Right Now

Senator Coburn will offer a motion today in an attempt to undo a precedent set in 2011 that took away the right—provided by Senate rules—for senators to suspend the rules post-cloture to offer an amendment.  This right allowed the minority or individual senators to circumvent parliamentary obstacles, namely filling the tree, to receive votes.

The question essentially will be do you want to keep the Reid Motion to Suspend precedent prohibiting Motions to Suspend the Rules post-cloture by sustaining the precedent.

Voting Yes keeps the Reid precedent

Voting No reverses the Reid precedent

If the precedent is overturned by a majority of senators voting against the ruling of the chair, the rights of senators—as written in senate rules to suspend the rules post-cloture —would be returned.

If Dr. Coburn is successful overturning the Reid precedent, he is NOT planning to follow up with another motion to allow the offering an amendment. This will be a purely procedural vote seeking to restore a right written in Senate Rules.

This document provides an overview of the history leading up to this precedent and outlines the motion Senator Coburn will offer to attempt to reverse it and restore the right provided by Senate rules.

Majority Leader Blocking Amendments by “Filling the Tree”

  • The distinguishing characteristics of the Senate are the right to offer amendments, and the right to debate. 
  • Throughout his tenure, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has aggressively deployed a tactic to block other senators from offering amendments to legislation.  This tactic, known as “filling the tree,” fills all available slots for amendments with shell legislation, preventing all other senators from offering amendments. 
  • Senator Reid has deployed the “filling the tree” maneuver over 90 times during his tenure as Majority Leader.  To put this number in perspective, Senator Reid has filled the amendment tree more than all the other Majority Leaders combined between 1985 and 2006 (40 times).
  • This tactic effectively shuts out every individual member of the Senate from offering input on legislation.

Senators Resort to Motions to Suspend the Rules Offer Amendments

  • Starting in 2010, as Senator Reid continued to use the “filling the tree” maneuver, senators in both parties resorted to other procedural options to assert their rights as senators.
  • Under Rule V of the Standing Rules of the Senate, the other rules may be suspended, including blocking amendments by “filling the tree.”
  • From 2010 until October 6, 2011, senators filed more than 30 notices and the Senate held more than 15 votes to suspend the rules to allow amendments to be offered during post-cloture debate.

Reid Precedent Breaks the Rules to Eliminate Senators’ Right to Suspend the Rules   

  • On October 6, 2011, the Senate Majority Leader changed Senate rules with a simple majority rather than the required two-thirds vote, ending the right of senators to suspend the rules post-cloture.
  • Senator Reid called up a motion to suspend the rules that had been filed the previous day by Senator Coburn.  Senator Reid made a point of order that this single motion to suspend was dilatory under Rule XXII.
  • The presiding officer correctly ruled the post-cloture amendment was not dilatory under Rule XXII.  A single motion to suspend the rules cannot be considered a delaying tactic.  Senator Reid’s point of order was not sustained.
  • Senator Reid than appealed the ruling of the chair, and held a vote to overturn it.  By a simple majority vote (51 to 48), the chair’s decision was overturned.  Every Republican and one Democrat voted against this appeal, instead voting to uphold the presiding officer’s decision which reflected the written rules of the Senate.
  • This vote established a new precedent making it out of order to offer post-cloture motions to suspend the rules despite such right being explicitly provided under Senate rules.
  • Two years later on November 21, 2013, the majority further weakened the Senate when 52 Democrat senators voted to override Senate rules that require the president’s nominees to be approved by three-fifths of the Senate before confirmation, reinforcing the dangerous trend started in 2011.  The vote to nullify the 2011 decision will not reverse this precedent.

Reversing the October 6, 2011 Reid Precedent

  • In order to overturn this precedent, a senator must offer another post-cloture motion to suspend the rules for the purpose of considering an amendment.
  • The presiding officer will likely rule that the motion is not in order based on the 2011 precedent.
  • At that point, the senator offering the motion will appeal the ruling of the chair, on the basis that a single motion to suspend the rules post-cloture is not dilatory.  The senator would then ask for the yeas and nays.
  • If a simple majority of senators vote to overturn the decision of the chair, the precedent will be reversed, restoring the right explicitly provided in the rules that allows senators to offer motions to suspend the rules post-cloture as before.

 The roll call and Congressional Record from October 6, 2011 is here.