February 8, 2011

Grassley works to stop abuse of government charge cards by federal employees

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today introduced a bill to require federal agencies to put new safeguards and controls on government charge cards used by federal employees.  The bill also would require penalties for violations.

"This bill is about accountability," Grassley said.  "The public trust has been violated by abusive use of government charge cards.  The federal bureaucracy needs to improve the way it manages the use of these cards."

Grassley said his bill responds to outrageous accounts of purchases made with government charge cards, as well as independent analysis which found inadequate and inconsistent controls within government agencies for these government charge cards.  Purchase cards are used by authorized federal employees for the small-scale items needed for official business, such as office supplies.  Travel cards are issued to federal employees to pay for official travel expenses.

Grassley has put the spotlight on problematic use of these cards for ten years, first at the Department of Defense and then also at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Forest Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, and elsewhere.

Over the years, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has documented fraudulent, questionable and overly expensive purchases made by federal workers with government purchase and travel cards, including kitchen appliances, jewelry, gambling, cruises, and even the tab at gentlemen's clubs and legalized brothels.

Below is a summary of the reform legislation that Grassley is reintroducing.  It is cosponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins.  The Senate passed the measure in 2009, but it was not taken up by the House of Representatives during the last Congress.

Summary of the Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act

The bill would require all federal agencies to establish certain safeguards and internal controls for government charge card programs, and to establish penalties for violations, including dismissal when circumstances warrant.  The bill would also increase oversight by providing that each agency Inspector General periodically conduct risk assessments and audits to identify fraud and improper use of government charge cards. These reforms are based on the experience of Senator Grassley and other members of Congress, the GAO, and agency Inspectors General in investigating the weaknesses in agency policies and procedures that have lead to instances of waste, fraud, and abuse in government charge card programs.

The required safeguards and internal controls include :

  • performing credit checks for travel card holders and issuing restricted cards for those with poor or no credit to reduce the potential for misuse
  • maintaining a record of each cardholder, including single transaction limits and total transaction limits so agencies can effectively manage their cardholders
  • implementing periodic reviews to determine if cardholders have a need for a card
  • properly recording rebates to the government based on prompt payment, sales volume, etc.
  • providing training for cardholders and managers
  • utilizing effective systems, techniques, and technologies to prevent or catch fraudulent purchases
  • establishing specific policies about the number of cards to be issued, the credit limits for certain categories of cardholders, and categories of employees eligible to be issued cards
  • invalidating cards when employees leave the agency or transfer
  • establishing an approving official other than the purchase card holder so employees cannot approve their own purchases
  • reconciling purchase card charges on the bill with receipts and supporting documentation
  • reconciling disputed purchase card charges and discrepancies with the bank according to the proper procedure
  • making purchase card payments promptly to avoid interest penalties
  • retaining records of purchase card transactions in accordance with standard government record keeping polices
  • utilizing direct payments to the bank when reimbursing employees for travel card purchases to ensure that travel card bills get paid
  • comparing items submitted on travel vouchers with items already paid for with centrally billed accounts to avoid reimbursing employees for items already paid for by the agency
  • submitting refund requests for unused airline tickets so the taxpayers don't pay for tickets that were not used
  • disputing unauthorized charges and tracking the status of disputed charges to proper resolution

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Grassley Works to Close Loophole that Allows Terrorists to Stay in U.S.

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today introduced legislation to close a loophole in U.S. visa policy that could allow foreign nationals remain in the United States after they have had their visa revoked.

Since 2001, the Government Accountability Office has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the weaknesses of the visa revocation process.  Their investigations revealed the extreme difficulty the United States has in deporting suspected terrorists already on U.S. soil if their visa is revoked on terrorism grounds.

"Current law handicaps our law enforcement and makes it nearly impossible to deport a potential terrorist if they are already in the United States," Grassley said.  "We shouldn't allow suspected terrorists to take advantage of our court system and exploit our laws.  Revocations can be a useful anti-terrorism tool that can better project the security of our borders and our nation."

Grassley said that a change in law is needed so that people who wish to do Americans harm are deported, and our nation's intelligence is protected.

If the federal government determines that a visa must be revoked for an individual already on U.S. soil, such individual could be allowed to block deportation using the United States court system.

The bill would treat visa revocations similar to visa denials because the right of that person to be in the United States is no longer valid.  If an individual is denied a visa by the consular officer, there's no judicial review of that decision.  The Grassley bill applies the same standard for individuals on U.S. soil who should not have been granted a visa, limiting their rights to judicial review of such a decision.

The legislation is cosponsored by Senators David Vitter of Louisiana, Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Cornyn of Texas, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Pat Roberts of Kansas. 

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Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa made the following comment on data gathered from 850 U.S. colleges, universities and affiliated foundations participating in the 2010 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments® (NCSE).  The study shows that these institutions' endowments returned an average of 11.9 percent (net of fees) for the 2010 fiscal year (July 1, 2009 - June 30, 2010). This represented a sharp improvement over the average -18.7 percent return (net of fees) reported in last year's study for fiscal year 2009.  Grassley has a long-standing interest in university endowment pay-out rates, drawing on his oversight of tax-exempt policies as a leader of the Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over tax policy.  Grassley's encouragement of well-funded universities to increase student aid led to some significantly more generous aid policies at several institutions.

"This most recent study strengthens the case for reviewing the investment and payout policies of endowments in the context of tax reform.  Taxpayers and students deserve to understand what they're getting in return for the tax benefits awarded to these institutions.  These endowment managers should consider the challenge presented by the President in his state of the union speech and expand educational opportunities by making college more affordable for more students

"It's good to see that university endowments are starting to recover.  Unfortunately, the recoveries aren't leading to significantly higher payouts.  There are more than 62 institutions with endowments greater than $1 billion and more than half of them are private, tax-exempt charities.  The trends in endowment payout rates show that, even in a good economy, the wealthiest institutions hardly ever exceeded a payout of 5 percent.  The trends also show that my concerns about a 5 percent payout rate being a ceiling rather than a floor are valid.  Private foundations have to pay out at least 5 percent every year, and that's become a ceiling for them.

"These same billion-dollar endowments are also making significantly greater investments in alternative strategies when compared to their smaller counterparts.  These alternative strategies include illiquid investments such as hedge funds and private equity funds, many of which are likely offshore.  They also include investments in commodities and distressed debt.  These strategies may be legal but they're not necessarily responsible.  And when the economy declined and students and their families needed the most tuition assistance, many of these institutions raised tuition and lowered endowment payouts because they couldn't liquidate their investments in these alternative strategies."

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Grassley re-introduces bill to apply health care reforms to White House and administration leaders, and equitably in Congress

WASHINGTON - January 26, 2011 - Senator Chuck Grassley today renewed his effort to apply the health care reform law to the President, Vice President, cabinet members, top White House staff, and the congressional staff who worked for passage of the massive overhaul enacted in March 2010.

Previous legislative initiatives by Grassley to establish accountability in Congress and the administration were rebuffed, both in 2009 and 2010, by the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate.  "As a result, the health care reforms driven by President Obama and Senator Reid do not apply to President Obama and top administration officials or to the powerful congressional leadership staff who helped to make the overhaul the law of the land," Grassley said.  "The message to grassroots America is that health care reform is good enough for you, but not for us."

Grassley said that now that a new Congress has started, Senate leaders have another chance to make things right and should act immediately to pass his Health Reform Accountability Act.  "Until the health care overhaul is repealed and replaced with reforms that have broad-based support, the majority leadership in the Senate and the administration ought to make sure they are required to live under the health care law they put on the books."

Grassley started his accountability effort in September 2009, when the Finance Committee, where he served as Ranking Member, was acting on its reform proposal.  Committee members approved a Grassley amendment to have members of Congress and all congressional staff obtain their health insurance through the same health insurance exchanges where health plans for the general public would be available.  After the bill left committee and during the closed-door reworking of the legislation in the Senate Majority Leader's office, Senate committee and leadership staffs were exempted from the requirement.

In December 2010, when the carve-out was discovered, Grassley and Senator Tom Coburn offered an amendment to restore the requirement for all congressional staff and also to statutorily require the President, the Vice President, top White House staff and cabinet members to get their health insurance through the newly created exchanges.  The amendment did not apply to federal employees in the civil service.  The Grassley-Coburn amendment was never brought up for a vote.  The legislative fix also was not included in the final manager's amendment, controlled by the Senate Majority Leader, on Christmas Eve, when the Senate passed the legislation that ultimately became law.  Grassley made another attempt to have the special carve-out removed during Senate consideration of the health-care reconciliation bill in March 2010.  Again, he was rebuffed.  Grassley filed the same free-standing legislation introduced today immediately following final passage, but it has never been brought up by the Senate Majority Leader, who controls the calendar and Senate businesss.

Grassley said the motivation for his initiative is simple:  public officials who make the laws or lead efforts to have laws changed should live under those laws.  "It's the same principle that motivated me to pursue legislation over 20 years ago to apply civil rights, labor and employment laws to Congress," Grassley said.

That previous Grassley crusade met success in 1995, when President Clinton signed into law Grassley's Congressional Accountability Act.  Before then, Congress had routinely exempted itself from major laws, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Veteran's Employment and Reemployment Rights at Chapter 43 of Title 38 of the U.S. Code, and the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1989.  All 12 of those laws now apply to Congress, thanks to Grassley's reform legislation.

Today, Grassley also is working to make sure Congress lives up to the same standards it imposes on others with legislation such as his Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act.

As far as the health care law, as it stands today, because of the amendment Grassley included in the Finance Committee bill, at least members of Congress and their personal office staffs will be required to obtain their health insurance coverage through the newly created health care exchanges, when the law takes full effect in 2014, instead of the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program.

In March 2010, the White House announced that the President planned to participate in the health insurance exchanges in 2014.  Grassley said at the time that the move effectively endorsed his legislation.  "I appreciate it, but the principle of living under the law shouldn't be voluntary for political leaders."

The companion bill to the legislation filed today by Grassley was introduced last week in the House of Representatives by Representative Michael Burgess of Texas.  It's H.R.360.

 

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WASHINGTON - January 26, 2011 - Senator Chuck Grassley is an original cosponsor of a bill by Senator David Vitter of Louisiana which permanently eliminates the automatic pay raise for members of Congress that exists in current law.

"There is definitely a lack of accountability to the American people when members of Congress receive an automatic pay raise without a yes-or-no vote," Grassley said. "If members of Congress think they deserve a raise, they should have the guts to vote publicly for it."

Grassley has consistently worked to stop automatic pay raises for members of Congress since he has been in Congress.  Grassley has also recently been part of the successful efforts to block the scheduled congressional pay raise for 2010 and 2011.

The legislation would eliminate the automatic pay increase and require any provision included in a bill that would increase congressional pay to receive a roll-call vote in the Senate before it can pass. Under current law, members of Congress automatically receive an increase each year based on a cost-of-living-adjustment, unless the Congress takes action otherwise, as it did for 2010 and 2011.

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KOHL, GRASSLEY: STOPPING "PAY-FOR-DELAY" DEALS ESSENTIAL TO LOWERING RX DRUG COSTS

Bipartisan effort to speed less expensive generic prescription drugs to market

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Herb Kohl and Chuck Grassley have reintroduced legislation limiting pay-for-delay settlements used to keep lower-cost generic drugs off pharmacy shelves.  Under these pay-off agreements, brand name drug companies settle patent disputes by paying the generic drug manufacturer in exchange for a promise that it will keep its generic version of the drug off the market. Kohl and Grassley's "Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act" will stop this anti-consumer practice by presuming these deals illegal, and giving the FTC the authority to stop them.

"Generic drugs save consumers and the federal government money, to the tune of billions of dollars a year. But in order to freeze out competition and delay entry of low cost generic drugs for consumers, brand-name drug companies pay-off generic manufactures to keep their products off the market.  It is past time to put an end to these backroom deals and pass this bipartisan legislation," Kohl said.

"These agreements between generic and brand name pharmaceutical manufacturers are only serving to line the pockets of the companies.  When people across the country are having a hard time making ends meet, this wheeling and dealing simply delays the entry of lower priced medicines into the marketplace, leaving consumers on the short end of the stick," Grassley said.

A compromise version of this legislation passed the Judiciary Committee in late 2009 and was included in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee last year. Final passage of the bill stalled when the House and Senate failed to agree on an Omnibus Appropriations package last month.

The Federal Trade Commission has estimated that stopping these types of settlement agreements would save consumers at least $35 billion over the next ten years, and provide significant cost savings in the amount of $12 billion over ten years for the federal government, which pays approximately one-third of all prescription drug costs. A recent CBO report estimates that the federal government could save $2.68 billion over ten years, should this bill become law

Despite the FTC's opposition to pay-for-delay patent settlements, two 2005 appellate court decisions have permitted these payoffs.  In the two years after these two decisions, the FTC has found nearly half of all patent settlements involved payments from the brand name from the generic manufacturer in return for an agreement by the generic to keep its drug off the market.  According to a study by Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA), health plans and consumers could save $26.4 billion over the next five years by using the generic versions of 14 popular drugs that are scheduled to lose their patent protections before 2010.

Brand-name drug companies and generic manufacturers routinely enter into settlement agreements to end drug patent litigation, but until 2005, none of them included pay-for-delay provisions. From 2000 to 2004, companies assumed such agreements violated antitrust law.  But in 2005, following three courts of appeals decisions that prevented the FTC from taking action on behalf of consumers, pay-for-delay settlements became commonplace. In the four years following these court decisions 63 out of 194 patent settlements had provisions in which the brand name drug company made payments to the generic manufacturer in exchange for the generic manufacturer agreeing to delay entry of generic competition.  In 2009, there were a record 19 pay-for-delay settlement agreements that kept generics off the market.

Last Congress, Kohl served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights. Grassley is the incoming Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee.

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...Legislation Bolsters Economy Without Adding To The Deficit

WASHINGTON (Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011) - A bipartisan group of Senators will introduce patent reform legislation when the Senate returns to session next week, Senate Judiciary Committee Members Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced Thursday.  The Judiciary Committee has worked to advance patent reform legislation since 2006.  Leahy is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has included the Patent Reform Act of 2011 on the Committee's first executive business meeting agenda.  Hatch is the Committee's senior Republican member and a former Chairman, and Grassley is the panel's incoming Ranking Republican.

The Patent Reform Act of 2011, which will be introduced on Jan. 25, mirrors key improvements to the long-pending legislation that were announced last March as part of an compromise reached by the bill's lead sponsors with then-Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and others.  The legislation will make the first significant changes to the nation's patent system in nearly 60 years, creating jobs without adding to the nation's deficit.  The legislation remains based on the original version introduced in the 109th Congress by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Congressman Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

"Patent reform is a commonsense, bipartisan effort to protect jobs and bolster the economy," said Leahy.  "The Patent Reform Act of 2011 is the product of years of careful consideration and compromise.  Promoting economic growth continues to be a top priority for both Democrats and Republicans, and patent reform is part of that effort.  This has always been a bipartisan, bicameral effort, and I look forward to working with Senator Hatch, Senator Grassley and others and with Chairman Smith in the House to enact meaningful reform this year.  This will be the first piece of legislation considered by the Judiciary Committee this year, and I hope the Senate will act promptly on this job-creating bill.  Action by Congress can no longer be delayed."

"Reforming our patent system is a critical priority whose time has more than come.  It is essential to growing our economy, creating jobs and promoting innovation in our nation," said Hatch.  "Working alongside Senate Judiciary Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, I know we can move this critical legislation forward."

"The United States is the most innovative country in the world," said Grassley.  "An efficient patent system is a necessary component to continuing and enhancing this job creating ingenuity and entrepreneurship. I look forward to working with Chairman Leahy and Senator Hatch to move this important legislation forward."

The Patent Reform Act makes changes to first-window post-grant review, inter partes review, willfulness, interlocutory appeals, Patent and Trademark Office funding, and supplemental examinations.  The legislation will also transition the nation's patent system to a first-inventor-to-file system and will provide certainty in damages calculations.  The legislation will also include important provisions to improve patent quality.

The compromise legislation on which the patent Reform Act of 2011 is based was supported by the Obama administration and by industries and stakeholders, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the United Steelworkers, the National Venture Capital Association, the American Association of Universities, and companies representing all sectors of the patent community who have been urging action on patent reform proposals for years.

This will be the fourth consecutive Congress in which comprehensive patent reform legislation has been introduced.  The Senate Judiciary Committee has held eight hearings in the last three Congresses examining the need for patent reform.  The Senate Judiciary Committee approved patent reform legislation in 2009.  That bill was cosponsored by 15 Senators.  In September, 25 Senators joined together to urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to schedule floor time to consider the legislation.

The text of the Patent Reform Act of 2011 is available online.

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WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today announced that Tyler John Husar of Muscatine has been selected to attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  Husar is a student at Muscatine High School, and is the son of Cindy L. Husar.

"The U.S. service academies offer students an excellent education and an opportunity to serve their country at the highest level.  I'm proud that another young Iowan is meeting the challenge at one of these great institutions," Grassley said.  "The Naval Academy accepts only the best and brightest, and Tyler will represent Iowa well on campus."

Each year, Grassley nominates young Iowans for the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in King's Point, NY.  Information on the application process is available on Grassley's website at http://grassley.senate.gov/info/academy_nominations.cfm.  Applications for the 2012 school year are due on October 1, 2011.

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January 12, 2011

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today responded to comments from two senators that a tariff on ethanol imports likely violates international trade rules, as Brazil argues in opposition to U.S. ethanol policy.  Grassley comment:

"This isn't a question for debate.  The highest authority on U.S. trade policy said more than two years ago that the U.S. ethanol tariff is clearly permitted under World Trade Organization rules.  Besides, the United States already provides generous duty-free access to ethanol from Brazil and other countries imported under the Caribbean Basin Initiative, but the CBI cap has never once been filled.  In fact, as of December 20, Brazil and other countries filled the cap for 2010 less than 1 percent."

A letter from then-United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab to Grassley concluding that the U.S. ethanol tariff is WTO-compliant is available here.  A letter from Grassley to Schwab is available here.

January 5, 2011                                                                       

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.

Here is the text of Grassley's statement delivered on the Senate floor this afternoon.

Madam President, my colleagues as well as any of the public watching the debate today knows that there's a great partisan divide thus far.  Senator Wyden has already referred to the motion that he and I are putting before the Senate, and Senator Wyden being the Democrat and my being a Republican, and we're joined also by Senator McCaskill, the presiding officer right now, as well as Senator Collins in this effort, it is the only bipartisan issue before the Senate this particular day.  I emphasize that because I think the public ought to know that not everything in the Senate is partisan.

Senator Wyden and I have been chipping away at the informal backroom process known as "secret hold" in the Senate.  We've been working on this for well over ten years.  So it shouldn't surprise anyone that we're back again at the start of another Congress joined as I said by Senator McCaskill of Missouri who was very helpful in our pushing this issue to the forefront at the end of the last congress.  As I said, I'm also pleased that we have Senator Collins on board again.

There's been a lot of talk lately about the possibility of far reaching reforms to how the Senate does business that have been hastily conceived and could shift the traditional balance between the rights of the majority and rights of the minority parties. Now, in contrast, our resolution by Senator Wyden and this Senator is neither of those two things.  In other words, it does not shift any balance between the majority and the minority.

This resolution is a well-thought-out, bipartisan reform effort that has been the subject of two committee hearings and numerous careful revisions over several years.  In no way does it alter the balance of power between the minority and majority parties, nor does it change any rights of any individual senator.  This is simply about transparency, and with transparency I think you get a great deal of accountability.

I want to be very clear that I fully support the fundamental right of any individual Senator to withhold his consent when unanimous consent is requested.  In the old days, when senators conducted much of their daily business from their desk on the Senate floor and were on the Senate floor for most of the day, it was quite a simple matter for any Senator at that time to stand up and say, "I object" when necessary, if they really objected to a unanimous consent request.  And that was it. That stopped it.

Now since most senators spend most of their time off the Senate floor because of the obligations for committee hearings, the obligations for meeting with constituents, and a lot of other obligations that we have, we now tend to rely upon our Majority Leader, in the case of the Democrats, or the Minority Leader in the case of the Republicans, to protect our rights and privileges by asking those leaders or their substitutes to object on our behalf.

Just as any Senator has the right to stand up on the Senate floor and publicly say "I object," it is perfectly legitimate to ask another Senator to object on our behalf if he cannot make it to the floor when unanimous consent is requested.  By the same token, senators have no inherent right to have others object on their behalf while at the same time keeping their identity secret, thus shielding their legislative actions from the public, because that's not transparency, and that's obviously not being accountable.

So, what I object to is not the use of the word "holds" or the process of holding up something in the Senate, but I object to what is called secret holds.   So the adjective "secret" is what we're fighting here.  If a senate then has a legitimate reason to object to proceedings to a bill or nominee, then he or she ought to have the guts to do so publicly.  A Senator may object because he does not agree to the substance of a bill and, therefore, cannot in good conscience grant consent or because a Senator has not had adequate opportunity to review the matter at hand.  Regardless, we should have no fear of being held accountable by our constituents if we're acting in their interests, as we're elected to do.

I have practiced publicly announcing my holds for many, many years, and it hasn't hurt one bit.  In fact, some of the senators that are most conscientious about protecting their prerogatives to review legislation before granting consent to its consideration or passage are also quite public about it.  In short, there is no legitimate reason for any Senator to ever have to, if they place a hold to have that hold be secret.

So, how does our proposal achieve transparency and the resultant accountability?  In our proposed standing order for the Majority Leader or Minority Leader to recognize a hold, the Senator placing the hold must get a statement in the record within one session day and must give permission to their leader at the time they place the hold to object in their name, not in the name of the leader.  Since the leader will automatically have permission to name the Senator on whose behalf they're objecting, there will no longer be any expectation or pressure on the leader to keep the hold secret.  Further, if a Senator objects to a unanimous consent request and does not name another Senator as having the objection, then the objecting Senator will be listed as having the hold.  This will end entirely, once and for all, the situation where one Senator objects but is able to remain very, very coy about whether it is their own objection or some unnamed Senator.  All objections will have to be owned up to.

Again, our proposal protects the rights of individual senators to withhold their consent while ensuring transparency and public accountability.  And, you know, here in the Congress as well as almost any place in the federal government, except maybe national security issues, the public's business always ought to be public, and the people who are involved in the public's business ought to stand behind their actions.  As I have repeatedly said, the Senate's business ought to be done more in the public than it is, and most of it is public.  But, this secret hold puts a mystery about things going on in Washington that hurts the credibility of the institution.  This principle of accountability and transparency, this is a principle that I think the vast majority, if not all, senators can get behind.

I think the time has come for this simple, commonsense reform.

 

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