If you’re like me, you believed that the Senate rules reform effort devolved into nothingness. Only a few things were accomplished on the periphery:
• Senators could not force the reading of amendments as long as they were public for 72 hours. This almost never happened anyway.
• Senate confirmations for hundreds of appointees would be phased out. The legislation to that effect has been negotiated by the leadership of both parties and introduced, but nothing has officially received a vote yet, and there’s a question of whether it ever will.
• There was a “gentleman’s agreement” where the Republicans promised not to filibuster the motion to proceed on legislation, and Democrats allowed more amendments to legislation. Republicans have completely abused the amendment agreement, turning every bill into a Christmas tree for ideological votes, and have of late stopped the practice of allowing legislation to the floor without a cloture vote on the motion to proceed. As a result, the Senate has become a slow, steady confirmation factory for federal judges (many of which haven’t been filibustered, in keeping with part of the gentleman’s agreement) and pretty much nothing else.
• Finally, secret holds were banned. I know they were. This got a vote of 92-4. One of the four who voted against it was John Ensign, who isn’t even there anymore. Secret holds, where Senators could anonymously place a hold on any nomination, legislation, amendment or motion to proceed, requiring a cloture vote to clear those measures, were dead. Kaput. Ex-holds. Done.
Heather Higginbottom’s nomination to be President Obama’s deputy budget director is in deep trouble after the GOP placed a hold on it, Democrat aides said Friday.
Because of the secret hold, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cannot move the nomination to the floor for a vote under unanimous consent.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, views Higginbottom as entirely unqualified for the position. Democrat aides point to Sessions as a source of the hold, but his office would not confirm that Friday.
Um, wait a second, this was barred by a 92-4 vote in the Senate! Now, that vote was a standing order and not an official rule change, so that could account for this. Whether Higginbottom will or will not get a vote in the Senate is immaterial to the fact that secret holds have reared their ugly heads again.
It was always unclear to me what the enforcement to stop secret holds would be. Perhaps if some Senator comes to the floor and asks who is holding the nomination, Sessions will be “forced” to own up. But the secret hold perseveres prior to that, as long as nobody admits to the hold.
Even the most fragile and meaningless of Senate rules reforms have become more fragile and more meaningless.