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Posted at 9:36 AM ET, 12/23/2010

Breaking the filibuster in one graph

By Ezra Klein

If you're looking for some good historical data on the filibuster, the fine folks who keep up (the surprisingly useful) Senate.gov site have you covered. They've tracked the number of cloture filings (when the majority begins the process of breaking a filibuster), cloture votes (when they vote to break the filibuster), and clotures (when the majority actually breaks the filibuster) in each Congress since 1919, when the Senate first gave itself the power to break a filibuster. Here's what it all looks like in graph form:

breakingthefilibuster.jpg

A few things about that graph. First, the rise in filibusters is just shocking. And this doesn't even count all of them. It only counts those filibusters that the majority actually tried to do something about. Plenty more filibusters get threatened, but cloture doesn't get filed because the issue isn't important enough or the votes aren't present.

Second, note how many filibusters get broken. It's not all, but it's a far cry from none (and it's more than you see in this graph, as filibusters that get withdrawn don't end through cloture). Some get broken by overwhelming majorities. But that doesn't mean the filibuster failed. A dedicated filibuster takes about a week to break even if you have the votes. That's a week of wasted time in the Senate. If your preference isn't merely to delay one vote but to threaten the majority with the prospect of getting less done overall, then launching a lot of fruitless filibusters makes perfect sense.

By Ezra Klein  | December 23, 2010; 9:36 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Comments

I can think of nothing more detrimental to the causes of freedom and justice than an activist legislature constantly "getting things done".

Posted by: msoja | December 23, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

msoja

Don't you ever have anything relevant to opine about than blatant and useless ideological rants. It doesn't make you look good, and I'm worried people will think less of your mental faculties.

Posted by: lauren2010 | December 23, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

only Republicans use the filibuster as a threat. the Democrats never dare use the filibuster. so what's the to-do?

would i expect to see the Democrats use the filibuster in the next Republican led Congress? no Never!!!

and notice i said Republican led Congress, lol. which it is right now as well.

Posted by: Beleck31 | December 23, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Ezra,

"the rise in filibusters is just shocking. And this doesn't even count all of them. It only counts those filibusters that the majority actually tried to do something about"

It seems that documenting 1) the number of filibusters the majority didn't try to do something about, 2) secret holds that were effective at blocking movement, and 3) other obstruction tactics so that the full scope of the problem can be assessed and addressed.

Posted by: NeilSagan | December 23, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

"A dedicated filibuster takes about a week to break even if you have the votes"
But they must be able to be concurrent, right? Otherwise, based on the graph, they did nothing but wait for cloture votes for two years- the if each one takes a week and the 110th voted on >105, that's literally more weeks than there are in two years.

Posted by: _SP_ | December 23, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Liberals, ultimately, will benefit more from filibuster reform. The reason is simple: progressive legislation is incredibly difficult to dismantle, Democrats would be foolish not to capitalize on this opportunity. They should go deep and dismantle the filibuster in all but name.

Posted by: craiganderson | December 23, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

The number of amendments to bills submitted and voted on should be graphed as well to provide some perspective. Many recent filibusters are because lack of ability for Senators to file their own amendments and modify the proposed bill. The increase in frequency of bills written in secret with little to no amendment process after it hits the floor is in direct relation to the rise in the filibuster. The ObamaCare bill is a perfect example.

Posted by: John_Monahan | December 23, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

The number of amendments to bills submitted and voted on should be graphed as well to provide some perspective. Many recent filibusters are because lack of ability for Senators to file their own amendments and modify the proposed bill. The increase in frequency of bills written in secret with little to no amendment process after it hits the floor is in direct relation to the rise in the filibuster. The ObamaCare bill is a perfect example.

Posted by: John_Monahan | December 23, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

--*Liberals, ultimately, will benefit more from filibuster reform.*--

Naturally. Klein isn't pushing it because it will benefit the *country*. Making it easier to pass laws benefits the governing class, into whose arms all of Klein's training pushes him.

Posted by: msoja | December 23, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

"The number of amendments to bills submitted and voted on should be graphed as well to provide some perspective. Many recent filibusters are because lack of ability for Senators to file their own amendments and modify the proposed bill."

Nonsense, there were over a hundred Republican amendments to the House health care bill and I think it was 67 in the senate version. If Republicans have amendments they can and should offer them in committee.

Harry Reid is forced to fill the amendment tree on most bills to keep Republicans from further delaying bills from coming to a vote.

One example, on START John Thune offered an amendment that would pointlessly allow us 720 bombers instead of 700. If it had passed it would have required renegotiating the treaty with the Russians. Putting back passage months if not years. But then that's the whole purpose.

If you believe Republicans don't get any input on legislation you're mistaken. Bills written in secret with little to no amendment process is a GOP game, ask Tom DeLay and Phil Gramm.

Posted by: markg8 | December 23, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Just call them racist, it doesn't matter if it's true or not, right Ezra?

What's is like pandering to corrupt politicians? Where's the new "journolist", hmmm? Did you plug those pesky leaks?

Got your conspiracy back in gear yet?

Posted by: soma_king | December 24, 2010 1:45 AM | Report abuse

With a large GOP majority in the House and the odds of a GOP majority in Senate in 2012 I support filibuster reform. Ezra you are correct. Harry Reid should weaken the filibuster just in time for his entering minority status in 2012. Good Call Ezra. Doofus.

Posted by: dencal26 | December 24, 2010 8:02 AM | Report abuse

dencal26 there isn't going to be any Republican majority in the senate come 2012. Most Americans aren't going to take kindly to the destructive tactics the GOP use and ultimately fail at to defund the ACA and financial reform in the House. Reid will change the senate rules leaving Republicans there to prove out loud on the senate floor for all to see this time that they too just like the GOP house have no interest in governing, in moving the country forward into the 21st century.

When your whole game is predicated on grinding congress to a halt, stopping progress and prosperity for the majority of the people to protect the prerogatives of a few you're not playing to win, you're retreating in the face of history. President Obama is going to lead any effort to cut the debt and he's going to lead it from a position of strength as the economy grows.

That means your already pathetically weak GOP presidential field will get thinner and dumber until you'll eventually pick some sacrificial lamb to keep the teabagger base in line because it will be all you have left.

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