On July 28, 2008, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), attempted to weaken the rights of his Republican colleagues. The Leader brought to the floor what came to be known as the "Coburn Omnibus Bill," a package of 36 bills, combined into one omnibus bill.
Typically, there is little debate on bills in the Senate and measures pass through unanimous consent. Senator Coburn (R-OK) exercised his right as a member of the United States Senate to put a hold on several bills, meaning that he did not give unanimous consent. A hold simply means that, since unanimous consent implies support for a bill, a senator is essentially voting “no” on passage of a bill.
The Majority Leader is still able to pass a bill with a hold on it by bringing it to the Senate floor for public debate; however, this takes up valuable time that could be spent on more high profile measures. As a result, the effect of a hold often works to postpone consideration of a measure indefinitely, and as such, is one of the single most effective tools available to Senate conservatives for stopping legislation.
One additional procedure the Majority Leader has used to great effect is called “filling the tree.” Under this procedure, the Leader can block Republicans from offering amendments to legislation on the floor by offering several amendments that do not change the substance of the bill, but which under the rules, fill all of the available places to amend the bill. He then uses his special right of recognition as Majority Leader to prevent consideration on any amendments other than his own.
In an effort to thwart procedural safeguards available to members of the Senate, the Majority Leader brought an omnibus bill to the floor ironically entitled "A bill to advance America's priorities." Senator Coburn had placed a hold on a number, but not all, of these bills, because of the billions of dollars of authorized spending included in the proposed legislation. Due to the inevitable increase of the national deficit at the hand of these bills, Senator Coburn withheld unanimous consent, in order to have full debate on these pieces of legislation.
In a motion for cloture on July 28, Senate Republicans stood together and defended their rights as members of the United States Senate. The motion failed by a vote of 52-40-8, sending a message to Harry Reid that he cannot use his power as Majority Leader to stifle the procedural rights of his Republican colleagues.