Legislative Procedure is a Washington-based blog that focuses on legislative strategy and parliamentary procedure.

McConnell Follows in Reid's Footsteps

McConnell Follows in Reid's Footsteps

Back when he was the Senate’s minority leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, disagreed profoundly with how Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., managed the institution. McConnell even accused Reid of doing “tremendous damage to the Senate” in a 2014 speech at the American Enterprise Institute.


By arrogating to himself powers that have traditionally resided with committees and individual members, he’s turned the Senate into a graveyard of good ideas and serious, open debate. His propensity to block amendments, even on his own side, has prevented for years the organic development of policy that has always characterized the Senate at its best.

 

The ordinarily circumspect McConnell pledged, unambiguously, to restore the Senate whenever he became majority leader.

A Senate majority under my leadership would break sharply from the practices of the Reid era in favor of a far more free-wheeling approach to problem-solving. I would work to restore its traditional role as a place where good ideas are generated, debated and voted upon.

McConnell even guaranteed that he would change how the Senate did business.

I guarantee you these are things that can and will change because one person can change most of the problems in the Senate and that’s whoever the majority leader is, the person who gets to set the agenda has the right of prior recognition and has the opportunity to decide whether you’re going to apply a gag rule to everybody or whether you’re going to use tactics that create a greater level of comity and, of course, get more results.

But five years later, the Senate has yet to “break sharply from the practices of the Reid era” when it comes to amendments. Contrary to McConnell’s guarantee, the Senate’s dysfunction has only gotten worse.

McConnell’s more restrictive approach to managing the Senate has impacted senators from both parties alike. During the last Congress in which he was in charge, Republicans and Democrats offered 403 and 196 amendments, respectively. However, this was barely more than the 186 and 356 amendments Republicans and Democrats offered, respectively, during the last Congress in which Reid was majority leader and Republicans were in the minority. When amendments to budget resolutions and reconciliation bills are omitted (the majority leader cannot technically block senators from offering such amendments), the number of amendments proposed during the 115th Congress drops to 361 and 158 for Republicans and Democrats, respectively.

The number of amendments offered by senators in the 115th Congress is less than the number offered in the 110th Congress- when Republicans offered 803 amendments and Democrats offered 990. It is also less than the number offered in the 111th Congress- when Republicans offered 570 amendments and Democrats offered 692. The most striking comparison, however, is that the total number of amendments proposed by Republicans in the 112th Congress, only one year before McConnell excoriated Reid for how he managed the Senate, was just three short of the number of amendments they would offer in the 115th Congress when McConnell was running the show.

Judging by the continued decline in amendments under his watch, McConnell is following in Reid’s footsteps in how he manages the Senate.

How a House Minority Can Make a Difference

How a House Minority Can Make a Difference

The Senate’s Strange Week

The Senate’s Strange Week