Deliberation vs. Hotlining
Today's Downsizer-Dispatch . . .
Quote of the Day:
"Frankly, it is too easy to pass bills. Bills flow through this body like water."
-- Sen. Jeff Sessions
In our system of government, Senators have longer terms than Representatives. In theory, this gives them freedom to be more far-sighted and more statesmanlike than Representatives, who are constantly seeking re-election. Sometimes, democratic passions cause the House to pass popular but seriously flawed bills, and the framers of the Constitution created the Senate so that cooler heads would prevail. It seemed to work: for generations the Senate was considered the "world's greatest deliberative body."
But today, the Senate passes most bills unread and without any deliberation. In fact, bills are often rushed through without Senators even knowing about them. Their "consent" to a bill is assumed, and this leads to bills being passed by "unanimous consent." It is a process called "hotlining." Paul Jacob has a good column on it this week.
A Senator's office is notified by phone of a bill that both the majority leader and minority leader would like to see passed without debate. The Senator's staff is given a deadline to place a "hold" on the bill. A hold can be placed for any number of reasons - the Senator may want to obstruct passage of the bill, as Sen. Stevens famously tried to obstruct the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act last year. Or, a Senator may place a hold if he or she wants to introduce an amendment. Or maybe the Senator just wants time to read and consider the bill. But there are many occasions when Senators aren't even given a fair chance to place a hold. As Sen. Sessions of Alabama tells it:
"In each Senate office there are three telephones with hotline buttons on them. Most evenings, sometimes after business hours, these phones begin to ring. The calls are from the Republican and the Democratic leaders to each of their Members, asking consent to pass this or that bill--not consider the bill or have debate on the bill but to pass it. Those calls will normally give a deadline. If the staff do not call back in 30 minutes, the bill passes. Boom. It can be 500 pages. In many offices, when staffers do not know anything about the bill, they usually ignore the hotline and let the bill pass without even informing their Senators. If the staff miss the hotline, or do not know about it or were not around, the Senator is deemed to have consented to the passage of some bill which might be quite an important piece of information." Source: Sessions' website
Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma elaborates:
"During the 109th Congress (2005-2006), 341 bills and joint resolutions were passed by the Senate. According to the Congressional Research Service, only 21 of those bills received a roll call vote on the Senate floor. That means 94 percent of law making measures that were passed through the Senate were passed by UC or by voice vote. A large majority of these were hotlined and therefore excluded from full and open debate and the amendment process. In the 109th Congress, 1,408 bills, resolutions, or nominations were attempted to be hotlined, with as many as 40 measures being hotlined in a single day." Source: Coburn's website
No wonder government grows so quickly. A Senator may have a headache and call it a night, and when he returns to his office the next day he finds out he "consented" to several bills he knew nothing about. Calling the Senate a "rubber stamp" is an insult to rubber stamps.
And it is we the people who suffer. We are the ones who must pay for the government's wasteful programs and obey its unnecessary laws. The least we should expect is that our representatatives in Congress read and understand the bills they pass. The least we should expect is that all bills actually come to a floor vote, and are not "passed" via telephone messages. That is why we must pressure Congress to pass the Read the Bills Act.
Tell Congress you are disgusted by procedures such as the Senate's hotlining process. Tell them that they should read and understand every bill they want passed, and that bills should actually be voted on in both chambers. Tell them to pass the Read the Bills Act.
Also, please help spread the word about the Read the Bills Act. One way to do this is through the Read the Bills Act Coalition. By adding your blog or website to the Coalition, you will direct your readers to the RTBA. In return, your site will be linked to on our blog. Go here for details.
Finally, last week the Senate passed 8 bills amounting to 462 pages of legislation. The House passed 17 bills and 295 pages. Almost all of them are worthy of comment, but we just don't have the time. The list of bills are found below my signature.
Thank you for being a DC Downsizer.
Assistant to the President
The following are the bills the House and Senate passed last week. The bills were passed by voice vote except where indicated. Roll call votes for the House are found here
, and for the Senate here
. The descriptions of bills are essentially taken verbatim from the Congressional Record Daily Digest.
Page numbers of bills are based on the pdf display of the latest version from the Government Printing Office.
Water Resources Development Act--Conference Report: By 81 yeas and 12 nays (Vote No. 347), Senate agreed to the conference report to accompany H.R. 1495, to provide for the conservation and development of water and related resources, to authorize the Secretary of the Army to construct various projects for improvements to rivers and harbors of the United States. 434 pages
Trade Act of 1974 Extension: Senate passed H.R. 3375, to extend the trade adjustment assistance program under the Trade Act of 1974 for 3 months, clearing the measure for the President. 3 pages
Tamper-Resistant Prescription Pads: Committee on Finance was discharged from further consideration of S. 2085, to delay for 6 months the requirement to use of tamper-resistant prescription pads under the Medicaid program, and the bill was then passed. 2 pages
Debt Limit Increase: By 53 yeas to 42 nays (Vote No. 354), Senate agreed to H.J. Res. 43, increasing the statutory limit on the public debt, clearing the measure for the President. 1 page
Continuing Appropriations: By 94 yeas to 1 nay (Vote No. 355), Senate agreed to H.J. Res. 52, making continuing appropriations for the fiscal year 2008, clearing the measure for the President. 10 pages
Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act: Committee on Veterans' Affairs was discharged from further consideration of H.R. 327, to amend title 38, United States Code, to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop and implement a comprehensive program designed to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans, and the bill was then passed. 8 pages
Secretary of Education Waiver Authority: Senate passed H.R. 3625, to make permanent the waiver authority of the Secretary of Education with respect to student financial assistance during a war or other military operation or national emergency, clearing the measure for the President. 1 page
Transitional Medical Assistance Extension: Senate passed H.R. 3668, to provide for the extension of transitional medical assistance (TMA), the abstinence education program, and the qualifying individuals (QI) program, clearing the measure for the President. 4 pages
Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commemoration Act of 2007: H.R. 1520, to establish the Champlain Quadricentennial Commemoration Commission and the Hudson-Fulton 400th Commemoration Commission. 36 pages
Star-Spangled Banner and War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission Act: H.R. 1389, amended, to establish the Star-Spangled Banner and War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. 19 pages
Authorizing grants for contributions toward the establishment of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library: H.R. 1664, to authorize grants for contributions toward the establishment of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library. 3 pages
Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2007: H.R. 3540, amended, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend the funding and expenditure authority of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. 6 pages
Pesticide Registration Improvement Renewal Act: S. 1983, to amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act to renew and amend the provisions for the enhanced review of covered pesticide products, to authorize fees for certain pesticide products, and to extend and improve the collection of maintenance fees--clearing the measure for the President. 8 pages
Drug Endangered Children Act of 2007: H.R. 1199, to extend the grant program for drug-endangered children, by a \2/3\ yea-and-nay vote of 389 yeas to 4 nays, Roll No. 893. 2 pages
Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007: H.R. 1400, amended, to enhance United States diplomatic efforts with respect to Iran by imposing additional economic sanctions against Iran, by a \2/3\ yea-and-nay vote of 397 yeas to 16 nays, Roll No. 895. 29 pages
Global Poverty Act of 2007: H.R. 1302, amended, to require the President to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to further the United States foreign policy objective of promoting the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty, and the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the proportion of people worldwide, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day. 10 pages
Making permanent the waiver authority of the Secretary of Education with respect to student financial assistance during a war or other military operation or national emergency: H.R. 3625, to make permanent the waiver authority of the Secretary of Education with respect to student financial assistance during a war or other military operation or national emergency. 1 page
Stop AIDS in Prison Act of 2007: H.R. 1943, amended, to provide for an effective HIV/AIDS program in Federal prisons. 14 pages
Extending the trade adjustment assistance program under the Trade Act of 1974 for 3 months: H.R. 3375, amended, to extend the trade adjustment assistance program under the Trade Act of 1974 for 3 months. 3 pages
Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007: The House agreed to the Senate amendments to H.R. 976, to amend title XXI of the Social Security Act to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program, by a yea-and-nay vote of 265 yeas to 159 nays with 1 voting ``present'', Roll No. 906, with the amendment printed in H. Rept. 110-346. 109 pages.
Making continuing appropriations for the fiscal year 2008: The House agreed to H.J. Res. 52, to make continuing appropriations for the fiscal year 2008, by a recorded vote of 404 ayes to 14 noes, Roll No. 911. 10 pages
Directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a standard regulating worker exposure to diacetyl: The House passed H.R. 2693, to direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a standard regulating worker exposure to diacetyl, by a yea-and-nay vote of 260 yeas to 154 nays with 2 voting ``present'', Roll No. 913. 8 pages
Providing for the extension of transitional medical assistance (TMA), the abstinence education program, and the qualifying individuals (QI) program: H.R. 3668, to provide for the extension of transitional medical assistance (TMA), the abstinence education program, and the qualifying individuals (QI) program. 4 pages
Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007: The House passed H.R. 3121, to restore the financial solvency of the national flood insurance D1282program and to provide for such program to make available multiperil coverage for damage resulting from windstorms and floods, by a yea-and-nay vote of 263 yeas to 146 nays, Roll No. 921. 1 page
Small Business Investment Expansion Act of 2007: The House passed H.R. 3567, to amend the Small Business Investment Act of 1958 to expand opportunities for investments in small businesses, by a yea-and-nay vote of 325 yeas to 72 nays, Roll No. 923. 32 pages