Transparency: Senators’ Debt Limit Votes Kept Off Microphones; Reporters ProtestPosted: February 14, 2014
Niels Lesniewski reports: In a major departure from procedure during Wednesday’s climactic vote on suspending the federal debt limit, the Senate kept some senators’ votes secret while the nearly hourlong tally was under way — a move that has drawn sharp criticism from Capitol Hill reporters.
“We were very disappointed that Wednesday’s change in Senate voting protocol kept us from giving the public real-time access to this key vote…The tactic certainly gives the concept of legislative transparency a black eye.”
The stakes for Wednesday’s vote were as high as they come, with the full faith and credit of the United States, the political future of Republican leaders and another government shutdown showdown on the line.
But on Wednesday, the clerks did not name names. Instead of announcing the rolling vote tally as the vote went along on the critical motion to limit debate on the debt limit measure, senators were allowed to cast their votes in relative secrecy. Overlooked at the time, it has since caught the attention of numerous reporters.
After organizations representing journalists complained and a few hours after this story was published, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman Adam Jentleson gave CQ Roll Call a statement explaining the switch.
“After the vote began, it was quickly clear that Republican leaders were struggling to deliver enough votes to clear the 60-vote hurdle upon which they had insisted instead of a simple majority, and a potentially catastrophic default suddenly seemed possible. At Senate Republicans’ request, the clerk did not call the names during the vote to make it easier for Republican leaders to convince their members to switch their votes,” he said.
Jentleson said the request ”is consistent with Senate rules.”
“Senator Reid believed that protecting the full faith and credit of the United States and avoiding a default that could have disastrous consequences for anyone with a bank account were the most important objectives. For this reason and as a courtesy to his Republican colleagues, he consented to Republicans’ request,” Jentleson continued. “As always, the Senate floor was open to the public, the press was free to observe the proceedings from their vantage point in the chamber, and the proceedings were broadcast live and unedited on CSPAN2.”
Before the statement was released, Siobhan Hughes of The Wall Street Journal, the chairwoman of the Standing Committee of Correspondents for the daily press on Capitol Hill, was the first to formally criticize what happened.
“We are extremely concerned with the way the vote tally was handled yesterday on a pivotal debt-ceiling vote. When the vote tallies are not read aloud, it makes it harder for the media and therefore the public to get the information they need to hold lawmakers accountable,” Hughes said…
Hannah Hess contributed to this report.
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