Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hold Reform

I've been planning to do a Senate Reform Week around here for a while, in which I look at the various reform proposals that are floating around, but I never seem to quite get to it.*  Meanwhile, the proposals keep coming.  Now, we have a bipartisan hold reform proposal from Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden.  The focus is on making holds public, forcing Senators to take credit for what they're doing.

I'm indifferent to this particular proposal, because I don't think that the primary problem with holds is that they're secret.  The primary problem with holds is that there just far too many of them, especially on nominations, and that they are apparently being used not to protect the rights of individual Senators, but to advance the goals of the minority party.  Parties don't need added protection in the Senate; they have the filibuster. 

The reform I'd like to see is for Harry Reid to put everyone on notice to cut it out, or else he'll just start ignoring holds and bringing up nominees whether there are holds or not.  If Republicans want to object, he can file cloture; if Republicans don't have the votes to stop cloture on a lot of these nominees but still insist on chewing up floor time anyway by full use of parliamentary stall tactics, then Reid should expand floor time by keeping the Senate in on nights and weekends. 

The Democrats cannot force much to happen in cases in which the GOP has 41 votes.  But that hasn't been the case, at least not when the actual votes happen, for a whole lot of judicial and executive branch nominations.  Given that Reid (or whoever replaces him as Majority Leader) is likely to have even fewer votes at his disposal next year, he really should place a much higher priority on getting at least the relatively non-controversial nominations done (last week was a good start, but it should be sustained and systematic).  And he doesn't need any rule changes to make that happen.

*For example, my post about filibusters and the Kentucky Derby should have mentioned that some reform proposals, including the Krasno/Robinson proposal, suggest that cloture shift from 3/5 of all Senators to 3/5 of all Senators voting.   Perhaps if I write in this post that I'm intending to review the various proposals it'll get me to actually do it, soon.


  1. I've never fully understood why holds aren't treated like other threats and actually tested. They conduct test votes all the time on filibusters; why treat the hold as somehow more special?

  2. Because holds aren't really supposed to be threats to defeat cloture. To the extent they're threats, what they're threatening is to gum up the works (force a cloture petition, a cloture vote, use all post-cloture debate time). But the real reason that the majority respects holds is because all Senators want to respect the rights of each Senator to retain personal negotiating power. So there's nothing to test, really -- and what the GOP is doing now, in my opinion, is filibuster abuse, and shouldn't be respected.


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