A bipartisan effort to bring increased transparency to the system that allows individual senators to secretly hold up legislation and nominations collapsed in acrimony on Thursday evening. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) accused Sen. Jim DeMint of having "kneecapped" the legislation he'd offered with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Declaring himself "flabbergasted," Wyden railed against DeMint for attaching an unrelated amendment regarding a southern border fence to his transparency measure.
"I can't recall another instance where the cause of open government took a beating -- took a blindsiding -- like the cause open government took this afternoon," said the generally mild-mannered Wyden. "We didn't win this afternoon because we got kneecapped."
But DeMint was merely attaching one unrelated amendment to another unrelated amendment, said DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton.
In the Senate, an amendment does not have to be germane to the underlying bill to be ruled in order -- leading to spectacles such as gun-rights amendments being attached to credit card reform. But Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who's managing the Democratic side of the debate over the Wall Street reform bill, told his colleagues he wouldn't be accepting any non-germane amendments.
When he made an exception, for Wyden and Grassley, DeMint tried to get on board. "Dodd blocked everyone with non-germane amendments, but then he allowed the Wyden amendment that was non-germane, so it seemed appropriate to allow a Republican amendment, as well, that also enjoyed bipartisan support," said Denton, citing the support of 21 Democrats in a previous vote.
DeMint told Wyden that he'd be happy to decouple his amendment as long as he'd get a separate vote but Dodd refused, said Denton. A Dodd spokeswoman didn't comment by the time this story was posted.
But it wasn't a Democratic amendment, said Beth Pellett Levine, a spokeswoman for Grassley. "This has been a Wyden-Grassley initiative for ten years, so it's been bipartisan for at least ten years," she said.
Under recently implemented rules, a senator must publicly declare a hold within six days of a nominee being brought to the floor. That system isn't working. Bringing a nominee to the floor knowing he or she is already blocked takes valuable floor time -- and the senator can swap a secret hold with another senator. The Wyden-Grassley language would require disclosure within two days of the nomination being made.
Pellett Levine said that Grassley and Wyden are looking for ways forward. "As we saw last night, things are very fluid," she said. "This isn't going to stop them."
Wyden, furious at DeMint, vowed to continue to bring the measure to the floor. "I never, ever would have done that to another colleague," he said. "I intend to come back to my post here again and again and again, until we abolish the secret hold."