McConnell maintains firm grip despite pledging to restore the Senate

In January 2014, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made the case that Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was running the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” into the ground: “I don’t think anybody is comfortable with where we are. I know I am not.” McConnell was especially incensed about Reid limiting the opportunity of his colleagues to offer amendments. “Voting on amendments is good for the Senate and it is good for the country,” declared McConnell. McConnell then pledged to those listening that “amendments will be allowed” if Republicans were “fortunate enough to be in the majority” in 2015.

Of course, McConnell now knows that Republicans would go on to be in the majority in 2015 and that he would replace Reid as the Senate’s majority leader one year after he gave this speech. At the time, however, the only thing McConnell knew with certainty was that when it came to amendments, the Senate, under Reid’s leadership, “could be better than it has been.”

McConnell’s 2014 pledge raises a straightforward question: Did the Kentuckian honor it by rejuvenating the Senate’s moribund amendment process once he was in a position to do so? Evaluating senators’ amendment activity over the last five years using McConnell’s standard suggests that the answer is no. Despite McConnell’s pledge to increase opportunities for senators to offer amendments, they are offering fewer today than they did back then.

For example, senators offered, on average, fewer amendments each Congress during McConnell’s tenure as majority leader than they offered during Reid’s. Under McConnell’s leadership, senators offered, on average, 827 amendments each Congress. In contrast, senators averaged 1,143 amendments per Congress when Reid was in charge. When amendments to budget resolutions and reconciliation bills, which technically cannot be blocked by the majority leader, are omitted, senators offered about half as many amendments when McConnell was majority leader than they did when Reid was in control.

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Topics: Legislative Procedure