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>"Filling The Tree" in The Senate

>The following are the words of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) on the floor of the Senate regarding a very bad precedent called …”filling the tree.” When resorted to, as both Republicans and Democrats have done and as Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has done extensively this year [11 times] it effectively cuts off any chance of the opposition to offer amendments or change a bill.

“Filling the Tree” is one of the prime reasons for political disconnect in America today.

Listen to Specter, who is a wise old owl in many ways. Unfortunately, this fine man is treating for cancer, yet he still takes care of his Senate duties.

Recently the Democrats presented a package of bills which would cost the American taxpayer some $25 billion if passed. But if there is no chance of changing the bill, it surely will pass, though the president could veto.

“…filling the tree has been practiced by both parties. The Congressional Research Service did a study that showed that going back to Senator Dole in the 1985-1986 Congress, every majority leader has used this procedure–Senator Dole, Senator Byrd, Senator Mitchell, Senator Lott, Senator Daschle, Senator Frist, and now Senator Reid, twice in 1 week. In the fifth week of the new session, it has twice already been used. Democrats and Republicans are equally at fault. If people want to know whom to blame in Washington, it is a pretty good conclusion it is equally divided, that the bickering is the responsibility of both parties–a plague on both houses.

“But when we Republicans controlled the Senate and we had the PATRIOT Act, Senator Reid had this to say on February 28 of last year. He was speaking in defense of a fellow Democrat’s ability to offer amendments to the PATRIOT Act reauthorization. This is what Senator Reid said:

“Of course, even a good bill can be improved. That is why we have an amendment process in the Senate ….. I am disappointed that he has been denied that opportunity by a procedural maneuver known as “filling the amendment tree.”

“This is a very bad practice. It runs against the basic nature of the Senate. The hallmark of the Senate is free speech and open debate. Rule XXII establishes a process for cutting off debate and amendments, but Rule XXII should rarely be invoked before any amendments have been offered.

“That is what Senator Reid said less than a year ago. I couldn’t say it better. In fact, I couldn’t say it as well.

“Then, a few days later on March 2, Senator Reid said this:
“Don’t fill the tree. This is a bad way, in my opinion, to run the Senate.”

“Then Senator Durbin spoke on May 11 of 2006 on the tax increase prevention and reconciliation act. Speaking about that conference report, this is what Senator Durbin had to say:

“The Republican majority brings a bill to the Senate, fills the tree so no amendments can be offered, and then files cloture, which stops debate. So we cannot have this conversation. We cannot offer amendments.”

“Well, that is exactly the plan for the Iraq issue, and that is what is being done now on the continuing resolution which has been filed.

“Senator Dole had this to say, speaking about health care legislation:
“I want to point out to our colleagues why I am terribly disappointed with the procedures we have been confronted with this evening dealing with this legislation ….. This is the Senate. This Chamber historically is the place where debate occurs. To have a process here this evening ….. to basically lock out any amendments that might be offered to this proposal runs contrary to the very essence of this body ….. If you believe the Senate ought to be heard on a variety of issues relating to the subject matter–when the amendment tree has been entirely filled, then obviously we are dealing with a process that ought not to be ….. the Senate ought to be a place where we can offer amendments, have healthy debate over a reasonable time, and then come to closure on the subject matter.”

“Well, ARLEN SPECTER doesn’t have to say anything more on the subject because Senator Reid, Senator Durbin, and Senator Dodd are much more eloquent than I. So I offer this resolution to correct this problem for the future. It is very hard to change a Senate rule, but nobody has proposed it in the past, to my knowledge, and today we will start on it.

“Beyond the procedure used by the majority leader, the leader of the Democrats, to shut off debate and consideration of alternative proposals on the Iraq policy, the majority leader has utilized the procedure again on the continuing resolution.

“Now the continuing resolution characteristically is a brief document, usually about a page, which says the Government will continue to operate under existing appropriations, since there has not been time to consider a new appropriations package. But what we have in H.J. Res. 20 is an omnibus bill running 137 pages. I want to have an opportunity to amend it. Other Senators want to have an opportunity to amend it. Some have spoken on the floor of the Senate here today. But we are foreclosed from doing so.

“When the announcement was made that we were going to go to this kind of a procedure, in my capacity as chairman last year, now ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, I wrote a letter to Senator Reid asking that we follow regular order and consider the appropriation bills sequentially. I sent identical letters to Speaker Pelosi, the Republican leader, BOEHNER, in the House, Senator McConnell, Senator Byrd, Representative Obey, Representative Lewis, and Senator Cochran, the leaders of both bodies and the chairmen and ranking members of both Appropriations Committees. Because if we had the will; we had the time; we had the way, to get it all done. But the leadership has chosen not to follow that path, and now we have a continuing resolution which does not allow for any amendments. That is not in the public interest.

“After having been in the Senate for 26 years and being on the Appropriations Committee for 26 years, I have turned into a rubberstamp. That is what the Senators are here, those who did not have a say in the preparation of this continuing resolution. We are all rubberstamps: Take it or leave it. Now we would employ the procedure used on the Iraqi issue to avoid cutting off debate, but the Treasury will run out of money at midnight on February 15–that is Thursday night–so we have the option of closing down the Government if we don’t approve this rubberstamp procedure, and we are not going to do that. We had experience with the closing down of the Government back in December of 1995, and it was a very bitter experience; great political peril in closing down the Government.

“Here we have a very important measure. For a few minutes I want to point out what has happened to the subcommittee which funds health care, which is our No. 1 capital asset; you can’t do anything if you don’t have good health, and I can testify to that personally from my own experience in the last 2 years. Secondly, education. If you are not trained, you can’t do anything, even with good health. The Department of Labor on job training and worker safety. The level of the budget for fiscal year 2005 was $143.4 billion. The President has proposed a budget for fiscal year 2008 of $141.5 billion. If you take a look at the cuts in the budget for Health, Education and Labor and you add in the inflationary factors, the committee is being asked to operate at a level of $14.7 billion less than the fiscal year 2005 budget. That simply is inadequate to take care of the National Institutes of Health, offering the greatest chance through medical research to find cures for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and cancer and heart disease; funding for Head Start, funding for Title I, funding for education programs, funding for job training. It simply is totally insufficient.

“Those are the kinds of matters we ought to address on this continuing resolution. That is what we ought to be talking about, instead of having our last vote before noon on a Thursday as part of our 5-day workweek. We have yet to see that; we have yet to take the time we need to consider these matters. Had we taken up these appropriations bills in regular order, as I asked the leadership back on January 10, we would have had adequate time to do so.

“It is my hope that one day, and hopefully sooner rather than later, the Senate will change its rules so the majority leader will not be able to create a procedural morass to stop Senators from introducing amendments. It is my hope Senator Reid’s admonitions when the shoe was on the other foot back last year, that filling the tree is a bad practice, it runs against the basic nature of the Senate, the hallmark of the Senate is free speech and open debate, and similar comments by Senator Durbin and Senator Dodd, that we will be able to have a process so when an issue such as Iraq comes before the Senate, we can function as a deliberative body and we can have debate; we can consider alternative matters, and we can decide what U.S. policy should be. Because the President is not the sole decider. It is a shared responsibility; that when we have a budget and a resolution to fund the U.S. Government, we are not shut out from offering amendments.”

You can read the entire resolution and more.

Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the resolution be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

S. Res. __X

Resolved, That (a) rule XV of the Standing Rules of the Senate is amended by adding at the end the following:

“6. Notwithstanding action on a first degree amendment, it shall not be in order for a Senator to offer a second degree amendment to his or her own first degree amendment.”.

(b) The amendment made by subsection (a) shall take effect at the beginning of the 111th Congress.

>Harry Reid Is No Lyndon Johnson

Harry Reid:
Blog Purpose Personified

I created my Political Disconnect blog precisely because of one man, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev); and for the reasons that Robert Novak described today in his Washington Post article, “Decline of The Senate.”

In it he describes Senator Reid’s misuse of a parliamentary device called “filling the tree.” It means instead of debating issues and compromising, he intentionally fills the bill up with his own amendments, precluding anyone else’s. Partly because of people like Reid, it is Novak’s contention that the U.S. Senate is a miserable failure. Or in other words, the Senate, once called the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” is now largely worthless.
Reid complains that he has to resort to these tactics because he only enjoys a one-vote margin in the Senate.

But Novak describes the Senate when it was run by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson who also operated with a one-vote margin. What made Johnson different from Reid is that the former majority leader made his reputation as, in biographer Robert Caro’s words, “master of the Senate” because he relied on maneuver and negotiation, not dirty tricks.
“In contrast, Reid uses arcane parliamentary tactics to transform the Senate into another House of Representatives,” said Novak, “where the majority can dictate what amendments its members have to vote on.”

Sen. Arlen Specter, age 78, was feeling miserable Monday following chemotherapy the previous Friday. But believing the best antidote was hard work, Specter took the Senate floor with a speech that contrasted sharply from the partisan oratory now customary in the chamber.

Novak said Specter, a Republican centrist, has never been much of a partisan, but during five terms he has become a protector of the Senate’s faded reputation as the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” On Monday, Specter deplored Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s use of a parliamentary device called “filling the tree” to prevent the Republican minority from offering amendments to a bill.

As Specter spoke, the Senate chamber, as is typical, was empty, except for freshman Democrat Ben Cardin, there as presiding officer. Specter departed from customary Senate self-congratulation: “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.”

The device was used last week when Reid called up the bill responding to global warming, producing the state of futility that has haunted his year and a half as majority leader. Characteristically, Reid neither found the support needed to pass the bill nor attempted a compromise with opponents.

Debating an energy tax as gasoline prices hit $4 a gallon defied political logic. But Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, insisted and Reid bowed to her.

To prevent his Democratic colleagues from having to face politically difficult votes, Reid “filled the tree” with interlocking amendments staving off all other proposed changes. The procedure has been used by majority leaders of both parties since 1985, but it’s never been invoked as often as it has by Reid. This marked the 12th time he has resorted to the device.
What followed illustrates the decline of the Senate under Reid.
The Senate fell far short of the 60 votes needed to close debate on the bill. Though Reid blamed Republican intransigence, 10 Democratic senators — including five-term liberal stalwart Carl Levin of Michigan — had written Reid last Friday telling him they could not “support final passage of the bill” because of the economic impact it would have on their states. Reid set aside climate change legislation and moved to a bill that would impose an excess-profits tax on oil companies. He next asked senators to close off debate Tuesday, an effort that predictably fell short of the needed 60 votes.

When Republicans said Reid broke his pledge to confirm three of President Bush’s appeals court nominees by Memorial Day,Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell retaliated by requiring the entire climate-change bill to be read into the record (consuming more than 10 hours). This kind of squabbling would have been unheard of under Lyndon Johnson. But Novak pointed out that last week it was barely noticed.

An unusual result of the current parliamentary situation is that the climate-change bill remains the pending business of the Senate because of Republican refusal to let Reid dispose of it. The GOP strategy is to keep the issue at hand because of its political toxicity. Specter, trying to be an old-fashioned legislator, really wants to detoxify the bill but cannot because of the no-amendment rule. On Tuesday, he asked for hearings on his 16-month-old proposal to prohibit the majority leader from filling the tree.

Even an expected bigger Democratic majority next January in itself may not reverse this institutional decline.