Alexander: Democratic Leader Imposing “Gag Rule” on Senators of Both Parties

Says action “blocks our ability to have a say on behalf of the people we’re elected to represent”

June 20, 2014 - June 20, 2014

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“There have been 810 Republican amendments offered since last July on the floor of the Senate, and there have been roll call votes on only 9 …. There have been nearly 700 Democrat amendments offered and you’ve gotten 7 votes. Now my question is [to Democrat senators]: ‘Why would you put up with that?’” – Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, June 20 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) yesterday said that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid is imposing a “gag rule” on senators of both political parties that thwarts their ability “to have a say on behalf of the people we’re elected to represent.”

Alexander said, “There have been 810 Republican amendments offered since last July on the floor of the Senate, and there have been roll call votes on only 9 …. There have been nearly 700 Democrat amendments offered and you’ve gotten 7 votes,” Alexander said. “Now my question is, ‘Why would you put up with that?’”

Alexander made his comments at an appropriations committee meeting this morning after the Energy and Water appropriations bill was dropped from the agenda because, he said, Democrats were “afraid amendments would be offered that would not produce the result that they wanted.”

He said that the gag rule has “moved from the Senate floor to the committee room.” Alexander said that last week the committee canceled consideration of the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill, preventing him from offering four relevant amendments. 

Alexander said, “The imposition of the gag rule by the Majority Leader [saying] you can’t have a vote on Benghazi, Iran, on this or that, because it doesn’t fit what somebody thinks the result ought to be …. That cannot be not the way the U.S. Senate works. We’re [elected] to have a say on behalf of the people we represent.”

“This is the ‘most significant tribunal in the world’ [because] there is no other body where the purpose is to have extended debate on difficult issues until you reach a consensus. Then you cut off debate, and the country accepts the consensus … The only way to govern a complex country like this one is by consensus,” he said, quoting former Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

A full transcript of Alexander’s statement at yesterday’s hearing follows:

Thank you, Madam Chairman, and thanks for your characteristic fairness and the way you structure things. I want you to know, I’ve mentioned to you privately Senator Shelby and I and others have been working to try to make sure that by noon we’re able to move forward on the floor on the three bills that have already been reported by the committee. And we’re optimistic and hopeful that we will.  You have tried hard working with us, to get us back to a regular appropriations process, so I thank you for that.

Let me phrase what I have to say this way: Last week I was with several senators at a dinner with an ambassador from another country. And he said how much he envied the United States Senate and how many countries in the world wish they have a body like this. It has been called the “one authentic piece of genius in our Constitutional structure.”

And the reason for that is that there is no other body in the world where the purpose is to have extended debate on difficult issues until you reach a consensus. And then you cut off debate and the country accepts the consensus. Senator Gregg used to say the only way to govern a complex country like this one is by consensus. And you get that after extended debate, which is why I’m so troubled by the decision today to, I hope temporarily, not deal with the Energy and Water Bill which is such a terrific piece of legislation that the senator from California has worked on with me, among others. There is no one I respect more in the Senate than the senator from California. But I hope we think about what we’re doing.

There have been, according to Senator Barrasso, who’s counted them, 810 Republican amendments offered since last July on the floor of the Senate, and there have been roll call votes on 9 of them, other than nominations. But there have been nearly 700 Democrat amendments offered on the floor of the Senate and you’ve gotten 7 votes. Now my question is, “Why would you put up with that?” to my Democratic friends. Since last July, you’ve gotten 7 votes on the floor of the Senate because of the imposition of the gag rule by the Majority Leader, which said you can’t have a vote on Benghazi, Iran, on this or that, because it doesn’t fit what somebody thinks the result ought to be.

Madam Chairman, that cannot be the way the U.S. Senate works for Republicans, for Democrats, for the Majority, or for the Minority. We’re supposed to have a say on behalf of the people we represent.

Last week, I was prepared to offer four amendments on the Labor Health Appropriations bill. They were relevant amendments, they were germane, they were important. One was about the college rating system, one was about NLRB, one was about No Child Left Behind, and one was about more disclosure on Obamacare. I understand the Labor Health Appropriations bill was canceled because we didn’t want amendments. And then when the senator from California called to tell me that we would not be debating our bill today, I was so disappointed because it seems to me that the only reason for that is that there might be amendments that might come out in a way that the Democratic leadership doesn’t want it to come out.

Well, that happens all the time in the United States Senate. We still have to go to the floor. We still have to go to conference. We still have a president who can veto whatever he wants. So, I hope we get back to the idea that we should debate big issues until we get a consensus. We have one on the Energy and Water bill. It modernizes weapons, it deals with flood control, it has an important pilot program for nuclear waste. Senator Feinstein and I eliminated a program that will save more than $6 billion over several years. If we go to a CR [continuing resolution], we’ll just keep wasting money that we shouldn’t be wasting.

So, I would implore my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I think we should get busy debating the bills on the floor of the Senate, on the three bills that have been reported, and I hope that we do that by noon today. And I hope we spend days on it and we have a reasonable number of germane amendments the way the Senate always has. And I hope in committee we vote on the Energy and Water bill specifically, and that it comes to the floor; it was unanimously approved to come to this committee. There might be three or four amendments, maybe they’re important, maybe they’re controversial, maybe they’ll come out in a different way than the Democratic leadership would like. But that’s what we do in the United States Senate. And I hope we’ll think about that, and not just today, but in the future. I want that ambassador to go home and say that this body is the most significant tribunal in the world. And when it acts like this it’s not. I thank the chairman for yielding me time.

 

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