Madam President, as we begin the 112th Congress, I first congratulate my colleagues on how we ended the 111th Congress. We had an incredibly productive lameduck session, ensuring that taxes were not raised on the middle class during an economic down turn, ratifying the START treaty, among other things. We worked together to solve problems. This was not always the case during the last Congress. But we ended on a high note.
As our work begins today anew, we all know there is still a great deal of work to be done. We have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure that American workers can find jobs, to get our private sector economy back on track, to find long-term solutions to our mounting deficit. Because of the urgent business that is in front of us, I am hopeful that my fellow Senators and my colleagues across the aisle will agree that it is time for change, that it is not time for business as usual.
We have heard from so many of my colleagues who have been working on this issue--Senator Udall from New Mexico, Senator Merkley, Senator Harkin, Senator Wyden, Senator McCaskill, and also Senator Grassley, which is important work on the secret holds.
The elections on November 2 sent a message to every Member of Congress that the American people are not interested in partisan bickering or procedural backlogs or the gamesmanship and gridlock that prevents elected officials from doing their job. We were not hired by our constituents to hide behind outdated Senate rules as an excuse for not accomplishing things or not taking tough votes. That is just what the current Senate rules are allowing us to do.
I heard a lot from my friend from Tennessee about how we should use the current rules. But the problem I have is that too many people have been abusing the current rules. First, as Senator Wyden, Senator McCaskill, Senator Grassley have so eloquently stated, we have to permanently end the practice known as secret holds, which basically allows one or two Members of the Senate to prevent nominations or legislation from reaching the Senate floor without identifying themselves.
We thought we had this done, as Senator McCaskill pointed out, with the ethics bill we passed when we first came into this Chamber. But, unfortunately, once again, those rules were abused. There are some Senators who are playing games with the rules. They are following the letter but not the spirit of the reforms we adopted.
Look at the kind of secret holds we have seen, secret holds preventing the President from assembling the team he needs to run the executive branch. This summer, for example, secret holds were placed on two members of the Marine Mammal Commission for months. The Marine Mammal Commission--held secret in a hold while the Deepwater Horizon oilspill was continuing to play out in the gulf region.
A second example of what we have to get done is filibuster reform. It is a long-standing tradition in the Senate that one Senator can, if he or she chooses, hold the floor to explain objections to a bill. We think of Jimmy Stewart's character, Jefferson Smith, in ``Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,'' as a shining example of how individual conscience can matter because an individual can stay on the Senate floor to the point of exhaustion in order to stymie a corrupt piece of legislation.
Well, that is not how the filibuster works in practice today. Today, an individual Senator virtually has the power to prevent legislation from being considered by merely threatening a filibuster. At that point, the majority leader must file a cloture motion in order to move to that piece of legislation. This adds a great deal of time to an already crowded Senate calendar. This is not governing. This is not how we do the people's business. This is not how we come together to find practical solutions to our common problems.
Our current system is a far cry from Jimmy Stewart. That is why a group of us have been working to get some legislation passed to change the rules going forward. When you think about the history of the Senate--and I listened with great respect as my colleagues talked about the tradition and the importance of the rules of the Senate, about protecting the rules of the minority. None of these proposals will interfere with the rights of the minority to filibuster any piece of legislation.
But when you look at the history of the Senate, it is about tradition. As time goes forward, there have been changes to the Senate rules. Every few decades there are changes to the Senate rules. Look at my former colleague, Vice President Mondale, a great leader who made significant changes to the Senate rules.
This is all about transparency and accountability. I urge my colleagues to support this resolution.