U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor today regarding an effort by the Democratic Majority to alter the rules of the Senate, further marginalizing the minority party in the Senate and the constituents they represent:
"We have been discussing the plans of the Democratic Majority to repudiate its clear commitment to respect the rights of the minority, which is a hallmark of the Senate, and instead to "break the Rules to change the Rules.' That's how my friend from Nevada repeatedly described it when Republicans considered doing something similar several years ago. Of course, Republicans never did break the rules to change the rules, but Democrats are contemplating doing so in the name of "efficiency.'
"Last week I noted how my Democratic colleagues seek to minimize this major change in how the Senate governs itself by calling this heavy-handed power-play "tiny' and a "minor change,' and adjusting the Senate's Rules just "a little bit.'
"But this eleventh hour rhetoric stands in stark contrast to what they have previously said and what they have systemically done.
"My friend, the Majority Leader, told one of my new Members, in essence, that even if this new so-called "tiny' rules change removed all chance that this new Member would have any recourse to get an amendment to a bill, that new Member could simply "vote against the bill.' And my friend told Senator McCain this fall that "'the amendment days are over' in the Senate.
"But of course, it's much more than what has been said that's at issue. It's what the Democratic Leadership has systemically done to marginalize the voice of the minority.
"As I noted, it has used, to an unprecedented extent, Senate Rule 14. This rule allows the Majority to bypass committees and write bills behind closed doors. Doing so deprives all of us--Republicans and Democrats--of the chance to have their committee work matter.
"According to the Congressional Research Service, the Majority has used this Rule to bypass committees nearly 70 times. When Republicans were last in the Majority under Senator Frist, we used that Rule less than half as often, only 30 times.
"And when a bill that has bypassed committee goes straight to the floor under the current Majority, there often isn't an opportunity to participate there either. Again, according to the Congressional Research Service, the current Democratic Leadership has blocked Senators from both sides of the aisle from offering amendments on the floor 68 times.
"This is 70 percent greater than the number of times the six prior Majority Leaders combined shut their colleagues out of the amendment process.
"The Majority Leader dismissed this unprecedented practice, saying it has "no bearing on what's going on around here.'
"Well, maybe it doesn't to him. But he's the only one who, under this unprecedented amendment blockade, is picking amendments. It's a little bit bigger deal to the other 99 of us who are shut out from representing our constituents by blocking our ability to offer any amendments on their behalf.
"By the way, that's not how the Majority Leader viewed this practice when he was in the minority. When Senator Frist, as Majority Leader, blocked his colleagues from offering amendments a relatively modest 15 times in four years, my friend from Nevada said it was "a bad way to run the Senate' and a "very bad practice' and that it ran "against the basic nature of the Senate.'
"That's when Senator Frist did it 15 times over four years. This Democratic Majority has done it nearly 70 times in their tenure. What would be a fair way to describe that record?
"But the current Democratic Leadership hasn't been content there to stop there in marginalizing the minority. They have prevented the minority from offering amendments in committee; they have prevented them from offering amendments on the floor before cloture; and then they changed Senate procedure with a heavy-handed majoritarian motion to stop the minority from offering motions after cloture was invoked.
"Since such motions to suspend the rules require 67 votes to be successful. I gather that having even to deal with such motions interfered with "efficiency,' as did allowing bills to be marked up in committee, as did allowing senators of both parties to have amendments on the floor. So our Democratic colleagues have shut out the minority there, too.
"But even that's not enough. Now, the same Democratic Leadership now wants to take away the right to extended debate on motions to proceed to a measure.
"Throughout its history, the unique role of the Senate has been to protect the voice of the minority, expressed through the equal rights of all Senators to debate and amend legislation. This has stood in contrast with the House of Representatives, where a simple majority rules. So it should be startling to every United States Senator and to the people who elected us to represent them, to look at the facts.
"How does the Senate compare with the House of Representatives? At the same time that the current Senate Majority is finding every way it can to marginalize the minority, the Majority in the House is moving in the opposite direction.
"The Wall Street Journal reported last year that the Majority in the House was "giving lawmakers more opportunity to amend bills on the floor,' and that "even some Democrats acknowledged that GOP leaders have done better than their predecessors.'
"According to the article, last year the House held more votes on amendments on the floor than the two previous years combined when Congressional Democrats were in the Majority.
"How does that compare to the Senate? According to the Congressional Research Service, this year the Majority in the House has given the Minority in the House 214 occasions to effect legislation on the House floor through amendments and motions to commit or recommit.
"By contrast, the Majority in the Senate has only allowed the Minority in the Senate 67 occasions to effect legislation on the Senate floor in the same way. So the Minority in the House has had more than three times the opportunity to express its views and to represent its constituents than has the Minority in the Senate.
"It appears that in terms of respect for minority rights and the constituents the minority represents, the House is becoming more like the Senate; and unfortunately, the Senate is becoming more like the House.
"Now, it doesn't have to be this way in the Senate, of course.
"Senators Levin and McCain are reminding those of us who have been here awhile, and showing those of us who haven't, that it's possible for the Senate to actually legislate.
"Despite the fact that the Senate has devoted much less floor time to the Defense Authorization bill than is the historical practice, and many fewer amendments than is the historical practice, the Majority is allowing amendments to receive votes, and the minority, for our part, is not insisting that we get to vote on every amendment we want.
"We need to get back to conducting business that way again, and the Majority Leader and I need to discuss how to achieve that.
"But what the Democratic Majority must not do is change the Senate by using a bare-majority to ram through a rules change, as if this were the House.
"Such a rules change won't do them any good in the short term with the House in the hands of Republicans, but it will do the institution irreparable damage in the long term and will establish a precedent in the Senate for breaking the rules to change the rules that our Democratic colleagues will have to endure when they are in the minority again.
"We should work together instead to resolve our differences. As I said last week, that is what the Standing Rules of the Senate anticipate. And that has been how changes to the Senate Rules have occurred."