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Is there a difference between voting no and voting to filibuster?

It's common these days to hear conservative Democrats say that they view procedural votes as indistinguishable from actual votes. Voting against a bill, and voting against allowing a vote on the bill, are exactly the same, they say. Bruce Bartlett e-mails to say that that wasn't always true, at least not when Republicans were in charge.

When I worked in the Senate there was a widely held, possibly universal, view at least on the Republican side that you never voted against a member of your own side on a procedural motion. You could vote as you wished on final passage of a bill or amendment, but you never voted to table a measure offered by a member of your own party. Everyone understood that one’s vote on a procedural matter didn’t necessarily indicate one’s substantive view on an issue. That was reflected only on final passage.

Today it seems as if this is very much a minority view. I don’t know why, but I suspect that the easy availability of votes online and the proliferation of groups doing vote ratings have a lot to do with it. People may also be more sophisticated about congressional procedure and now understand, as they may not earlier, that a yes vote to table is actually a no vote on the legislation itself.

Perhaps this is an area where partisan pundits on both sides could help their own side. If they helped bring back the understanding that it’s necessary to enforce party discipline on procedural votes as long as the freedom to vote one’s conscience on final passage is maintained then I think Congress would work better for everyone except ideologues. It seems to me that ideologues are per se the enemies of partisans.

Any other old congressional hands have a perspective on this? My e-mail is atop the page.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 24, 2009; 4:38 PM ET
Categories:  Government , Senate  
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I would hope that many Republicans are voting no on the debate because they feel that with a 60 vote needed to make substantive changes to the bill they feel it can't be changed to their liking. Now honestly I know that some idiotic Republicans consider this Obama's "waterloo" to not pass HCR and thus are doing it for political purposes. I hope those Senators or women end up out of a job in 2010 or 2012 or 2014 and are replaced with more responsible legislators that realize this problem needs to be fixed.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 24, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Whether or not a cloture vote is a vote on a bill is irrelevant.

Most independents will pay attention to whether this bill is Democrat only or bipartisan.

If it is Democrat only, then independents will blame the taxes and Medicare cuts on Democrats. Why do you think the Dems aren't pursuing budget reconciliation?

Posted by: RandomWalk1 | November 24, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, you can't solve one problem by creating another. That is what this healthcare bill does. It expands insurance to young healthy folks but leaves others (taxpayers, privately insured, so-called "wealthy" coastal people) worse off as (1) it does nothing to bend the cost curve and (2) it requires significant taxation (the tax policy itself is bad policy based on short term political considerations).

Now I understand you may disagree with me on whether this bill bends the cost curve. But to be perfectly honest, a lot of reasonable, intelligent people out there are skeptical of the bill's ability to control costs and are cynical of the bill's true motivations.

So I think it is perfectly reasonable for folks who want healthcare reform to oppose Obamacare.

Posted by: RandomWalk1 | November 24, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse


I believe I agree with you (and many others on here) that this bill is neither reform not likely to substantively change anything (yet cost $850 billion to do it). That's why I'm against it too.

And those folks aren't just young and healthy many are in their 50's and sick and can't get coverage and should be able to at a fair price and cost they can afford. That's why i agree that we should do the 80% that's been said all along we can agree on but find a way to truly bend the cost curve which is why i've been for capitation of providers all along, something that MA is just doing now three years after their version of reform.

I know very well this doesn't bend the curve and I also know that the taxes in here will end up having a lot more people that are just hanging on in the current system fall out of coverage because employers can't afford it and employees can't as well as individuals not in employer coverage. That's another reason i'm against it.

My problem is members of congress that do it purely for political purposes. That's why Republican's have ratings as low as they do. What Republican's should do is stick to their ideals of smaller government and defecit reduction. That's why I'd love to see every single Republican sign onto the idea of paying for a war surge with taxes or better yet don't do the surge and save the money to reduce the defecit.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 24, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Agree on the opposition for political reasons. The opportunity has been there the whole time for a group of conservatives to trade their Senate votes for cost controls and a more market oriented focus (given the lack of any Republican alternative, I'm assuming here that there are conservative Senators with policy ideas on health care reform). That no one has taken this opportunity signals that the opposition is primarily about dealing a political defeat to the Democrats and the president rather than thinking that there's a better way to fix the health care and health insurance situation.

Posted by: etdean1 | November 24, 2009 6:05 PM | Report abuse

It seems increasingly likely that the entire Ted Kennedy wing of the Senate will vote No on reform that lacks a public option (although they will probably not filibuster). This will be quite a sight to behold.

Posted by: bmull | November 24, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

I think the difference comes when you have a nearly filibuster proof majority. You still need to act as a deliberative body, and thus the debate happens within the party.

Posted by: staticvars | November 24, 2009 11:44 PM | Report abuse

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