Disclosure: I'm going to be doing paid work as a Fellow for ProgressiveCongress.org in addressing the necessity of cloture reform in the Senate. The Fund is being supported in part by CREDO Action and Blue America. You can help support this work by signing CREDO Action's petition and/or donating at Blue America's ActBlue page.
Annoyed Senators are at it again today, railing against the so-called "secret hold," and promising to end it once and for all, this time by shortening the ineffective and unenforceable six-day grace period for putting a name to a hold to two days, at which point the demand will also be ineffective and unenforceable.
Once again, I contend that there's simply no way to force a Senator to put his or her name to a hold. So long as the Senate attempts to bring a bill or nomination to the floor by unanimous consent, all anyone needs to do is object and claim that they object on someone else's behalf to prevent the bill from moving. And absolutely nothing about that process, nor any change that can be made to it, can force the objecting Senator to give up that name.
But there is a way to put a name there, nonetheless. And it exists right now, and requires exactly zero changes to the rules. And it's simple as all hell: the Senator who objects owns that hold.
The convenient fiction of the "secret hold" is that one's fellow Senators agree not to hold an objecting Senator's obstruction against him personally, so long as he contends that he's objecting on someone else's behalf. But why would anyone allow this fiction to continue? An objection is an objection, and it extinguishes an unanimous consent request just as surely as if the Senator allegedly objecting in secret had done it himself. So why permit obstructionists to hide behind a colleague's cloak?
What I suggest instead is, when a Senator objects to an unanimous consent request, you say so. When someone asks -- whether it be another Senator or a member of the press -- who's holding that bill, tell the damn truth. Tell them who actually objected.
Why shouldn't it be uncomfortable to have to explain the nuance? Why shouldn't it be uncomfortable to have to claim you're "just the messenger?" Everybody saw you object. So own it.
The idea here is that Senators should make it so personally and politically uncomfortable to let someone else hide beneath your hoopskirts that... Senators won't really want to do it anymore.
Of course, the better idea is to make the motion to proceed non-debatable. Neither solution actually ends holds, since the power to exercise one really grows out of the filibuster. It will require filibuster reform to do away with the power of the hold, or at least reduce it. But if the objection is to the secrecy, then I say, stop pretending that there's some imaginary power to hide. Blame the Senator who objects and be done with it.