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The net result of that, Mr. President, is what the distinguished President pro tempore said on Sunday about this body, which has the ability to debate and amend and consider legislation. I will tell my colleagues, if there is a great disappointment to this Senator in my 8 years here, it is that some of the most important issues we can discuss we never have the chance to debate and amend on this floor because we are totally immersed in this budget process from January to December; maybe this year shorter.
Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, John Stuart Mill said, "On all great subjects, much remains to be said." This is a great subject, the reconciliation bill, and much remains to be said. ...
I have seen the Senate many times when it gave me reason to be concerned about its future. I have also seen it on some occasions when it gave me reason to be proud. ...
Tonight I think that we should pause to reflect upon this institution to which Gladstone, that great English statesman who lived during the long reign of Queen Victoria and who was Prime Minister of England four times, referred when he spoke of the U.S. Senate as "that remarkable body, the most remarkable of all the inventions of modern politics." That is what this institution is. ...
The U.S. Senate is the centerpiece of the great compromise. It is the masterpiece of the men who wrote the Constitution. ... They were wise men, and they saw the need for a system of checks and balances, and the Senate was the balance wheel of that system. The Senate was given extraordinary powers .... But the basic cement that was the very foundation of this balance wheel were two in number, the right to debate and the right to amend. The other body may amend, but the other body may also issue a rule which, if agreed to, will confine amendments to one in number or two in number or three or none and direct that a certain Member will be the only Member who will offer that one amendment or those two amendments.
The House has the previous question, but not the Senate. The Senate allows unrestricted debate. We now and then restrict ourselves through the cloture motion, which first was created in 1917. But the right to debate and to amend is why we should be proud of this institution, why we should revere it.
The Constitution, in section 7 of article I, says that measures that raise revenues shall begin in the House of Representatives, but it also says that the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills. So there is a constitutional right reposed in the Senate to amend eve[n] revenue bills. 575(...continued)
The Senate and the House have their tensions between them, as do the executive and the legislative, all these with the built-in tensions that the forefathers took great care to fashion in order to make this a system of checks and balances.
But in the reconciliation bill, we were about to inflict our own mortal wound, as Brutus did with the same dagger that he had plunged into Caesar's blood, bringing a bill of such magnitude here which contained scores of measures, on any one of which the Senate should have had the opportunity to debate at full length and to amend. What hidden pieces of legislation might come to the floor in a package of this size? What hidden legislation we might vote upon and come to regret at a later time?
This is an institution for the protection of minorities, an institution in which the minority can put a bridle on the majority for at least a while until the country can be awakened to the mistakes that might otherwise be visited upon the people. We should not view this Senate lightly, and never should be party to weakening this institution, with which we have been blessed.
Yes, there were limitations on debate in 1919 in the League of Nations debate, and in 1926 in the World Court debate, limitations through the cloture rule, but their price was substantial concessions by the majority.
The Senate is ... the only forum in which minorities are protected against the sudden waves of passion that might sweep over the Nation.
A reconciliation bill is a super gag rule, the foremost ever created by this institution. Normal cloture is but an infinite speck on the distant horizon when compared with a reconciliation bill. Cloture may be invoked on any measure, motion, or matter. Sixteen Senators sign a cloture petition; parts of 3 days transpire before cloture is invoked; and when it is invoked, it is invoked on only one matter or one measure or one motion. Then there are 30 hours of debate. The provision is within that rule that that time may be extended by a three-fifths majority vote to whatever 40 hours, 50, 75 or 100 hours. But not so with reconciliation. Reconciliation comes to the floor. There is no opportunity to debate a motion to proceed, whereas, under cloture, an attack can be made by the minority even on the motion to proceed. The minority ought to be zealous in protecting that right; the minority may be on this side of the aisle tomorrow, as it was yesterday.
Under reconciliation there is no motion provided to extend that time beyond 20 hours, but there is a motion that is nondebatable and can be invoked by only a majority of Members to reduce the time, and it can be reduced to 10 hours or to 5 hours or to 2 hours or to 1 hour without debate. Only a majority vote is needed to reduce it to no time:
Mr. President, I move that the time remaining on reconciliation be reduced to no time. What can you do about it? Weep. Reconciliation is one real beartrap.
And so it has been with sorrow that some of us have seen what has been happening on reconciliation. It is a process which has gotten out of hand and, if continued, it will undermine the deliberative nature of the institution.
It is a process by which committees of the Senate may dictate to the Senate. You take what we give you. There is not a thing you can do about it. Oh, yes, you can strike. But you take what we give you.
And within those committees that determination is made by a majority. There is a 17-member committee, and 9 members of the committee can determine that.
Send that to the Budget Committee, and the Budget Committee has no alternative but to send it to the Senate, and here we are faced with a super, super, colossally super, gag rule.
So we ought to take the utmost care in handling this legislative weapon.
Mr. President, I have had my faith renewed in this institution in these recent hours. ..
Yes, there were important measures wrapped into this reconciliation bill. But I hope that this is the beginning of the end of the abuse of the reconciliation process. I hope that it will be a lesson learned by all of us that we might in the future take heed, and remember not to put that measure that is so dear to our hearts into the reconciliation package. ...
Mr. President, I close by saying, as I began, that human ingenuity can always find a way to circumvent a process. And reconciliation is a process. It has been abused terribly. But I have regained my faith. We are told in the Scriptures:
Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.
The Constitution is the old landmark which they have set. And if we do not rise to the call of the moment and take a stand, take a strong stand against our own personal interests or against party interests, and stand for the Constitution, then how might we face our children and gran[d]children when they ask of us as Caesar did to the centurion,
How do we fare today?
And the centurion replied,
You will be victorious. As for myself, whether I live or die, tonight I shall have earned the praise of Caesar.
I not only compliment, but I also thank Members who have risen in this moment to do the responsible thing. We are going to look back on this day. So when you go with pride to meet the other body in conference, go with strong hearts, with confidence, and a determination that you are going to uphold the principles that our forefathers, men of this institution, stood for. Yours is an equal body -- the Senate.
When Aaron Burr walked out of the Old Senate Chamber on March 4, 1805 after had sat in the Chair, and presided over the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase Burr had killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel at Weehawken, NJ. He sat in that chair as though nothing had ever happened. Warrants had been issued in the State of New Jersey and New York for his arrest. But he presided over that trial with a degree of fairness that was commended by friend and foe alike.
As Burr bade goodbye to the Senate over which he has presided for 4 years, this is what he said. And I close with his words because I think they may well have been written for a moment like this. He said:
This House is a sanctuary; a citadel of law, of order, and of liberty, and it is here -
It is here -
in this exalted refuge -- here, if anywhere, will resistance be
135 CONG. REC. S13,349-56 (Oct. 13, 1989). The Senate went on to adopt the leadership
SEC. 401.576 (a) CONTROLS ON LEGISLATION PROVIDING SPENDING AUTHORITY. It shall not be in orders78 in either the House of Representatives or the Senate to consider any bill, joint resolution,
Section 401 is codified as amended at 2 U.S.C. § 651.
5 Note that section 401(d) provides significant exceptions to these controls. See infra pp. 206-210.
Congressional Budget Act prohibitions are not self-enforcing, and require points of