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Another Filibuster En Route to the Record

July 11, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of an amendment from Jim Webb (D-VA) that would slow down the President’s surge plan by requiring that U.S. troops be given more time at home between deployments. The final vote was 56 in favor and 41 against, but because of Senate rules, the amendment was not approved.

What gives?

The Senate has a rule that allows the minority party to impose a 60-vote hurdle on passing legislation. It wasn’t designed that way — the framers of the Constitution gave the Senate the ability to come up with its own rules — but the rules evolved over time and the 60-vote hurdle, known as cloture, was solidified in the 70s. The idea was that a 60-vote hurdle would retain the minority party’s ability to block (or filibuster) legislation, without allowing an individual or very small minority to stand in the way of the Senate’s overall will. After Webb’s amendment went down, he decried the Republicans’ use of the procedure on the Senate floor:

>“Today the Republicans decided to filibuster an amendment that goes straight to the well-being of our troops. I deeply regret this move, which makes it necessary for the amendment to be passed with a minimum of 60 votes instead of 51."
>“I would remind my colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle that the American people are watching us closely today. They expect us to finally take the sort of positive action that might stabilize the operational environment in which our troops are being sent again and again."
>“Americans are tired of the posturing that is giving Congress such a bad reputation. They are tired of the procedural strategies designed to protect politicians from accountability, and to protect this Administration from judgment. They are looking for concrete actions that will protect the well-being of our men and women in uniform."

En route to a new record

Webb says that Americans are tired of the posturing. I’m not so sure — the Republicans, playing off the public’s ignorance of how difficult the Senate rules make things for a party in the bare majority, have done a good job of portraying the Democrats as failing with their legislative agenda. But when you take a look at the numbers, its clear that the Democrats are up against a minority that is putting up blockades at a rate far beyond any historical precedent.

Since the 110th Congress convened in January, Republicans have filibustered and forced Democrats to file cloture 47 times. It’s been six-and-a-half months, just over a quarter of the way through Congress’s two-year term. Considering that 2 month-long August breaks still remain, plus a month off in December, plus let’s say they disband at the end of October 08, my conservative calculations predict that by the end of the 110th Congress, Republicans will have forced cloture votes 144 times.

The current record: 82. It was set by the Democratic minority in the 104th Congress. On July 11th in the first session of the 104th, the cloture count was at 27. Another example worth looking at is the 108th Congress, which was split 51-49, but with Democrats in the minority. Over the two-year term, the Democrats forced 62 cloture votes, only 11 by July 11th of their first session. Remember, on July 11th of their first session of the 110th, the Republican minority is already at 47.

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