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Even Before Rules Change, Dems Have Stymied Senate Debate Rights


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor today regarding Senate Democrats' effort to break the rules to change the rules in the Senate and further marginalize the minority party by limiting the right to debate:

"During the last several days, we have discussed the plans of the Democratic Majority to make the Senate more "efficient,' and to do it by breaking the Rules of the Senate.

"It's what my Democratic colleagues roundly criticized during the Bush Administration as "breaking the rules to change the rules.' And it's something Senate Republicans never did.

"The Senate has two great traditions; two great rights of Members, and by extension, the citizens they represent: the right to amend and the right to debate.

"Yesterday and last week, I talked about the first of these great Senate rights, and how the Democratic Majority has sought, systemically, to marginalize the Minority in its exercise of this right.

"I noted how the Democratic Majority has bypassed committees to an unprecedented extent; how it has blocked members of the Minority--and members of the Majority, too--from offering amendments on the Senate floor before cloture is invoked; and how when that didn't shut out the Minority, the Majority used a bare majoritarian means to change Senate procedure to bar the Minority from offering motions to suspend the rules after cloture was invoked.

"This systemic effort to marginalize the minority stands in stark contrast to the trend in the House under the Republican Majority. It has allowed the Minority in the House more chances to amend legislation on the House floor than existed under previous majorities. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, last year the House held more votes on amendments on the floor than it did during the two previous years combined when Congressional Democrats were in the Majority.

"And when one compares the amendments and motions voted on in the House this year with those voted on in the Senate, as the non-partisan Congressional Research Service has done, the difference is startling. The House Minority has been able to offer 214 such motions and amendments, compared to only 67 for the Senate minority, which is more than three times as many motions and amendments.

"So in terms of protecting the right of the minority to represent their constituents through amendments on the floor, the House is becoming more like the Senate used to be, and the Senate is becoming more like the House used to be.

"But what about the second great right in the Senate, the right to debate? How has the exercise of this right fared under the Democratic Majority? Well, the short answer is: not so great.

"The filing of cloture under the Senate rules is the beginning of the process to end debate; and the wielding of this powerful tool is in the hands of the Majority Leader. So if one wants to simply equate the filing of cloture with a filibuster, there is the potential for the Majority to generate a lot of filibusters with a quick trigger finger on the cloture petition.

"Now, my friends on the other side of the aisle have painted a picture where cloture filings are needed to overcome an obstinate minority. Cloture is needed, so we are told, because of Members of the Minority who just refused to stop delaying.

"But does filing cloture on a matter--be it a bill, an amendment, or a conference report--on the very same day the Senate is considering that matter, indicate a Minority that is prolonging debate, or does it indicate a Majority that is eager not to have a debate at all? To me, a habitual effort to file cloture on a matter as soon as the Senate begins to consider the matter indicates the latter.

"And what do the numbers show about the use of cloture by this Democratic Majority? According to the CRS, the current Senate Majority has filed cloture on a matter--exclusive of motions to proceed to a matter--on the very same day it considers the matter 3 and a half times more often than did Senate Republicans when we were in the majority.

"According to the CRS, Senate Republicans filed same-day cloture on a matter just 30 times in four years. The current Democratic Majority has done so well over 100 times.

"Put another way, Senate Democrats are much more apt to try to shut off debate on a matter as soon as the Senate begins considering the matter than were prior majorities, including, most recently, Senate Republicans. And the desire of my Democratic colleagues to shut down debate before it really begins in these instances has nothing to do with overcoming resistance to the Senate taking up bills, because, as noted, this analysis specifically excludes same-day cloture filings on the motion to proceed.

"So, Mr. President, it's not just the right to amend that has taken a hit under the Democratic Majority, but the right to debate as well. And all Senators, and all Americans, are disserved when these rights are systemically marginalized.

"This is not the Golden Rule we were promised, Mr. President, when the Senate Democrats assumed the majority in 2007. Far from it.

"Rather than continuing to diminish the great traditions of the Senate, rather than breaking the rules to change the rules, we need to strengthen those rights and traditions. Because, as Senator Byrd noted, majorities are fleeting. One can wake up after the first Tuesday in November and find oneself in the minority.

"I say with respect, I hope my Democratic colleagues are mindful of that as we continue this discussion, and are prepared not only to live under the rules they would change, but to live with the precedent they establish in making those changes."

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