July 28, 2010

Bill to Eliminate Secret Holds is on the Senate Calendar

Washington, D.C. – Legislation authored by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), and Claire McCaskill (D- Mo.) to eliminate a senator’s ability to obstruct legislation in secret was placed on the Senate calendar today, opening the door for a definitive up or down vote on the legislation.  The modified version of the “Secret Holds Elimination Act”– previously introduced by Wyden and Grassley – will require that all holds be submitted in writing and disclosed after one legislative day.  

“For more than a decade every legislative trick in the book has been used to keep secret holds alive.  Personal commitments have been ignored, amendments that have passed the Senate with overwhelming majorities have mysteriously been watered-down or stripped out in conference committees and now holds are even being used to block our effort to end secret holds.  But an up or down vote on a stand-alone piece of legislation would finally put this issue to rest,” Wyden said.  “Not only is it the right thing to do – every senator should take accountability for his or her actions – I believe this legislation sends an important signal that not only can the Senate take decisive action to reform itself, it can do it with bipartisan support.”

“Secret holds have been a staple in the senate for far too long.  Senator Wyden and I have advanced reforms to make holds public over the last 10 years, only to have them undermined by both parties,” Grassley said.  “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.”  

“We’ve all been sent to the Senate to do the people’s business so the American people deserve to know if a senator is holding up a piece of legislation and why,” McCaskill said. “We should not be doing our business in secret. I’m glad to see Senate leadership is taking our work to end this practice seriously, and I hope my colleagues will agree that it’s time we stand up for transparency and accountability in Washington.”

Wyden and Grassley have spent more than a decade fighting to eliminate secret holds having introduced numerous bills and amendments to kill the practice.  In 1997, they successfully attached an amendment to an appropriations bill only to have the amendment eliminated in conference with the House of Representatives.  In 1999, they secured a pledge from both Democratic and Republican leadership to no longer honor secret holds.  According to the Congressional Research Service the pledge failed due to a lack of an enforcement mechanism.  In 2006, a Wyden-Grassley amendment requiring that secret holds be publically disclosed after three legislative days passed the Senate 84 to 13.  The amendment 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 attention and momentum to the effort earlier this 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 have now joined forces to introduce a new version of the Secret Holds Elimination Act.  The legislation 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.