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CRS Report: 94% of Senate Bills Passed in Secret

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

855 bills have passed the Senate with no debate, no amendments, no votes

Today, U.S. Senators Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) and Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) released a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) finding that 94 percent of bills the Senate has passed in the 110th Congress have been without a vote, debate or a single amendment. The 855 bills that have been secretly passed spend more than $9 billion, though a final total is not available because many of the bills were rushed through before a cost analysis could be performed.

Senator DeMint: "It would surprise many Americans to learn that the ‘World's Greatest Deliberative Body' passes the overwhelming majority of legislation without any debate at all. Democrats think they are entitled to pass bills without debate or votes, and they've tried to ram them through right before recess to pressure us to give up. But, Senators shouldn't fear debate on these important bills. It's in the best traditions of our republic to demand the Senate actually do its job and have a public debate on bills that expand government and increase the burden on taxpayers. Senator Reid can complain all he wants, but Republicans represent millions of Americans whose voices are being silenced by Democrat strong-arm tactics."

Dr. Coburn: "The U.S. Senate has a nine percent approval rating because the American people believe that much of our work is done in secret with no debate, no transparency and no accountability. This report shows that the reality is worse than the public's fears. Instead of encouraging open debate, I'm disappointed that Majority Leader Reid often chooses secrecy or demagoguery. For instance, he has depicted my effort to reduce the number of bills that pass the Senate in secret by ten percent as ‘unprecedented obstruction.' What is unprecedented and ahistorical, however, is the Majority Leader's view that Senators should have a king-like right to pass massive spending bills in secret with no debate, no amendments and no recorded vote."

The CRS report states, "[T]he vast majority of measures passed or agreed to by the Senate so far in the 110th Congress have not received formal parliamentary debate on the floor of the Senate." This practice, known as "hotlining," has traditionally been reserved for noncontroversial bills with little to no cost to the taxpayer, like the naming of post offices. However, the practice has been abused to sneak through large bills that cost the taxpayers billions of dollars and have significant policy implications.

On March 3, 2008, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin stated on the Senate Floor:

"My good friend, the late Congressman from Oklahoma, Mike Synar, used to say: If you don't want to fight fires, don't be a firefighter. If you don't want to stop crime, don't be a policeman, and if you don't want to vote on tough issues, don't run for Congress."

"I agree with him. I don't like facing tough votes, but it is a part of the job. You ought to at least have enough confidence in your beliefs to cast that vote and go home and explain it."

Highlights from the Congressional Research Service Memorandum - "The Clearance Process in the Senate and Measures Approved in the 110th Congress through June 30, 2008":

"Nearly every day the Senate is in session, the majority and minority leaders consult to identify bills and resolutions that have been "cleared" by the Senators in both parties. A measure is considered cleared if no Senator has informed party leadership … that he or she is opposed to passage of the measure without debate."

• Only 56 bills (6%) were passed by vote (53 by roll call vote, 3 by voice vote)
• 855 bills (94%) were passed by Unanimous Consent (no debate, no vote)
o 388 were passed by UC on the same day they were introduced
o 381 were passed by UC without debate
o 88 were passed by UC with some debate
o 9 were passed by UC without debate after debate on a Senate companion bill
• 35% of the bills passed by UC were agreed to in the week before a recess
• 52% of the bills passed by UC were agreed to during the two weeks before a recess

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