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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.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Thu May 13, 2010 at 05:30 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I like your idea: (7+ / 0-)

    but was still kinda hoping for a post on jiu-jitsu.

    "a lie that can no longer be challenged becomes a form of madness" -Debord

    by grollen on Thu May 13, 2010 at 05:34:39 PM PDT

  •  Thanks. I rely so much on what you say it would (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MadRuth, ezdidit, Scioto, ontheleftcoast

    be scary for you if you knew.

    It's time for trains. Choo baby Choo

    by 88kathy on Thu May 13, 2010 at 05:38:38 PM PDT

  •  Instead of hiding behind rather silly and arcane (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MadRuth, docstymie, ezdidit, zapus

    rules, which is a bit like hiding behind a colleague's trouser cuffs or skirts, members should be required to step forward and be open about what they're doing. I have no objections to "holds" per se, but strongly object to the so-called "secret" ones.

    It's time these people start acting like adults of the mature variety.

    •  I do object to holds (5+ / 0-)

      Why should one senator have the right to hold anything up?  That said, the "secret hold" is just another way to make our government more dysfunctional.  

      Real conservatives are conservative. They like rules governing everything. American conservatives only like rules governing other people's pleasure. Digby

      by MadRuth on Thu May 13, 2010 at 05:45:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The entire notion of the hold spins (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MadRuth, brein

        off the Senate using the Rule of Unanimous Consent to get so much of its business done. At one time the notion of a hold was, in effect, a warning that a filibuster would be launched if a particular bill in a particular form came to the floor. Now, however, senators have been using what are known as "tag team holds," which effectively keep the holders anonymous. It has become an unsightly mess.

        Given the incredible partisan divide we now see, I'm not sure the Senate can continue to function as a truly deliberative body under the longstanding rules of debate they have used. While a tad arcane, there is a certain comfort in the old ways. Unfortunately, they no longer seem to work. Too many members are interested in scoring points more than in accomplishing anything substantive.

    •  That would be great. (0+ / 0-)

      There's just no way to make them do that.

  •  McCaskill (5+ / 0-)

    She was crowing about getting 60 signatures to her letter on Twitter yesterday. I just gave her a reply with a link here:

    @clairecmc secret holds don't have to be secret. Stand up for real! http://bit.ly/... #senate #MO #DailyKos

    @docstymie

    I'm a Bobby Kennedy Democrat

    by docstymie on Thu May 13, 2010 at 05:43:45 PM PDT

  •  85% of America thinks Congress is broken--- (5+ / 0-)

    it's crap like the holds and filibusters that make it that way.

    Senate rules need major overhaul----as GOP has thoroughly abused them in the last few years.

    •  Honestly (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cybersaur, Cartoon Peril

      more and more the Senate looks like some elitist fraternity (Skull and Bones, maybe?) in which you have to sign on to being a total ass, or the big guys won't let you play.  You almost wonder - if W had branded their butts in their initiation would they be pissed or proud?

      Real conservatives are conservative. They like rules governing everything. American conservatives only like rules governing other people's pleasure. Digby

      by MadRuth on Thu May 13, 2010 at 05:51:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Transparency shouldn't just be the things (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    docstymie, Cartoon Peril, dadadata

    you put on the old overhead projectors. I like this, make them own the problem. It'll give us a name and a face on which to hang stalled financial reform. A name and a face on which to blame for climate change. And that's while they'll fight it tooth and nail. Is the CREDO action thing tied to Credo Mobile?

    Wal*Mart isn't the root of all evil but you can buy the plastic, cadmium-tainted, Chinese knock-off of it there for $4.27

    by ontheleftcoast on Thu May 13, 2010 at 05:44:32 PM PDT

  •  It's no more ficticious than any other (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Elwood Dowd, HiBob

    Senate practice.

    As long as they abide by the practice, it's real. If they change their practice, it will cease to exist.

    For wisdom on the nature of reality, it's always good to consult the 3 baseball umpires:

    1. "I call strikes as I see 'em!"
    1. "I call strikes as they are!"
    1. "Until I call 'em, they ain't."

    With regards to what exists in the way of Senate practices, the Senate is umpire #3. It says so in the Constitution.

  •  The whole concept seems (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify, Cartoon Peril

    so weird anyway.

    Can't anyone just object to something and say it's on behalf of someone else, even when it's really not?

    Help me, Professor Guyfucker! - dkos hatemail

    by indiemcemopants on Thu May 13, 2010 at 05:46:42 PM PDT

  •  All it requires is the cooperation of a (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify, HiBob

    sophisticated news media.

    When McConnell says, "I object on behalf of a colleague, as has been practice for decades" the media reports only the Democratic position that McConnell owns the hold.

    That's all.

  •  The secrecy is a red herring (6+ / 0-)

    It makes it slightly less embarrassing, but it wouldn't change a thing if it went away.  What is really going on with all of these holds is that this is a concerted effort by the Republicans to prevent the administration from staffing up as long as possible so that the departments in the executive branch continue to be run by acting administrators left over from the Bush administration.  This is important to them because the Bush administration turned the federal government into a one stop shop for servicing the business community.  Every department of the federal government was made into a service organization for the industries that it used to oversee.  So the FDA is now there to service the Drug industry.  The DOE is there to service the oil and gas industry.  As well as Interior which adds mining to the portfolio.  Changing this culture will cost business in the form of increased regulation and less sweetheart contracts.  They know this.  The new people are itching to make these changes, to change the culture.  But one way to delay that change is to prevent the positions from being filled as long as possible and keep the old guard in those jobs, as well as those who burrowed into civil service jobs.

    If they lose the ability to do secret holds, that won't slow them down.  They will simply rotate.  Share the burden.  Share the embarassment.  They figure no one is really paying much attention anyway.  And they are probably correct.  There is a lot of money on the table and the clock is ticking.

    •  Yes indeed. But I think this idea is a very (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cybersaur

      good one to get things moving.  The plug of bills and nominations is huge.  Like a cork in a bottle or something.

      "Never, desist till we ... extinguish this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, will scarce believe that it suffered a disgrace and dishonor to this country.

      by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Thu May 13, 2010 at 06:22:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That's correct. (0+ / 0-)

      The problem isn't the secrecy. And it's not the holds. It's the filibuster that underlies it.

      Which is why no one should spend any serious time on holds, secret or otherwise.

      •  It's the floor time it takes to end a filibuster, (0+ / 0-)

        and not the filibuster itself, that gives a 'hold' its power.

        Let me illustrate: Sen. McConnell, on behalf of Sen. Gopbozo, objects to unanimous consent on a motion to proceed.

        That means they have to file for cloture on the motion to proceed, wait 48 hours for the cloture motion to ripen, hold the cloture vote, then have 30 hours of debate on the motion to proceed, then vote on the motion to proceed.  Lather, rinse, repeat with the bill or nomination itself.

        Making the motion to proceed non-filibusterable would help, but a 'hold' would have no power at all if the cloture motion could 'ripen' in 48 hours of real (rather than Senate floor) time, and debate after the cloture vote was limited to, say, one hour for each side to sum up their arguments.

        I'm all for getting rid of filibusters almost entirely, but one doesn't need to go nearly that far to end the 'hold.'

        •  Making the motion non-debatable... (0+ / 0-)

          saves you one round of cloture proceedings.

          Cloture motions do ripen on calendar time, not session time.

          Yes, it's technically accurate to say it's not the filibuster, it's the time it takes to end a filibuster with cloture. But it's also technically accurate to say that eating poison isn't the problem, it's what happens to you after you eat it.

  •  A@@holes just want to slow things down (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SW

    and drag them out to the fall. It's their only plan. If all they have to show for their abnegation and non-performance is Democratic progress on legislation, they may be more unpopular than ever.

    They only call it class war when we fight back! h/t: buhdydharma

    by ezdidit on Thu May 13, 2010 at 05:54:22 PM PDT

  •  Why a petition? (0+ / 0-)

    Wouldn't a Senator chuckle guessing 90% of the people who signed it will have no damn idea what this is about.

  •  Demint blocked the bill (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ezdidit, BarackStarObama, zapus

    He attached a borders strengthening amendment to it for the PURPOSE OF KILLING THE BILL.  Wyden was pissed.

  •  Good idea. But it's just a symptom of the disease (0+ / 0-)

    The real cure is majority rule. Now that all the likely possible next Majority Leaders say they support filibuster reform, do you think it will happen?

  •  Let's call it what it is: A LIE! (0+ / 0-)

    Equivocation be damned, this is keeping secrets and a lie.
    Keeping a man's identity secret for his own actions is false witness.

    How about it, "religious right"?  Ready to bear false witness?

  •  wait (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CA Berkeley WV

    You're being paid to address the need for cloture reform?  Hell, where do I sign up.  I'm all for that too.

  •  I know David told me he has no answer for this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BarackStarObama

    but motion to proceed and unanimous consent are the senate rules in a nut shell, and they used to have votes during the beginning leader time or morning hour, some kind of test votes since it could not be stopped except by showing up and voting it down right then.

    hidden in Rule 7 is morning hour

    1. Until the morning business shall have been concluded, and so announced from the Chair, or until one hour after the Senate convenes at the beginning of a new legislative day, no motion to proceed to the consideration of any bill, resolution, report of a committee, or other subject upon the Calendar shall be entertained by the Presiding Officer, unless by unanimous consent: Provided, however, That on Mondays which are the beginning of a legislative day the Calendar shall be called under rule VIII, and until two hours after the Senate convenes no motion shall be entertained to proceed to the consideration of any bill, resolution, or other subject upon the Calendar except the motion to continue the consideration of a bill, resolution, or other subject against objection as provided in rule VIII, or until the call of the Calendar has been completed.
    1. The Presiding Officer may at any time lay, and it shall be in order at any time for a Senator to move to lay, before the Senate, any bill or other matter sent to the Senate by the President or the House of Representatives for appropriate action allowed under the rules and any question pending at that time shall be suspended for this purpose. Any motion so made shall be determined without debate.

    And in Rule 8

    1. All motions made during the first two hours of a new legislative day to proceed to the consideration of any matter shall be determined without debate, except motions to proceed to the consideration of any motion, resolution, or proposal to change any of the Standing Rules of the Senate shall be debatable. Motions made after the first two hours of a new legislative day to proceed to the consideration of bills and resolutions are debatable.

    proceeding to the executive executive calendar, that is never debatable at any time I believe.

    Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices -- François-Marie Arouet

    by CA Berkeley WV on Thu May 13, 2010 at 06:35:39 PM PDT

  •  The page at the back of the executive calendar (0+ / 0-)

    for the notice to object is supposed to have names on it. Why is an objection recognized by the chair unless printed in the calendar "notice to object"?

    When following the objection to a unanimous consent request to proceeding to, and, or passage of, a measure or matter on their
    behalf, a Senator has notified the appropriate leader, or their designee, in writing and submits such objection for inclusion in the
    Congressional Record and the Senate Executive Calendar, it shall be placed in the section of the Executive Calendar entitled "Notice
    of Intent to Object to Proceeding". (Sec. 512, P.L. 110-81)

    Coburn has his in there. He followed the rules. So you are saying that objections are recognized. And whose decision is that, hmm?

    I keep hearing  "the objection is heard" well this requires them to be written, although they can dawdle for six days and Emily Litella never mind over and over.

    Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices -- François-Marie Arouet

    by CA Berkeley WV on Thu May 13, 2010 at 07:57:30 PM PDT

  •  The real fiction (0+ / 0-)

    is that the other Senators aren't behind the 'secret' hold.  Obviously, they have the power to change things, to make the process transparent or to hold stonewallers accountable.

    The truth is, the 'secret' hold comes in handy when the majority of Senators hate a bill that the public support.  Thus, they can blame an 'anonymous' Senator for the roadblock and flee unscathed.

  •  how can (0+ / 0-)

    they object on somebodys behalf , but not vote for something on somebodys behalf?

  •  Lawyers, lawyers, lawyers ... (0+ / 0-)

    as someone said in a fine phrase in another diary:

    "trained to manipulate abstractions."

    Senators, Senators, Senators:

    "We're the Senate. We create our own reality."

  •  All Votes *By Name* (0+ / 0-)

    Every motion in the Senate should be subject to a recorded vote, which records the totals for/against by name. Including "unanimous consent" motions.

    It's insane that "the greatest deliberative body in the world" doesn't require every decision to list the individual decisions of its merely 100 members.

    And while they're at it, let them vote by secure methods from their in-state offices. Indeed, require them to spend at least 2/3 of the weeks in the year (35 weeks, at least 4 days per week) in their state.

    If anyone else treated their job as the optional no-show that Senators did, they'd be fired and unemployable.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Fri May 14, 2010 at 06:41:39 AM PDT

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