Bill to curb secret Senate holds could get vote soon

The Senate is set to vote on a proposal to end secret holds as soon as next week, advocates of the measure said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has informed Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., that a bill they have co-sponsored to curtail secret holds will receive a vote as an amendment to the defense authorization bill that Reid plans to move to next week, McCaskill and Senate aides said Tuesday.

Reid had previously said the proposal would get a vote in the fall work period, but he had not named the defense bill as the vehicle.

More than 60 senators have signed a letter circulated by McCaskill that urged curtailing secret holds through steps like the Wyden-Grassley proposal, generating expectations that the plan has the votes to overcome any filibuster. But how the measure is brought up may influence how much support it can get.

Due to time constraints, the Senate deals with most routine business, including most nominations, by unanimous consent. That practice allows any one senator to hold up a bill or nomination that backers hope to move under a unanimous consent agreement by informing their party's leader of an intention to object.

Senators use such "holds" to slow bills for review, block measures or extract leverage. They have no real obligation to publicly announce doing so, and under tradition leaders do not identify who has placed a hold.

A provision in the 2007 ethics law intended to curtail secret holds has had little effect on the practice, which remains widespread.

The current bill, a version of a proposal that Wyden and Grassley have pushed for a decade, would require all holds on nominations and bills to be submitted in writing and automatically printed in the Congressional Record after one legislative day. In addition, holds must be printed even if the measure has not yet come to the floor for consideration. That prevents a common ploy under current rules in which a hold that effectively blocks action does not have to be disclosed because no actual objection has been made on behalf of the senator secretly slowing the bill.

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