Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) raised eyebrows on Monday when his office emailed GOP aides to let them know that he would block all legislation that he and his staff have not personally cleared until the November elections.
Now, however, a Democratic senator is coming forward to relay that DeMint's threat of grinding the consideration of bills to a halt is nothing new. It has been a formal policy of his since Obama was elected president.
"It is my understanding Jim DeMint has had a standing hold on everything throughout this two year process," Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told the Huffington Post on Tuesday. "When I have had amendments on a couple of occasions, I have been told: 'Absolutely, we in the Republican leadership are fine but you are going to have to clear it with Jim DeMint because he has a standing hold on everything.' So I'm not sure this is a real change from what he has been doing."
Speaking at a Center for American Progress forum on filibuster reform, Merkley's comments were part of a broader argument about the need to change the rules of the United States Senate. But his lifting of the veil on the extent to which DeMint has put his fingerprint on the legislative process is bound to focus the spotlight on the South Carolina Republican.
A spokesman for DeMint, Wesley Denton, did not deny the charge. Rather he clarified that the standing hold is for legislation considered by unanimous consent -- in which all 100 senators must agree to passage -- and characterized the senator's procedural tactics as a virtue.
"Senator DeMint takes his responsibilities as a senator very seriously and the voters of South Carolina expect him to read bills before agreeing to pass legislation," said Denton. "What we are talking about here are amendments, bills, or resolution being passed by unanimous consent, meaning all 100 senators are needed. And some times these are non-controversial items. Sometimes they include deficit spending, new taxes and regulations. We are simply asking for more time to read bills before they pass... I don't think the American people think it is a radical idea to ask to read the bill before it is passed."
Merkley said that on the two occasions in which he was forced to clear his bills through DeMint's office, the South Carolina Republican "lifted the hold." One such piece of legislation, he recalled, was to send ten million dollars to help repair Oregon's Klamath Basin, which was suffering from a severe drought.
DeMint, he said, "was one of three folks who had a hold on it and he was willing to lift it once he heard the arguments." Another one likely on the list was Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okl), an anti-spending crusader who has embraced (perhaps pioneered) the same type of slow-down legislative philosophy.
"My impression was that everyone who had an amendment had to go [through DeMint]," Merkley said. "It was a standing hold but it wasn't something he had just singled out in my particular case."
Had DeMint objected to that or any other piece of legislation being considered under unanimous consent agreement, it would required the Senate to go through the time-consuming process of cloture (which requires 30-hours of debate and 60 Senators for passage) or simply drop the matter entirely.