April 27, 2010

Wyden/Grassley Lead Bipartisan Effort to End Senate Secret Holds

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate’s leading bipartisan voices for ending secret holds introduced legislation today that would make it even harder for individual senators to secretly obstruct the legislative process.  For more than a decade, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley have fought to eliminate secret holds and in 2007 a modified version of their proposal was included in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.

In introducing the “Secret Holds Elimination Act” today, both Senators argued that the current rule does not go far enough and that it is “time for the Senate to end secret holds once and for all.”

“This is about fundamental accountability and fairness.  If Senators feel strongly enough about an issue that they are going to take the extreme step of blocking a nomination or a piece of legislation, then they should have the courage to take responsibility for their actions and explain why. The bottom line is that if you can’t make a good public case for why you are doing something, you shouldn’t be doing it,” said Wyden.  “It’s far past time that the Senate stop operating in the shadows and let sunlight do its job.  This legislation ensures that no amount of procedural stalling will stop Senate holds from being made public quickly.”

“For far too long, secret holds have been a staple of the Senate and there’s no question that both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the current abuses,” said Grassley.  “The previous iteration of our legislation was so watered down in the final version that I stated at the time it was bound to be abused and ignored.  It appears that our colleagues have finally taken notice, and maybe now we can make some progress in making holds transparent and accountable.”

The Secret Holds Elimination Act would eliminate a Senator’s ability to indefinitely hold legislation in secret by requiring Senators to submit their holds to leadership in writing and to publically disclose all holds within two days whether or not the bill or nomination has been brought to the floor for consideration.  Leadership will only honor holds that they have in writing and that comply with the two day rule.  While the current provision require Senators to disclose their holds after six days, the holding period has proven too long to be effective and because this requirement is triggered only when the bill is brought to the floor for consideration, it is possible for Senators to indefinitely block legislation from reaching the floor without ever disclosing that they are doing it much less why.

Both Senators Wyden and Grassley have a long-standing practice of making all of their holds public by placing formal statements announcing and explaining their holds in the Congressional Record.