Congressional Record: March 8, 2006 (Senate)
Page S1872-S1873


  Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, if you walked down the Main Streets of this 
country and asked people what a hold was in the U.S. Senate, I think it 
is fair to say nobody would have any idea what it is you were talking 
about. In fact, they might hear the world ``hold,'' and they would 
think it was part of the wrestling championships that are going on 
across this country right now. But the reason I am on the floor of the 
Senate today with my distinguished colleague, Senator Grassley, and 
Senator Inhofe, is that the hold in the Senate, which is the ability to 
object to a bill or nomination coming before the Senate, is an 
extraordinary power that a United States Senator has, and a power that 
can be exercised in secret.
  At the end of a congressional session, legislation involving vast 
sums of money or the very freedoms on which our country relies can die 
just because of a secret hold in the Senate. At any point in the 
legislative process, an objection can delay or derail an issue to the 
point where it can't be effectively considered.
  What is particularly unjust about all of this is that it prevents a 
Senator from being held accountable. I think Members would be 
incredulous to learn this afternoon that the Intelligence 
reauthorization bill, a piece of legislation which is vital to our 
national security, has now been held up for months as a result of a 
secret hold.
  I am going to talk a little bit about the consequences of holding up 
an Intelligence authorization bill in a moment. But I want to first be 
clear on what the Wyden-Grassley-Inhofe amendment would do. It would 
force the Senate to do its business in public, and it would bring the 
secret holds out of the shadows of the Senate and into the sunshine. 
Our bipartisan amendment would make a permanent change to the 
procedures of the Senate to require openness and accountability. We 
want to emphasize that we are not going to bar Senators from exercising 
their power to put a hold on a bill or nomination. All we are saying 
is, a Senator who wants that right should also have a responsibility to 
the people he or she represents and to the country at large.
  Now, to the hold on the Intelligence bill that has been in place for 
more than 3 months, I think every Member of the Senate would agree that 
authorizing the intelligence programs of this country is a critical 
priority for America. Striking the balance between fighting terrorism 
ferociously and protecting our civil liberties is one of the most 
important functions of this Senate. The bill that is now being held up 
as a result of a secret hold, the Intelligence reauthorization bill, 
has been

[[Page S1873]]

reviewed by a number of Senate committees. It was reported by the 
Intelligence Committee late last September, by the Armed Services 
Committee last October, and by the Homeland and Governmental Affairs 
Committee last November.
  I particularly commend Chairman Roberts who worked with me on a 
number of amendments, amendments that I felt strongly about, because 
this legislation does ensure that there will be accountability and 
oversight in the Intelligence Committee by establishing a strong 
inspector general, by requiring that the committees get the documents 
they need to perform effective oversight over the intelligence 
community, and by making the heads of the key agencies subject to 
Senate confirmation.
  I think the Senate would particularly want to know if this 
legislation, the Intelligence reauthorization bill that is held up by a 
secret hold, does not move forward, it will be the first time since the 
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was established in 1978 that 
the Senate has failed to act on an Intelligence reauthorization bill.
  What we have is a situation where a single, anonymous Senator has 
invoked a practice that cannot be found anywhere in the Senate rules 
and has lodged an objection to a piece of legislation that is 
critically important to the well-being of America. Senators have often 
asked Senator Grassley and myself and Senator Inhofe: Where are the 
examples of these secret holds? Exactly why do you believe your 
legislation is important? We now have a textbook case of a secret hold 
that is injurious to America.
  For all the talk about earmarks--we have been discussing that here on 
the Senate floor, as well as the scope of conference, line-item vetoes 
and the like--I would wager that no weapon is more important and more 
powerful to each Senator than the ability to stop amendments, 
legislation, and nominations through secret holds. I believe as U.S. 
Senators we occupy a position of public trust and that the exercise of 
the power that has been vested in each of us should be accompanied by 
public accountability.
  I have no quarrel with the use of a hold. I have used them myself on 
several occasions. But what is offensive to the democratic process is 
the anonymity, the secrecy, the lack of accountability when a Senator 
tries to exercise this extraordinary power in secret.
  Let me just wrap up, because I see the distinguished chairman of the 
Finance Committee is here, with a quick minute on the history of these 
efforts. Senator Grassley and I have been at this for almost a decade. 
The Rules Committee held a hearing on our proposal in the summer of 
2003. We worked with Chairman Lott and with the ranking minority 
member, Senator Dodd, extensively. This is a matter that has been 
considered at length by colleagues.
  Senator Lott knows firsthand about this issue because he has 
personally spent many hours with me as he has wrestled with it, and in 
fact tried to set in place some voluntary procedures that would curtail 
the abuses of the secret hold.
  These secret holds have been an embarrassment to the Senate in my 
view, and they have been an embarrassment for a long time. But I cannot 
recall an instance where we had a hold, a secret hold on the 
Intelligence authorization bill at a time when our country is at war. 
This is a practice that needs to end.
  I yield now for the distinguished chairman of the Finance Committee, 
Senator Grassley. I reserve the remainder of my time.