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Public Statements

Gridlock And Reconciliation

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SPECTER. On many occasions, the majority leader has been compelled to file a cloture petition, which is well known on this Senate floor. I don't believe it even has to be explained to C-SPAN viewers, even though it is technical and arcane, because it has been used so often. But in case anyone new is watching C-SPAN2--or perhaps I should say in case anybody is watching C-SPAN2--just a word of explanation. If a Senator places a hold on a nomination, that is a signal for a filibuster.

Unfortunately, we don't have filibusters. I have been in the Senate now since being elected in 1980 and I have been part of only one real filibuster. Had we utilized that procedure, perhaps there would be fewer holds and fewer moves toward filibuster. People really had to stand up here and argue, as Senator Thurman did historically once, for some 26 hours. But when the majority leader is compelled to file a cloture petition, cloture is invoked, and then some 30 hours must be consumed where the Senate can take care of no additional business, the two lights are on, there is a quorum call, and it is a colossal waste of time.

I am going to recite the facts in five of these cloture petitions to demonstrate that there was never really a controversy. Christopher Hill, Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq, had a cloture vote. Yet his vote in favor was 73 to 17--hardly controversial. Robert M. Groves, of Michigan, to be the Director of the Census, the cloture vote was 76 to 15--not really a contest there at all. Nobody seriously contested his confirmation. David Hamilton to be a judge of the Seventh Circuit, 70 yeas, 29 nays. A cloture petition was filed on Martha N. Johnson to be Administrator of General Services. The vote was 82 to 16. The nomination of Barbara Keenan to be a circuit judge in the Fourth Circuit, 99 to 0.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the details of these cloture motions and confirmations following my remarks.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.

(See exhibit 4.)

Mr. SPECTER. So the stage is now set where we have gridlock on the issue of comprehensive health care reform. In this situation, we have had the bills passed by both the House and the Senate, and we are now looking to use reconciliation, a procedure which has been employed some 22 times in analogous circumstances. Illustrative of the analogous circumstances are the use of cloture to pass Medicare Advantage and the passage of COBRA, the passage of SCHIP--health care for children--and the passage of the welfare reform bill in 1996.

In a learned article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Henry J. Aaron, an expert on budgetary matters, had this to say:

[reconciliation] can be used only to implement instructions contained in the budget resolution relating to taxes or expenditures. Congress created reconciliation procedures to deal with precisely this sort of situation. .....

And he is referring here to what we have with the Senate-passed bill and the House-passed bill.

Quoting him further:

The 2009 budget resolution instructed both Houses of Congress to enact health care reform. The House and the Senate have passed similar but not identical bills. Since both Houses have acted but some work remains to be done to align the two bills, using reconciliation to implement the instructions in the budget resolution follows established congressional procedure.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the full text of this article following my remarks.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.

(See exhibit 5.)

Mr. SPECTER. So what we have here, essentially, is gridlock created by the composition of the two Houses of Congress. We have a situation where not one Member on the other side of the aisle voted in favor of the health care bill. In the House of Representatives, the vote was 176 to 1; that is, among the 177 Republicans voting, only 1 out of 177 in the House voted in favor. It is hard to see a more precise definition of ``gridlock'' than what appears here.

It would be my hope that we would be able to resolve the issue without resorting to reconciliation. If there is any doubt about the procedure, our institutional integrity would be enhanced without going in that direction. But if you have to fight fire with fire and since it is a legitimate means, then we can use it.

Five years ago, in 2005, the Senate faced a somewhat similar situation when the roles were reversed, when it was the Democrats filibustering judicial nominees of President Bush. And we find that so often it depends on whose ox is being gored as to who takes the position. Some of the most

vociferous objectors to the use of reconciliation on comprehensive health care reform have filled the Congressional Record with statements in favor of using reconciliation in analogous circumstances when it helped their cause. But in the year 2000, it was the Democrats stymying Republican judicial nominees. During the Clinton administration, it was exactly reversed--it was Republicans stymying Clinton's judicial nominees. Fortunately, in 2005 we were able to work out the controversy. We were able to confirm some of the judges, some of the judges were withdrawn, and we did not move for what was called the nuclear option, which would have confirmed judges by 51 votes.

The procedural integrity of the Senate is very important. Without going into great detail, it was the Senate that saved the independence of the Federal judiciary when the Senate acquitted Supreme Court Justice Chase in 1805, and it was the Senate that preserved the power of the Presidency on the impeachment proceeding of Andrew Johnson in 1868. Congress sought to have limited the President's power to discharge a Cabinet officer in the absence of approval by the Senate. Well, the Senate has to confirm, but the Senate doesn't have standing to stop the President from terminating the services of a Cabinet officer. And there, the Senate saved it through the courageous vote of a single Senator--a Kansan, I like to mention, being one originally myself.

So it would be fine if we could find some way to solve the problem, but absent that, this Senate reconciliation procedure is entirely appropriate. We have gotten much more deeply involved in the research and analysis as this issue has come to the floor on comprehensive health coverage.

The gridlock that faces the Senate and the country today has profound implications beyond the legislation itself. It is hard to find something more important than insuring the millions of Americans now not covered or to find something more important than stopping the escalating cost of health insurance, driving many people to be uninsured and raising the prices for small businesses where it cannot be afforded. But the fact is, this gridlock is threatening the capacity in this country to govern--really threatening the capacity to govern.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was before the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations of the Committee on Appropriations, and I asked her about this issue. I asked her about the President not being able to:

..... project the kind of stature and power that he did a year ago because he is being hamstrung by Congress. And it has an impact on foreign policy which we really ought to do everything we can not to have partisanship influence.

Secretary of State Clinton replied as follows:

Senator, I think there is certainly a perception that I encounter in representing our country around the world that supports your characterization. People don't understand the way our system operates, they just don't get it. Their view does color whether the United States is in a position--not just this President but our country--is in a position going forward to demonstrate the kind of unity and strength and effectiveness that I think we have to in this very complex and dangerous world.

She continued a little later:

We have to be attuned to how the rest of the world sees the functioning of our Government. Because it's an asset. It may be an intangible asset, but it's an asset of great importance and as we sell democracy, and we're the lead democracy in the world, I want people to know that we have checks and balances, but we also have the capacity to move too.

So what we find is a diminution of the authority and stature of the President, a diminution of the authority and stature of the Presidency, and ultimately a diminution and reduction in the stature of our country unable to deal with these problems. So it would be my hope we could yet resolve this issue with a little bipartisanship. It would not take a whole lot, but at the moment there is none, with 40 Senators voting no, all those on the other side of the aisle, and 176 out of 177 Republicans in the House voting no. That simply is no way to govern.


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