Senators’ ability to submit amendments is a crucial facet of our legislative process. Rather than simply voting up or down on the priorities of others, this ability allows lawmakers to represent their constituencies adequately. Yet as of July 15, the Senate has held only four roll call votes on amendments during the 116th Congress. This low number reflects an ongoing trend toward less deliberation in what was once considered the world’s greatest deliberative body.
The amendment roll call voting records of previous congresses during their first sessions (from January through July) are as follows:
– The first session of the 111th Senate held roll call votes on 132 amendments.
– The first session of the 112th Senate held roll call votes on 28 amendments.
– The first session of the 113th Senate held roll call votes on 97 amendments.
– The first session of the 114th Senate held roll call votes on 141 amendments.
– The first session of the 115th Senate held roll call votes on nine amendments.
When compared to earlier records, the 116th Senate’s record is a ringing signal that senators are increasingly unwilling to vote on amendments and are instead turning to the majority leader to use his procedural prerogatives to block proposals on the Senate floor. By preventing senators from attempting to amend the legislation that comes before them for approval, the majority leader maintains control over the Senate’s legislative action. This comes at the expense of rank-and-file senators’ ability to participate in the legislative process on behalf of their constituents.
Rank-and-file senators should not tolerate this staggering decline in amendment activity. The ability of all senators to present amendments is an important part of America’s political institutions and must be protected. Senators can reverse this trend at any point by pushing back against efforts to prevent them from offering amendments on the Senate floor.