Congressional Record: April 17, 2002 (Senate)
Page S2850



  Mr. GRASSLEY (for himself and Mr. Wyden) submitted the following 
resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Rules and 

                              S. Res. 244



       Rule VII of the Standing Rules of the Senate is amended by 
     adding at the end the following:
       "7. A Senator who provides notice to party leadership of 
     his or her intention to object to proceeding to a motion or 
     matter shall disclose the notice of objection (or hold) in 
     the Congressional Record in a section reserved for such 
     notices not later than 2 session days after the date of the 

  Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, today I am submitting, along with my 
colleague Senator Wyden, a Senate resolution to amend the Senate rules 
to eliminate secret holds.
  I know Senators are familiar with the practice of placing holds on 
matters to come before the Senate.
  Holds derive from the rules and traditions of the Senate.
  In order for the Senate to run smoothly, objections to unanimous 
consent agreements must be avoided.
  Essentially, a hold is a notice by a Senator to his or her party 
leader of an intention to object to bringing a bill or nomination to 
the floor for consideration.
  This effectively prevents the Senate leadership from attempting to 
bring the matter before the Senate.
  A Senator might place a hold on a piece of legislation or a 
nomination because of legitimate concerns about that legislation or 
  However, there is no legitimate reason why a Senator placing a hold 
on a matter should remain anonymous.
  I believe in the principle of open government.
  Lack of transparency in the public policy process leads to cynicism 
and distrust of public officials.
  I would maintain that the use of secret holds damages public 
confidence in the institution of the Senate.
  It has been my policy, and the policy of Senator Wyden as well, to 
disclose in the Congressional Record any hold that I place on any 
matter in the Senate along with my reasons for doing so.
  As a practical matter, other Members of the Senate need to be made 
aware of an individual Senator's concerns.
  How else can those concerns be addressed?
  As a matter of principle, the American people need to be made aware 
of any action that prevents a matter from being considered by their 
elected Senators.
  Senator Wyden and I have worked twice to get a similar ban on secret 
holds included in legislation passed by the Senate.
  But, both times it was removed in conference.
  Then, at the beginning of the 106th Congress, Senate Leaders Lott and 
Daschle circulated a letter informing Senators of a new policy 
regarding the use of holds.
  The Lott/Daschle letter stated,

       . . . all members wishing to place a hold on any 
     legislation or executive calendar business shall notify the 
     sponsor of the legislation and the committee of jurisdiction 
     of their concerns.

  This agreement was billed as marking the end of secret holds in the 
Senate and I took the agreement at face value.
  Unfortunately, this policy has not been followed consistently.
  Secret holds have continued to appear in the Senate.
  For example, last November, it became apparent that an anonymous hold 
had been placed on a bill, S. 739, sponsored by Senator Wellstone.
  This bill had been reported by the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
  However, neither Senator Wellstone nor Senator Rockefeller, as 
chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, were ever informed as 
to which Senator or Senators had placed the hold.
  The time has come to end this distasteful practice for good.
  This resolution that Senator Wyden and I are submitting would do just 
  It would add a section to the Senate rules requiring that Senators 
make public any hold placed on a matter within two session days of 
notifying his or her party leadership.
  This change will lead to more open dialogue and more constructive 
debate in the Senate.
  Ending secret holds will make the workings of the Senate more 
  It will reduce secrecy and public cynicism along with it.
  This reform will improve the institutional reputation of the Senate 
and I would urge my colleagues to support the Grassley-Wyden 


   Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, One of the Senate's most popular 
procedures cannot be found anywhere in the United States Constitution 
or in the Senate Rules. It is one of the most powerful weapons that any 
Senator can wield in this body. And it is even more potent when it is 
invisible. The procedure is popularly known as the "hold."
  The "hold" in the Senate is a lot like the seventh inning stretch 
in baseball: there is no official rule or regulation that talks about 
it, but it is has been observed for so long that it has become a 
  The resolution that Senator Grassley and submit today does not in any 
way limit the privilege of any Senator to place a "hold" on a measure 
or matter. Our resolution targets the stealth cousin of the "hold," 
known as the "secret hold." It is the anonymous hold that is so 
odious to the basic premise of our democratic system: that the exercise 
of power always should be accompanied by public accountability.

[[Page S2851]]

Our resolution would bring the anonymous hold out of the shadows of the 
  Senator Grassley and I have championed this idea in a bipartisan 
manner for six years now. In 1997 and again in 1998, the United States 
Senate voted unanimously in favor of our amendments to require that a 
notice of intent to object be published in the Congressional Record 
within 48 hours. The amendments, however, never survived conference.
  So we took our case directly to the leadership, and to their credit, 
Tom Daschle and Trent Lott agreed it was time to make a change. They 
recognized the significant need for more openness in the way the United 
States Senate conducts its business so Tom Daschle and Trent Lott sent 
a joint letter in February 1999 to all Senators setting forth a policy 
requiring "all Senators wishing to place a hold on any legislation or 
executive calender business [to] notify the sponsor of the legislation 
and the committee of jurisdiction of their concerns." The letter said 
that "written notification should be provided to the respective Leader 
stating their intentions regarding the bill or nomination," and that 
"holds placed on items by a member of a personal or committee staff 
will not be honored unless accompanied by a written notification from 
the objecting Senator by the end of the following business day."
  At first, this action by the Leaders seemed to make a real 
difference. Many Senators were more open about their holds, and staff 
could no longer slap a hold on a bill with a quick phone call. But 
after six to eight months, the Senate began to slip back towards the 
old ways. Abuses of the "holds" policy began to proliferate, staff-
initiated holds-by-phone began anew, and it wasn't too long before 
legislative gridlock set in and the Senate seemed to have forgotten 
what Senators Daschle and Lott had tried to do.
  My own assessment of the situation now, which is not based on any 
scientific evidence, GAO investigation or CRS study, is that a 
significant number of our colleagues in the Senate have gotten the 
message sent by the Leaders, and have refrained from the use of secret 
holds. They inform sponsors about their objections, and do not allow 
their staff to place a hold without their approval. My sense is that 
the legislative gridlock generated by secret holds may be attributed to 
a relatively small number of abusers. The resolution we are submitting 
today will not be disruptive for a solid number of Senators, but it 
will up the ante on those who may be "chronic abusers" of the 
Leaders' policy on holds.
  Our bipartisan resolution would amend the Standing Rules of the 
Senate to require that a Senator who notifies his or her leadership of 
an intent to object shall disclose that objection in the Congressional 
Record not later than two session days after the date of the notice. 
The resolution would assure that the awesome power possessed by an 
individual Senator to stop legislation or a nomination should be 
accompanied by public accountability.
  The requirement for public notice of a hold two days after the intent 
has been conveyed to the leadership may prove to be an inconvenience 
but not a hardship. No Senator will ever be thrown in jail for failing 
to give public notice of a hold. Senators routinely place statements in 
the Congressional Record recognizing the achievements of a local Boys 
and Girls Club, or congratulating a local sports team on a State 
championship. Surely the intent of a Senator to block the progress of 
legislation or a nomination should be considered of equal importance.
  I have adhered to a policy of publicly announcing my intent to object 
to a measure or matter. This practice has not been a burden or 
inconvenience. On the contrary, my experience with the public 
disclosure of holds is that my objections are usually dealt with in an 
expeditious manner, thereby enabling the Senate to proceed with its 
  Although the Senate is still several months away from the high season 
of secret holds, a number of important pieces of legislation have 
already become bogged down in the swamp of secret holds this year. The 
day is not far off when any given Senator may be forced to place holds 
on numerous other pieces of legislation or nominees just to try to 
"smoke out" the anonymous objector. The practice of anonymous 
multiple or rolling holds is more akin to legislative guerilla warfare 
than to the way the Senate should conduct its business.
  It is time to drain the swamp of secret holds. The resolution we 
submit today will be referred to the Senate Committee on Rules. It is 
my hope that the Committee will take this resolution seriously, hold 
public hearings on it and give it a thorough vetting. This is one of 
the most awesome powers held by anyone in American government. It has 
been used countless times to stall and strangle legislation. It is time 
to bring accountability to the procedure and to the American