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Our radical Senate

filibusters-1102.gif

Here's a fun fact: The Senate filed 214 cloture votes (votes to break a filibuster) between 2007 and 2010. That's more than it held between 1919 and 1976. And during that period, it was actually easier to filibuster, as you needed 67 votes to break the obstruction, not 60.

Meanwhile, you'll note that 2010 is only a couple of months old. By the end of the year, we'll be nearing 300 cloture votes, if we haven't passed that milestone altogether. That brings the 2007-10 total to about what the Senate saw between 1919 and 1984. Say what you will about the Senate, but this is not traditional. The "cooling saucer" of democracy was never meant to be left in the freezer.

Graph credit: Norm Ornstein/The American.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 22, 2010; 5:22 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Comments

The argument doesn't present any evidence that filing for cloture increased the time necessary to pass any legislation, but the conclusion suggests that some sort of delay has been induced.

The conclusion doesn't match the facts presented: while not an outright lie, it may be somewhat misleading to a casual reader.

Posted by: rmgregory | February 22, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Ezra - My understanding is that the House is passing bills just fine, but that they die before the Senate gets to them. This has, I think, always been the case. My question is this: do you have a study that compares the amount of legislation that dies in such a manner now to the amount that has in the past?

Posted by: nisleib | February 22, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Who says it's traditional? I mean, it will become traditional. The Democrats may not use it as much, next time around, but they will certainly use it more than they have in the past, just as the Republicans are using it more than they ever have.

But that's different than people claiming it has been traditional. If people are claiming it's the start of a new tradition, then I can concur with that.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 22, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

"That's more than it held between 1919 and 1976."

I don't remember the global cooling bill of 1976. And I wonder how a universal healthcare bill would have done.

The more un-American your legislation gets, the more you should expect Americans to obstruct it.

Posted by: cpurick | February 22, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Other than appointments (which both side has to use), there are generally more opportunities to filibuster with a Dec controlled congress. Aggressive legislative agendas equate to more filibusters.

Posted by: WEW72 | February 22, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

In 1975, the Democratic Party leadership of the Senate reduced the cloture requirement from its previous value of 2/3rds to its present value of 3/5ths, triggering an upward tend in cloture motion filings. The cloture motion filing trend took another upward jolt when the rules were changed in 1979 (just before the Reagan Revolution) to eliminate post-cloture points of order. The historical facts raise some interesting questions.

First, how many motions – including motions for cloture – were filed in each year? Has the number of cloture filings increased with the total number of motions filed? Has the percentage of cloture motions to total motions remained relatively constant?

Second, have actual cloture votes and actual invocations of cloture kept pace with cloture motion filings?

Third, does the Congressional Record show that any appreciable delay has been induced by the various filings for cloture? Or are such filings now made as a matter of course to quash reasonable debate?

Fourth, which party has, since 1975, made more filings for cloture; that is, which party has found the greatest need to quash debate? Is this a case where a rules-changer, perhaps with nefarious aims, has now been “hoist with his own petard”?

Posted by: rmgregory | February 22, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Oh, you liberals, always with the hockey stick graphs.

Posted by: vagueofgodalming | February 22, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

"The more un-American your legislation gets, the more you should expect Americans to obstruct it."

un-American legislation ... like extending unemployment benefits during the worst recession since the 1930's? Attempting to block an up or down vote, and then voting FOR the bill after cloture is invoked?

How very American of you.

No, this tactic is never used by Republicans merely to obstruct, of course not.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 22, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Would you care to produce a similar graph showing how often the Majority Leader has "filled the amendment tree" (Senate equivilant of a closed rule) when bringing a bill to the floor? Reed has done this often in an attempt to not only cut off debate but deny Senators the opportunity to offer amendments. I am sure that both Ornstein and Ezra have long been aware of Reed's tactic but discussing it would detract from their "Republicans are the obstructionists" story line. I can forgive Ezra for this, he has never made any claim to objectivity, but Ornstein posses as a "nonpartisan" advocate of process reform. His hypocrysy consistently sows through; nowhere moreso than in his current criicism of the "increase in partisanship in the Senate".

Posted by: WoodbridgeVa1 | February 22, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

"We don't need the Republicans."
"What's Baucus waiting on? We already have the votes."
"Every Democrat agrees to this framework."

Posted by: cprferry | February 22, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone cataloged the type of legislation or appointments blocked by filibuster in recent Congresses? How many of the cloture motions in the chart above are for major bills? How many for high-level executive appointees? How many for low-level appointees? How many for judges? And so on. It would be interesting to see if there has been a shift in what gets filibustered.

Posted by: meander510 | February 23, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

The problem with cloture votes on routine matters is not that it is hard to win them, but that the vote(s) and subsequent up to 30 hours of debate is time consuming. I don't think it takes many senators to force a cloture vote (I think the answer is 1). The obvious filibuster reforms don't solve the problem depicted in this graph, especially if 41 or more Senators are willing to require the cloture votes.

Posted by: windshouter | February 23, 2010 12:42 AM | Report abuse

We've gotten to a point where a 62-30 vote (the jobs bill tally) is considered close. Over twice as many yays as nays and its a razor thin victory. So much for majority rule.

As for that lame "UnAmerican" legislation question, I would like to point out that today's health care bill proposes nothing as liberal what most other nations have. The most comparable plans are two Republicans. One is Mitt Romney's state plan from his days as governor, and the other is from a very anti-socialist Republican named Nixon. But, that is exactly the problem with American politics today. The ideas of people like Nixon and Romney are now considered "extremely leftist" as our political spectrum has been shoved so far to the right.

Posted by: nylund | February 23, 2010 5:54 AM | Report abuse

@nylund: "One is Mitt Romney's state plan from his days as governor, and the other is from a very anti-socialist Republican named Nixon."

Yes, that may be a good comparison. Nixon ran to the right, but he governed to the left. He was a huge liberal. Anti-socialist? No, he was anti-communist. Cuz, you know, they were communist. When he instituted *wage and price controls*, it was okay. Nixon gave us the EPA, OSHA, automatic Cost of Living Adjustments for Social Security (which, say what you will, certainly tends to make SS more costly than it would have been) and on and on. Nixon was a big lib. He's the guy who declared defeat in Vietnam! He wasn't as much of a hawk as JFK or even LBJ.

The left should have loved Nixon. No, he probably wasn't as liberal as McGovern. But seriously. The dude governed as a lefty.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 23, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

cpurick: It boggles my mind that someone can use the word "un-American" and think they are engaging in meaningful debate. All "unamerican" means is "stuff I disagree with." All it is is a bully tactic to paint what you disagree with as bad without bothering to make a rational argument.

Posted by: ericjs | February 23, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

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