There is a little-known rule in the Senate stating that hearings can’t happen after 2:00 p.m. each day without unanimous consent. However, every day, at the start of business, the Senate generally agrees, by unanimous consent, to waive this rule and continue with the necessary business of holding hearings. Here is the rule:
5. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of the rules, when the Senate is in session, no committee of the Senate or any subcommittee thereof may meet, without special leave, after the conclusion of the first two hours after the meeting of the Senate commenced and in no case after two o’clock postmeridian unless consent therefor has been obtained from the majority leader and the minority leader (or in the event of the absence of either of such leaders, from his designee). The prohibition contained in the preceding sentence shall not apply to the Committee on Appropriations or the Committee on the Budget. The majority leader or his designee shall announce to the Senate whenever consent has been given under this subparagraph and shall state the time and place of such meeting. The right to make such announcement of consent shall have the same priority as the filing of a cloture motion.
Republicans, however, are now refusing to give unanimous consent and are blocking the hearings. Today, during a Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing on transparency, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) announced that he had to stop the proceedings because of Republican blocks:
I have just been advised by my staff that on the floor of the Senate there has been a move to stop all the proceedings in hearings that are going on in the Senate, and we are compelled to stop at this point in time. And I regret it, but there are rules here when we reach point in time and unless there’s unanimous consent to proceed for — as you may recall — unless there’s unanimous consent in the Senate to be able to proceed, we can only go on for so long and then we have to stop our hearings. And the whistle has blown. Unfortunately, we and all the other committees and subcommittees that are holding hearings have to, at this time, cease. I feel very badly about that. It’s not my doing.
ThinkProgress spoke to a Homeland Committee staffer who said that the committee’s work would be significantly disrupted if Republicans refuse to give unanimous consent throughout the week. The AP also reported today that Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) had a hearing on the bark beetle canceled today “after Republicans angry over the passage of health insurance reform legislation blocked it by using an obscure Senate rule requiring a unanimous consent to hold hearings scheduled after 2 p.m.”
Dmeocratic staffers on the Hill told ThinkProgress that they anticipate Republicans will not only continue blocking hearings for the rest of the week, but also delay or block all sorts of minor, routine measures. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) office did not reply to a request for comment.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office put out a statement this afternoon responding to the GOP blocks:
Senator McCain’s promised obstruction comes to reality just a day later. “The Party of No” wouldn’t even agree to let Senate committees meet today. Ironically, as they make false claims about transparency regarding health reform, they’re shutting down a committee hearing today on transparency in government.
The bottom line is that as millions of Americans are learning about the immediate benefits of health reform, Republicans are throwing a temper tantrum and grinding important Senate business to a halt.