Twenty years of obstruction in one


Talking Point
[Via Booman Tribune]

President Obama spoke to the Senate Democratic Conference today and he pointed something out. Last year the Senate cast more cloture votes than were cast in the 1950’s and 1960’s combined. In other words, as he put it, the Republicans produced 20 years of obstruction in a single year. That’s a talking point I’d like to see repeated so often that even the most disengaged voter hears it and understands it.


The figure is based upon Senate figures. While I am sure you would have to cherry pick the years the point is well taken.

The filibuster as a tool of obstruction is a modern choice and really took off after the rules were changed in the 70s to make it easier to obstruct (no more having to stand on the floor and continue debating a la Mr Smith Goes to Washington). Cloture is the vote to stop debate. If it passes, the filibuster is broken and debate on the bill stops.

The data goes up to the 110th Congress, the first one with a Democratic majority since 2002. It set a record. The 111th Congress had 73 motions, 40 votes on cloture and 36 passed.

Now that is already on a course to pass the 110th Congress in number of filibusters. What is really different this time is the percentage of votes on cloture vs cloture passing. When Democrats are in the minority, the percentage of votes that made it through the cloture vote was usually small. For example, in the 104th Congress, there were 50 votes on cloture but only 9 passed.

In the 110th, the percentage was up to 50% . Half the time when cloture was voted on, it passed. Previously, the most times cloture was invoked in any Senate was 34. It was invoked 61 times in the 110th, almost double the previous high.

in the first year of the 111th Congress, cloture was voted on 40 times (It is on pace to shatter the record of the 110th Congress). Yet, 90% of all the cloture votes resulted in passing, meaning there is at least 60 Senators in favor. This is an amazing number, something not seen in any other Congress in history.

90% of the cloture votes pass! Throughout history, the majority of cloture votes fail.

So, if 60% of the Senators are in favor, why in the world are they having to invoke cloture? Because the Republicans are demanding it. Not because they can actually change the vote but because it slows down the Senate tremendously to invoke cloture and stop debate.

Obstruction is the reason.

Senate rules are actually anti-democratic. One senator can gum up the works and bring things to a standstill. One Senator can prevent hearings on all sorts of things, such as approval of Executive Branch employees. There are over 1100 positions that require Senate approval.

This too has been done by the Republicans, leaving a huge number of really important positions empty simply so they can obstruct governing.

I expect that losing the 60 votes they need to invoke cloture, the percentage will again drop, simply because now there is no way to get to 60. The obstruction will still continue. There will just be no way to route around its damage.