not shut out. I hope we can move back in that direction. I think it would be a lot better for the Senate.

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Mr. McCONNELL. All I would say to my friend, the majority leader, is that we would sort of like to be able to pick our amendments and not have him pick them. We have worked hard to narrow down to a list of seven. Senator Paul graciously decided he would step aside for the moment, and we had included the Johanns amendment on farm dust.

I would remind everyone the minority has not been able to offer any amendments prior to cloture, and now we are left with motions to suspend, at a 67-vote threshold, and all we are asking for is the right to pick our own amendments.

I appreciate the majority leader agreeing to seven. That is the number we had finally settled on. But I do think it would be fair to let the minority pick its amendments. We had hundreds of amendments that people would have liked to have had. We worked very hard to get it to a list of seven. I don't think it is unreasonable, not having any amendments prior to cloture, to at least be able to prioritize our seven.

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Mr. McCONNELL. Yes. Let me, for the benefit of our colleagues, explain what, in fact, happened. It is not complicated.

It was pretty clear, whether you liked this bill or did not, it was going to pass. You could tell that by cloture on the motion to proceed with a very large majority.

So I do not think my good friend the majority leader had to worry about whether his bill was ultimately going to pass. The question was whether there were going to be any amendments at any point to the bill. And my conference made a decision--actually against my best advice--to go on and invoke cloture on the bill after we had no amendments. The reason we had no amendments is because the majority leader used a device we have all become too familiar with called filling the tree, thereby allowing no amendments he does not approve. And he said that we are open for amendments, but what he means is this: We are open for any amendment I approve. So he filled the tree and, prior to cloture on the bill, controlled whether any amendments would be allowed and chose not to allow any, as a practical matter. So against my best advice, my conference decided to invoke cloture on the bill. So we were moving to approving the bill with no expression whatsoever.

So we have in the postcloture environment the motion to suspend, which has not been abused by this minority--not been abused by this minority. The majority leader, in effect, has overruled the Chair with a simple majority vote and established the precedent that even one single motion to suspend--even one--is dilatory, changing the rules of the Senate. And if you look back at his bill, what we have had, in effect, is no amendments before cloture, no motions to suspend after cloture, no expression on the part of the minority at all.

I do not know why anybody should act as though they were offended by nongermane amendments. This is the Senate. We do not have any rules of germaneness. No, we do not. Any subject on any bill can be offered as an amendment. We all know that.

The fundamental problem here is that the majority never likes to take votes. That is the core problem. And I can remember, when I was the whip in the majority, saying to my members over and over again, when they were whining about casting votes they did not want to vote, that the price of being in the majority is that you have to take bad votes because in the Senate, the minority is entitled to be heard--not entitled to win but entitled to be heard. So that is the core problem.

I would say to my friend the majority leader--and this is nothing personal about him; I like him, and we deal with each other every day--we are fundamentally turning the Senate into the House: no amendments before cloture, no motions to suspend after cloture, and the minority is out of business. And it is particularly bad on a bill that has the support of over 60 Members, as this one did. If you are not among those 60, you are out of luck.

Now, look, this is a bad mistake. The way you get business done in the Senate is to be prepared to take bad votes. At some point, if 60 Members of the Senate want a bill to pass, it will pass. If 60 Members of the Senate do not want a bill to pass, it will not pass. It is more time consuming. I assume that is why a lot of people ran for the Senate instead of the House--because they wanted to be able to express themselves. This is a free-wheeling body, and everybody is better off when we operate that way. Everybody is, whether you are in the majority or the minority, because today's minority may be tomorrow's majority, and the country is better off to have at least one place where there is extended debate and where you have to reach a supermajority to do things.

So I would say to my good friend the majority leader that I understand his frustration. But you were going to win on this bill. You did not need to jam us. You should not jam us on any bill, but on this bill you were going to win. Now, some of us think we were wasting our time because, as the Senator from Tennessee said, this was not going to become law anyway, and we are sitting around here when we ought to be passing trade bills.

The President has asked us to vote on his jobs bill. I wanted to give him an opportunity to have his vote the other day. You guys did not even want to vote on what the President was asking us to vote on without any changes. But you can prevent that, and you did.

Look, let's not change this place. America does not need less debate, it needs more debate. And when 60 Members of the Senate decide to pass something, it will pass.

I think we made a big mistake tonight. As soon as we all kind of cool off and think about it over the weekend, I hope we will undo what we did tonight because it is not in the best interests of this institution or the American people.

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Mr. McCONNELL. Let me make sure we understand. There are not any rules of germaneness precloture in the Senate. There are not any. Any amendment can be offered on any subject. And that has been one of the great frustrations of every majority down through the years. We all know that. So my friend the majority leader, in order to prevent the votes on unpleasant amendments, fills up the tree and decides himself that he is going to confine the amendments to those that are either germane--relevant--or, put another way, of his choosing, whatever you want to allow.

My friend keeps talking about wasting time. Well, wasting time to him might not be wasting time to us. We might not think that offering an amendment on something we think is important for the country is a waste of the Senate's time.

So who gets to decide who is wasting time around here? None of us. None of us have that authority to decide who is wasting time. But the way you make things happen is you get 60 votes at some point, and you move a matter to conclusion, and the best way to do that is to have an open amendment process. That is the way this place used to operate.

I have been here a while. I know this is not the way it has always happened. This is not the way we always operated. And we did get things accomplished, not by trying to strangle everybody and shut everybody up but by allowing the process to work. And when the Senate gets tired of the process, 60 people shut it down, and you move to conclusion. That is how you move something ahead, not by preventing the voices.

I mean, we have sat around here 2 days in quorum calls. Have you all noticed that? We could have been voting on amendments. Sitting around in quorum calls--talk about a waste of time.

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