Washington, D.C. – As the 112th Congress gavels in this afternoon, the bipartisan coalition fighting to end secret holds has introduced a resolution to eliminate the undemocratic practice and move the Senate closer to an up-or-down vote on their proposal. U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Secret Holds Reform Resolution that forces all holds to be disclosed to the public after one day, eliminating the ability of one senator to hijack the legislative process without being held accountable.
“The first day of the new congress is the perfect time to begin making the Senate fairer and more accountable to the public,” Wyden said. “For too long, secret holds have given one senator the power to grind the legislative process to a halt without any accountability. The bipartisan group of senators standing up against this practice is growing. The tide of reform is moving with us and the Senate must be able to take an up-or-down vote on the merits of secret holds to show who the allies of transparency are and who are the allies of obstruction.”
“Holds protect the rights of individual senators, but with this power must come public accountability. Lack of transparency in the public policy process exacerbates cynicism and distrust. Senator Wyden and I have advanced reforms to make holds public for more than 10 years, only to have them undermined by both parties. If a senator has a legitimate reason to object to proceeding to a bill or nominee, then he or she ought to have the guts to do so publicly. It’s time for each of us to stand up and be accountable to our constituents and our colleagues for any hold placed,” Grassley said.
“The American people don’t trust Washington, and secrecy is one of the reasons,” McCaskill said. “If someone is opposed to legislation or a nominee, they should be willing to say it publically. We’re here to do the people’s business and they deserve this basic level of transparency.”
“We have a responsibility to assure the American people that the decisions we make are decisions of integrity, in which their interests are put first. Placing a hold on a nominee is a legitimate use of Senate rules and can be used to provide additional time to seek answers to important questions and address concerns. If Members of Congress are acting in the best interests of their constituents, then they should not hesitate to make public their reasons for placing a particular hold,” said Collins.
Wyden and Grassley have spent more than a decade working to eliminate secret holds and have introduced bills and amendments and secured pledges from both caucuses to no longer honor the practice. However, an amendment to an appropriations bill in 1997 was removed in conference with the House of Representatives and though a 2006 Wyden-Grassley amendment requiring that secret holds be publically disclosed after three legislative days passed the Senate in 2006, it was altered as part of the 2007 “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act” to require disclosure after six days only after a nomination or piece of legislation is called up on the floor. Senator McCaskill brought renewed momentum to the effort last year by drawing attention to the continued abuse of secret holds and authored a letter signed by 68 senators calling for the elimination of the practice.
The three joined forces last summer to introduce the Secret Holds Elimination Act that formed the basis of the current resolution. The resolution will require that all holds on legislation and nominees be submitted in writing and automatically printed in the Congressional Record after one legislative day, whether the bill or nomination has been brought up for floor consideration or not. The latter provision will eliminate the all-too-common practice of secret holds being used to indefinitely prevent bills from reaching the Senate floor.