Republican Obstruction at Work: Record Number of Filibusters

When the Democrats regained tenuous control of the 110th Congress in 2007, filibusters by the new Republican minority skyrocketed. Following the landslide victory of Barack Obama and progressive Democrats in 2008, there was a clear mandate for change in reform in America, yet the 111th should set a new record for filibusters as part of a clear pattern of obstruction from those who do not want change or reform.

The History of Filibusters in the US Congress

For those unfamiliar with the procedures, a senator can stop progress on any bill by speaking on and on and on on any topic they choose, unless 60 Senators vote to invoke cloture, there by ending the endless ramble. The first instance of cloture being used was to end a filibuster of the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles by isolationists in 1919. Following that, there were only 3 instances of cloture until 1960.

Use of the filibuster began to rise during the progressive fight to pass Civil Rights bills in the 1960′s, mainly from conservative Southern Democrats opposed to ending segregation. The record length for a single filibuster was Strom Thurmond (R-SC) who spoke for more than 24 hours in an attempt to stop passage of the Civil Rights Act.

During an attempt by the Bush regime to ram a group of conservative activist judges down the throats of the nations highest courts in 2005, the Democratic minority threatened to filibuster. At this point, the Republican majority threatened to abolish the filibuster (called the nuclear option) as a parliamentary procedure. According to Wikipedia:

In 2005, a group of Republican senators led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), responding to the Democrats’ threat to filibuster some judicial nominees of President George W. Bush to prevent a vote on the nominations, floated the idea of having Vice President Dick Cheney, as President of the Senate, rule from the chair that a filibuster on judicial nominees was inconsistent with the constitutional grant of power to the president to name judges with the advice and consent of the Senate (interpreting “consent of the Senate” to mean “consent of a simple majority of Senators”, not “consent under the Senate rules”).

Number of Filibusters Skyrocket

This brings us to the modern day. When people began to see the results of the conservative political philosophies of the last generation, in particular those put in place during the strong control of all branches of government under Bush, there was a spontaneous backlash. When just a year before corporate pundits were declaring the Democratic Party dead, they won back slim control over both chambers of Congress. The immediate effect was that the number of filibusters by new minority party skyrocketed.

We are now in the 111th session of Congress, and it appears that a new record will be set once again. To date, there have been 76 motions filed to end filibusters, resulting in 40 votes on cloture, and 40 instances of it being invoked. If we project these numbers to the end of the 111th session of the US Senate, that would result in a record number of cloture invocations, and near record levels of motions along with actual votes.

This data has been compiled using the Senate.gov website, which has documented the number of cloture motions filed, total votes on cloture, and the number of times cloture as actually invoked. Freely available to the public as part of increased transparency, it also contains a list of the cloture motions filed by for each bill. The most recent vote for cloture was filed by Harry Reid (D-NV) to end a filibuster of HR 1299, the Capitol Police Administrative Technical Corrections Act of 2009. The vote was successful, resulting in cloture being invoked on a vote of 76-20.

Steven R. Hurst reports from the White House for The Associated Press:

The filibuster – tool of obstruction in the U.S. Senate – is alternately blamed and praised for wilting President Barack Obama’s ambitious agenda. Some even say it’s made the nation ungovernable. More certain, however: Opposition Republicans are using the delaying tactic at a record-setting pace.


Clear Pattern of Obstruction

This is all part of the Republican plan to deliberately stop government from working, as part of a playbook to retake Congress and hamstring the change voted for in 2008, and one that is eerily similar to the one they used in 1994.

This playbook consists of 5 distinct steps:
Step 1: Avoid Responsibility for GOP Failures
Step 2: Increase Negativity
Step 3: “Throw the Bums Out!”
Step 4: The New Contract on America
Step 5: Retake Congress

Where the filibuster should have a legitimate role in a functional democracy to protect minority rights, it is a procedure that is highly susceptible to abuse. In the past, this was always kept in check by the morality of individual senators, but in the 111th Congress, the sheer number of times it has been used indicate a clear pattern and dangerous precedent.

Reaction to Obstruction

Lou Gerber, the Legislative Director of the Communication Workers of America writes, “Under Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Republican Senators have instituted “new math” in which 60 votes have replaced 51 votes as the required majority to pass legislation.”

Ali Frick of ThinkProgress adds, “The Republicans have become experts at using Senate filibusters — or often just the threat of filibusters — to block the Democratic agenda while in the minority.”


There is more. Wes Rackley documents that while only 3 Bush nominees have been held up more than 3 months during his first year, 63 Obama nominees have been subjected to delay tactics, leaving important posts left unfilled.

Conservatives from both parties, but mostly the Republicans have held up health care reform for almost a year now. There was even a manual on procedural ways to obstruct reform written by Sen. Judd Gregg, (R-NH) leaked.

The Republican Party has been doing everything in their power to obstruct progress, delay reform, and poison the well for the last year. This record number of votes invoking cloture to end a the record number of filibusters is just the latest incarnation of this.

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