The Senate is almost always virtually empty these days under Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nv). If this is the way he’s going to play the game, maybe we could send a petition around and change the Constitution, making it mandatory for Senators to have equal voice and equal opportunity to write the bills, amend them, and vote. Any Senator absent from the Senate more than 5 percent of the time will be let go. That’s how it’s done in corporate America, and that’s how it should be in the U.S. Senate. Otherwise, why not rent out the senate chambers to a rent-paying business and let the Senators vote from home. Many of them would choose to lie in bed, voting on a large TV screen, kind of like they’re playing the horses. This is also why we need term limits. I propose beginning a petition for both. Who will do the “heavy lifting?”
There can’t be an effective deliberation when only one side of the chamber is heard from. But that’s what we have in the U.S. Senate, due to some awful little men running things in the U.S. Senate these days.
Sen. Coburn Rallying the Caucus
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) last week stating his opposition to an omnibus package of over 100 bills that will grow government by about $25 billion. But you can’t have fair and balanced debate and deliberation without an ability of all senators to perform their duty–that is offer debate, amendments to the bill and amendments to the amendments. What’s the logical result? Ailing 78-year-old Sen. Arlen Spector (cancer victim) said it best:
“The American people live under the illusion that we have a United States Senate. The facts show that the Senate is realistically dysfunctional. It is on life support, perhaps even moribund. The only facet of Senate bipartisanship is the conspiracy of successive Republican and Democratic leaders to employ this procedural device known as filling the tree. It is known that way to insiders, and it is incomprehensible to outsiders.”
Senator Coburn had stated he had 20 Republican members of the Senate would engage in a filibuster of this wasteful spending bill, and today the 20 Senators are standing firm with Mr. Coburn to oppose this legislation.
Together, they have written a letter to Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), calling upon him to unite the Republican caucus against Sen. Reid’s routine practice of “filling the tree,” a process whereby legislation is brought to the floor for a vote without any opportunity to make amendments.
Here follows that letter:
Dear Senator McConnell:
We are writing to urge that you take action regarding the Majority Leader’s abuse of a procedure known as “filling the tree,” which is used to exclude other Senators from offering amendments to bills brought to the Senate floor.
As you know, the rules of the Senate – reinforced by longstanding tradition – allow all members of the Senate to play a substantial role in shaping legislation. One of the primary means by which this occurs is the ability to offer amendments, which helps to ensure that a full debate is had on the many policy options available for a given issue. Without a robust amendment process, members of the minority, in particular, have little opportunity to raise issues of importance or to improve legislation.
In the 110th Congress, the Democrat Majority Leader [Harry Reid] has employed a tactic known as “filling the tree” at least eleven times to preclude the minority from offering any amendments on major pieces of legislation.
Under normal procedure, Senators are allowed to offer an amendment to any bill, as well as an amendment to the amendment (amendments in the 2nd degree) – after which no additional amendments are allowed. Majority Leader Reid has often “filled” the amendment tree intentionally by offering first and second-degree amendments before other Senators, the effect of such a maneuver is to block all other amendments, including ones offered by Republicans.
According to the Congressional Research Service, Majority Leader Reid has filled the tree at least eleven times on major pieces of legislation during the 110th Congress. On each of these measures, Republicans had legitimate concerns and could have improved the legislation through offering amendments, but were prevented from doing so. The result of this practice was the passage of legislation that spent hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars without any effective input from Republican members.
One issue in particular that deserves increased attention is the rise in gas prices, which has left many Americans struggling to keep up. Unfortunately, the solutions offered by the majority are deeply flawed and would do little, if anything, to increase the supply of energy produced in this country, and therefore are unlikely to affect prices at the pump.
Although the American people are calling for solutions to increase exploration, all Republican proposals to do so have been shut down before a vote could be taken because of the tactics employed by the Majority Leader. Until alternative proposals are allowed on the floor, the American public will not get relief from the high prices they are paying for gas.
Filling the tree is certainly a permissible procedure under the rules of the Senate, but it can only be accomplished with the help of a willing minority. While we appreciate the difficulty of your position as Republican Leader, we would urge you to take a stand against the abusive way in which the majority has frozen the minority out of the legislative process by making a routine practice of filling the tree.
We would ask that you urge our Republican colleagues to force an open amendment process on all bills for the remainder of this session. Doing so will ensure that the process is fair for all Members and that minority rights are adequately protected. Allowing the Majority Leader to block other Senators from participating in the legislative process does significant damage to the Senate’s reputation as the world’s most deliberative body.