Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma on Tuesday circulated a letter where he and five GOP colleagues explains circumstances in which he won’t allow legislation through the Senate quickly by unanimous consent using the chamber’s “hotline” system.
Hotlining is now largely conducted via emails from leadership staff to top aides in each Senate office and in some cases, senators themselves. The name came about from a reverse phone system to each Senate office based out of the Democratic and Republican cloakrooms.
CQ Weekly explained that telephone-based process back in 2010, when Coburn joined with then-Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to propose requiring every bill and resolution on the hotline have legislative text and a CBO score available for three days before being called up.
Hotlining has been largely automated because verbally checking with each senator would take too much time. The Senate uses an automated telephone system, ringing a special phone in each office that plays messages recorded by the party cloakrooms. The hotline is also distributed electronically. Senators have a limited amount of time — sometimes 30 minutes — to respond and refuse consent. No response signals agreement.
With our national debt exceeding $17 trillion, taxpayers are expecting us to work together to reduce wasteful and unnecessary spending and be more vigilant about how we spend public funds. As stewards of our nation’s finances, we must ensure our good intentions today are not paid for at the expense of future generations. This means no longer spending money we do not have to pay for programs we do not need.
The House of Representatives has enacted a number of requirements to ensure any bill considered by the chamber does not grow the size or cost of the government or increase our national debt. We believe the Senate should apply these and other commonsense practices to restore fiscal responsibility and increase accountability and transparency in the legislative process.
We, therefore, are notifying you of our intention to object to the consideration of any legislation that fails to meet any of the following standards:
- All New Spending Must Be Offset with Cuts to Lower Priority Spending: Congress authorizes billions of dollars in new spending every year to create new government programs or expand existing ones. Yet, few bills are passed to eliminate outdated, duplicative, unnecessary, inefficient, wasteful, or low-priority programs. To make government more efficient, any legislation authorizing new spending or creating a new agency, office, program, activity, or benefit, or increasing the authorization of an existing function, must offset the cost of this expansion by eliminating an existing program or function or reducing the authorized funding level of ongoing spending.
- Government Programs Must Be Periodically Reviewed and Renewed: Government programs that are outdated or no longer necessary must end. Congress should periodically determine whether or not every government program is working as intended, is still needed, or is worthy of continued taxpayer support. To ensure this happens, any legislation establishing or continuing an agency, office, or program must also include a “sunset” date at which point Congress must decide whether or not to update, extend, and end the program.
- The Cost and Text of Bills Must Be Available Prior to Passage: Too many bills costing billions of dollars with far-reaching implications are approved by the Senate with little debate, few if any amendments, and little time to read the actual text of the legislation. To guarantee taxpayers and senators have sufficient time to review bills to understand their cost and impact, all legislation must be publicly available in an electronic format for at least three full days along with a cost estimate completed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) prior to being passed.
- Duplicative Government Programs Must Be Consolidated or Eliminated: Despite the existence of hundreds of duplicative federal programs costing billions of dollars, Congress continues to create new programs with similar missions, goals, and purposes. To reduce redundancy, any bill creating a new program that would replicate a current government mission must consolidate overlapping activities or eliminate the existing programs.
- Congress Must Not Infringe Upon the Constitutional Rights of the People: Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress a very limited set of enumerated powers. Far too often, Congress infringes upon the rights and liberties reserved for the people and the states provided elsewhere in the Constitution. These overreaches are no more than an afterthought when most bills are debated. To restore the intended balance of powers between the states and the federal government and to preserve the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, all bills must have a clear and obvious basis connected to one of the enumerated powers and must not infringe upon any of the rights guaranteed to the people.
By making clear these expectations now, it is our hope we can work together earlier in the legislative process to resolve any differences that could otherwise delay or stop the passage of your legislative priorities. And while we expect all of these standards to be met for each bill the Senate considers, this is not an exhaustive list of all the reasons we may individually object to a particular bill or unanimous consent request.
Tom Coburn, M.D. John McCain
Ron Johnson Rand Paul
Kelly Ayotte Jeff Flake