PDF Version

[Congressional Record: September 15, 2010 (Senate)]
[Page S7137-S7138]

                         SUBMITTED RESOLUTIONS



  Mr. COBURN (for himself and Mrs. McCaskill) submitted the following 
resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Rules and 

                              S. Res. 622



       This resolution may be cited as the ``Stop Secret Spending 


       (a) Notice Requirement.--In the Senate, legislation that 
     has been subject to a hotline notification may not pass by 
     unanimous consent unless the hotline notification has been 
     posted on the public website of the Senate for at least 3 
     calendar days as provided in subsection (b).
       (b) Posting on Senate Webpage.--At the same time as a 
     hotline notification occurs with respect to any legislation, 
     the Majority Leader shall post in a prominent place on the 
     public webpage of the Senate a notice that the legislation 
     has been hotlined and the legislation's number, title, link 
     to full text, and sponsor and the estimated cost to implement 
     and the number of new programs created by the legislation.
       (c) Legislative Calendar.--
       (1) In general.--The Secretary of the Senate shall 
     establish for both the Senate Calendar of Business and the 
     Senate Executive Calendar a separate section entitled 
     ``Notice of Intent To Pass by Unanimous Consent''.
       (2) Content.--The section required by paragraph (1) shall--
       (A) include any legislation posted as required by 
     subsection (b) and the date the hotline notification 
     occurred; and
       (B) be updated as appropriate.
       (3) Removal.--Items included on the calendar under this 
     subsection shall be removed from the calendar once passed by 
     the Senate.
       (d) Exceptions.--This section shall not apply--
       (1) if a quorum of the Senate is present at the time the 
     unanimous consent is propounded to pass the bill;
       (2) to any legislation relating to an imminent or ongoing 
     emergency, as jointly agreed to by the Majority and Minority 
     Leaders; and
       (3) to legislation dealing solely with post office namings.
       (e) Suspension.--The Presiding Officer shall not entertain 
     any request to suspend this section by unanimous consent.
       (f) Definitions.--In this section--
       (1) the term ``hotline notification'' means when the 
     Majority Leader in consultation with the Minority Leader, 
     provides notice of intent to pass legislation by unanimous 
     consent by contacting each Senate office with a message on a 
     special alert line (commonly referred to as the hotline) that 
     provides information on what bill or bills the Majority 
     Leader is seeking to pass through unanimous consent; and
       (2) the term ``legislation'' means a bill or joint 

  Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, there has been much debate over the past 
year regarding ``secret holds'' stalling the consideration of 
presidential appointments or slowing expedited passage of legislation 
by the Senate. Lost in this discussion has been an issue that should be 
a far greater concern for taxpayers--``secret spending.''
  This body routinely attempts to pass hundreds of bills costing tens 
of billions of dollars or more in secret without debate, votes, or 
amendments. It does so using an unofficial process not found in Senate 
rule books known as the ``hotline.''
  The U.S. Senate is often referred to as ``the world's greatest 
deliberative body.'' This is because Senate rules grant each of the 
Senate's 100 members rights that cannot be overridden by a simple 
majority, including the right to require debate before a bill is 
considered or passed.
  Yet, the Senate practice known as the ``hotline'' often prevents and 
precludes debate. In fact, Senators often do not even read the bills 
being passed using the hotline.
  The term ``hotline'' or practice of ``hotlining'' bills does not 
appear in the Senate's official rules, but this procedure is utilized 
nearly every day the Senate is in session. A hotline is an informal 
term for an alert sent to members of the Senate giving notice of a 
proposed agreement to allow a bill or resolution to be approved by the 
Senate without debate or amendment. A measure that is ``hotlined'' is 
recorded in the Congressional Record as a being agreed to by unanimous 
consent, UC.
  Hotlines occur at the discretion of the Majority Leader in 
consultation with the Minority Leader. The leader's office contacts 
each Senate office with a message on a special alert line called the 
``hotline,'' which provides information on what bill or bills the 
leader is seeking to pass through unanimous consent. Hotline notices 
are only given to Senate offices.
  If there is an objection to the bill being ``hotlined,'' a senator is 
asked to call the leader's office and give notice of intent to object 
to the bill being passed by unanimous consent whenever such a request 
may occur. The process of notifying the leader's office of an objection 
to ``hotline'' is informally referred to as a ``hold.'' In practice, 
instead of requiring explicit unanimous consent to pass a bill, the 
``hotline'' process only requires a lack of dissent.
  In many instances, bills are hotlined for which no text, description, 
or budget estimates have been made publicly available. In some Senate 
offices, the ``hotline,'' or request for unanimous consent to pass a 
measure, may never even reach senators, and the decision to allow a 
bill to be approved without debate is determined by staff, who do not 
even read the bill.
  When a bill is ``hotlined,'' the public is not informed and neither 
is the media. Only the offices of senators are alerted. It is therefore 
a form of ``secret spending.'' Much like a ``hold'' can be kept from 
the public, so can the ``hotlining'' of bills, which can cost billions 
of dollars.
  The vast majority of legislation approved by the Senate is done so 
via the ``hotline'' under the guise of unanimous consent. According to 
the Congressional Research Service, CRS, ``in

[[Page S7138]]

the last ten Congresses, 110th-101st, an average of 93 percent of 
approved measures did not receive roll call votes'' and ``in the 111th 
Congress through February 1, 2010, 94 percent of approved measures were 
approved without a roll call vote.''
  Every time the Senate passes legislation without full and open 
debate, the American people are done a disservice. The Senate should 
not pass a new bill if its text, purpose, and budget estimate are not 
available to the general public.
  Taxpayers and the media should have the right to read and analyze 
legislation prior to its passage. Senators, likewise, have a 
responsibility to know the contents of legislation prior to granting 
consent for its passage. Additionally, hotlining bills take away the 
accountability for legislation approved by the Senate. Since there is 
no recorded vote for most hotlined bills, senators have no culpability 
for most of the legislation approved by the Senate.
  The lack of of an objection from unelected staff should not be 
sufficient to pass legislation that could spend millions or even 
billions of dollars and significantly alter U.S. laws.
  In many cases, if a senator objects to a hotline request--even if the 
objection is merely to be granted sufficient time to study and review 
the text, cost, and impact of the legislation--special interest groups 
will immediately label the senator who is trying to be diligent as an 
undemocratic obstructionist.
  But the truth is neither democracy nor taxpayers are served well by 
this process. ``Hotlining'' bills enable the hasty passage of 
legislation without the public's knowledge or feedback. This process 
benefits politicians and special interests rather than taxpayers.
  Senators have an obligation to their constituents to do their jobs, 
which includes reading the bills and understanding the impact of 
legislation passed by Congress.
  Today I am introducing the ``Stop Secret Spending Resolution'' along 
with Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. This bi-partisan legislation 
would provide transparency and accountability by prohibiting a bill or 
joint resolution from passing without a vote until the hotline 
notifications are available on a public website for at least 72 hours. 
The public notice much include: a cost analysis completed by the non-
partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO); the number of new programs 
created by the legislation; and the actual legislative text.
  The new 72 hour rule would not apply to noncontroversial item such as 
post office namings and sense of the Senate resolutions; nominations; 
any legislation relating to an imminent or ongoing emergency; or a 
unanimous consent request made when a quorum of the Senate is present.
  Voters are demanding Congress bring greater accountability to the 
legislative process. Ending secret spending represents a meaningful 
first step to guaranteeing increased accountability and transparency by 
providing sufficient time for the public to review legislation before 
it is passed by Congress.
  I ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their support of 
this legislation.