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The Senate on Steroids: Vote, Vote, Vote

Call it the 10,000 Vote Club.

In the nearly 220 years of the Senate's history, just 28 senators have been around long enough to cast 10,000 votes. This achievement is the senatorial equivalent of hitting 500-or-more career home runs in Major League Baseball, where just 22 sluggers have cracked at least 500 round-trippers.

But, just like baseball, the Senate appears to be living in its own "Steroids Era", with the ranks of all-time vote kings dominated by present-day senators who cast "yeas" and "nays" at a rate similar to the way Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire belted home runs earlier this decade.

Of those 28 senators in the 10,000 Vote Club, 13 are current members. As Capitol Briefing and the Sleuth noted in today's "On the Hill" column, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) in early August entered the ultimate orbit for total votes, passing the 15,000 mark. That's a feat achieved by only two others, Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) and the late Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), the longest serving senators in history.

But, just as the rate of homers in today's baseball era has cast a shadow on the game, so too has the rapid increase in roll-call votes shined a not-so-flattering light on the Senate. It raises questions about how different today's institution is from the era of Clay, Calhoun and Webster.

Assistant Senate Historian Don Ritchie has pointed out to Capitol Briefing that the rapid increase in both partisanship and filibusters and the threat of filibusters have forced far more roll calls than ever were held in the old days, when so much of the institution worked under the rather quaint notion of unanimous consent.

For instance, while 13 of the 28 members of the 10,000 Vote Club are present-day senators, just four of the 20 longest-serving senators in chamber history are still active senators. Today's senators are not voting more than their predecessors because they are serving longer, but because they are forced to hold more votes than ever before.

In 1989, the earliest year available online, the Senate cast 312 roll call votes. In 2003, the chamber had 459 roll calls; in 2005 there were 366. And so far this year, after just seven full months of legislative activity, the Senate has held 316 roll-call votes with more than three months of legislative business still ahead.

Take three paragons of the early-to-mid 20th century: John C. Stennis (D-Miss.), who served more than 41 years in the chamber; Richard Russell (D-Ga.), who served 38 years; and Russell Long (D-La.), who also served 38 years.

Stennis cast 11,677 votes and Long cast 10,805, while Russell - the longtime Armed Services Committee chairman who has a Senate office building named in his honor - didn't make it into the 10,000 Vote Club.

Yet two of today's veteran senators with notably shorter tenures -- Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), less than 32 years in the chamber, and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), less than 35 years -- have cast more votes than Stennis, Long and Russell. (Leahy has cast 12,563 votes, Domenici 13,347, as of the start of this week.)

Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and John Warner (R-Va.), elected in 1978 and in the chamber less than 29 years, have both cast more votes than Richard Russell did in his 38 years.

And for those who are counting, the 15,000 Vote Club has two more candidates awaiting induction later this year or early next year: Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii), who's cast 14,872 votes, and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), sitting on 14,696 "yeas" or "nays" as of this week.

Having served the same amount of time as Russell Long, 38 years, Stevens has already cast almost 4,000 more votes than the late Louisiana senator.

By Paul Kane  |  September 6, 2007; 5:44 PM ET
 
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