(U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions) – It brings me no pleasure to make the remarks I am compelled to make today.
The Senate, the legislative body heralded by the late Robert Byrd as the second great Senate in history—the first being the Roman Senate—is being eroded beyond recognition by Majority Leader Reid and those who support him in that process.
Once again here we are, at the 11th hour, being asked to vote for a spending bill that no member has had the opportunity to meaningfully analyze, scrutinize, or investigate. Once again, we are being asked to fund the entire government in one catch-all bill with no opportunity for a single amendment, improvement, or meaningful consideration. No opportunity for the American people to know what’s being passed and to hold their elected representatives accountable for their actions. Once again, this huge bill is being rushed through under threat of government shutdown, so our Leader can send his members home to campaign. That’s the purpose really, to vote once, go home, and campaign. Sad to say, it’s politics first.
We have not voted on a single appropriations bill in the Senate this year. Not one of the 12 appropriations bills required to fund the government has come before the Senate. Committees are bypassed, secret deals rule the day, and millions of Americans are robbed of their ability to participate in the legislative process.
It’s been so long since we’ve followed the regular order, it is necessary to provide a basic civic review.
Each year, Congress is supposed to pass adopt a budget resolution, which outlines the spending goals for the upcoming year. Then, based on spending levels contained in the budget resolution, individual committees are to report out authorization bills based on the expertise and experience of the members serving on those committees, shaping where the spending is supposed to go, laying out priorities and objectives for our Federal government to serve its citizens.
Then, the Appropriations Committee is tasked to produce appropriations bill for each area of the budget, which are to be individually considered, debated, and amended on the Senator floor.
Each year, the Senate is supposed to consider individually the 12 appropriations bills. This gives each member, and their constituents, a chance to review and analyze each part of the budget and offer suggestions for saving money, improving efficiency, and better serving taxpayers, which we are failing to do. We don’t have a dime to waste.
But under the tenure of Majority Leader Reid, the budgeting process has been dismantled. We’ve only passed one budget in the last 5 years. Our committees stand by idle, and the floor is run not for the purpose of legislative debate but as an extension of the Democrat campaign committee.
The Senate has ceased consideration of appropriations bills altogether, relying more and more on autopilot resolutions and catch-all continuing resolutions and ominous omnibus spending packages. When I first came to the Senate, almost every single spending bill was debated, amended, and passed in the Senate. Now we regularly go year to year without debating a single stand-alone spending bill on the Senate floor.
One of the worst tactics by which Majority Leader Reid has suppressed Senators’ rights and blocked open debate has been a technique called “filling the tree.” Under this tactic, he uses his majority rights to keep Senators from offering amendments, as representatives of their states and the American people. Blocking amendments prevents the body from working its will, prohibits legislation from being improved, and protects Senators from being held accountable by voters on the great issues of the day. It keeps the Senate from being the critical sounding board for the issues of the day.
Our Majority Leader has used this tactic—filling the tree—90 times during his tenure. To put this in perspective, the six previous Majority Leaders filled the tree only 49 times—combined. Senator Reid has filled the tree almost 40 more occasions than all of the six previous Majority Leaders did cumulatively over their tenures. This stops amendments from being voted on.
He has shut down one of the most important functions that Senators exercise to defend and advance the interests of their constituents.
But it doesn’t stop there.
The Senate is supposed to be Washington’s cooling saucer. That is why, on many important and controversial matters, 60 votes are required to adopt a measure or to confirm a nominee. And, importantly, to change the rules requires a 2/3 vote.
This 2/3 vote threshold is critical, because it ensures that the rules actually have meaning—that they apply when either party is in power and cannot be changed on a whim. To change Senate rules requires a broad consensus across the entire body. This protects the rights of individual senators to be heard on the issues of the day. It is the key component of the Senate’s heritage of discussion and debate.
Yet, Leader Reid, in an exercise of brute political force, changed the Senate rules by a simple majority vote. He ignored the counsel of the Senate Parliamentarian—the preeminent protector of the Senate’s practices and procedures—and in one stroke changed the nature of this august body, perhaps forever.
Today, under Harry Reid, and the Democratic senators who empower him, Senators cannot even consider important legislation; they cannot offer amendments; and they cannot even fully debate issues of the day.
Huge bills are rushed through in the waning hours of a session.
Systematically, the rights of Senators to provide equal representation to each state is being dismantled.
But it gets worse yet still.
As we all know, President Obama has promised that after the midterms he would issue an executive amnesty to 5–6 million immigrants who are unlawfully here. This executive-ordered amnesty would include work permits for millions of illegal workers, along with photo ID’s and Social Security numbers, and it would include more guest workers for large corporations.
The President and the immigration lobbyists meeting secretly in the White House are trying to implement through executive action the same disastrous policies that were rejected by Congress through the House of Representatives. Once the public learned what was in the Senate amnesty and guest worker bill, they declared: no, no, no. So the President is conspiring to go around Congress, and what does Mr. Reid say—what does the Leader of our Senate say? He tells the President to “Go Real Big” and to bypass Congress with the biggest amnesty you can do.
Majority Leader Reid has blocked this Senate from considering the House plan—legislation passed by the House and sitting at the desk—to stop the President from executing this unlawful act. He is determined, completely, to ensure this executive amnesty happens and to do whatever he can to do see that it does. The principles that govern our political system, separation of powers and public debate, are of no importance.
But, colleagues, as we know, Reid only operates with the support of his Conference. We saw this vividly when I made a motion that would allow us to take action to stop the executive amnesty and every Senate Democrat except the junior Senator from West Virginia voted with the Majority Leader to enable the President to go forward with his unlawful amnesty decree. It’s unbelievable.
And to this day, not one Senate Democrat has spoken up to support the House plan to stop the executive amnesty or demanded that Mr. Reid bring it up for a vote. Every member that supports Senator Reid is as much a supporter of President Obama’s unlawful amnesty as they would be if they were sitting in a room helping him sign the order. This is the time. It’s either stop it now, or it may be too late to stop him. And we need to vote on it, and people need to be held accountable. Every American needs to know where their Senator stands on the President’s unlawful assumption of power to violate plain law of the United States to carry out a political agenda he has that the American people reject. It’s just that simple. It’s about power and it’s about politics—it’s not about what’s best for America.
All of us owe our constituents a full, open, deliberative process where the great issues of the day are debated with their scrutiny and we receive their input, with our rights respected, our responsibilities honored, and our Senate strengthened in the process.
The democratic process is messy, sometimes contentious, and often difficult. But it is precisely this legislative tug of war, this back and forth, which forges national consensus. And people have to stick their necks out and say what they believe on important issues facing America. It is the process our founders utilized to discover the truth. While secret deals may appear to keep the trains running on time, they also keep them running, too often, in the wrong direction. Only through a renewed open legislative process, carried out in the full light of day, can we clean up this government, forge real national consensus, achieve accountability in Washington, and allow our Senators and Congressman to be there on the front lines to sink or swim on how they perform. We are not guaranteed political office; the American people don’t work for us. We work from them. And it returns power, thereby, to the everyday citizen. It is time for us to restore once again the great Senate of the United States.
I thank the chair, and yield the floor.
(Mr. Sessions is a Republican U.S. senator representing Alabama. He is the Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee and delivered these prepared remarks on the floor of the Senate on September 17, 2014)