August 04, 2010

Vote to Eliminate Senate Secret Holds is Scheduled for September

Washington, D.C. – The bipartisan coalition of Senators working to reform the Senate’s use of secret holds welcomed Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) pledge today to call up their legislation as one of the first votes in September.  The Secret Holds Elimination Act, sponsored by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), and Claire McCaskill (D- Mo.), would eliminate a single Senator’s ability to indefinitely hijack the legislative process in secret by requiring that all holds be submitted in writing and automatically disclosed after one legislative day.

“During the next work period, I am committed to having Senators vote on whether or not to end the use of secret holds in the Senate,” Reid said.  “This bipartisan proposal is a step in the right direction to put transparency above secrecy.”    

“Thanks to Senator Reid, Senators are going to have to come forward and say whether or not they support secrecy in the Senate,”
Wyden said.  “While the last thirteen years have taught me not to underestimate our opponents in this fight, I believe we are finally on the verge of enacting real reform that makes it clear that no one Senator – on either side of the aisle – should be able to bring Congress to a halt without consequence.  While the conventional wisdom is that it is impossible to both reform the Senate and achieve bipartisanship, I believe we are going to do both.”

“Our bipartisan efforts to end secret holds in the Senate have received tremendous support over the years, only to be thwarted in last ditch efforts by members of both parties.  I appreciate the commitment to a final vote on this issue, because just when you think you’ve made real progress, like in the ethics bill, somebody pulls the rug out from under you,” Grassley said.  “The bottom line remains that 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.”

“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 joined forces to introduce a new version of the Secret Holds Elimination Act last week.  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.