Filibuster, Cloture, and Reconciliation

Ugh. Boring subject no one really cares about, I’m guessing. Feel free to merrily click away from here if you’d rather not read about how the Party of No is really the Party of No Shame. You probably don’t need any more convincing anyway.

In the U.S. Senate, a filibuster is a debate aimed at delaying a vote on legislation. The word comes from the Dutch word for pirate. The cloture rule, adopted in 1917, says that a two-thirds vote of the senate can end a filibuster. It was first used in 1919 to stop debate on the Treaty of Versailles. Even with the cloture rule, filibuster can still be effectively used, since a two-thirds vote is hard to come by.

In recent years, Republicans have gone crazy with filibusters to prevent a  Democratic president from doing anything at all, and particularly appointing judges.

Here are some charts I took from Mother Jones showing how the use of cloture votes has increased. The first shows the number of cloture votes by year, indicating who controlled the Senate and the White house using colors.

cloture1

The next chart shows the cloture votes when a single party controlled the Senate and White House. This chart shows that while both parties have used the filibuster in the past, its use in the Obama years has skyrocketed.

cloture2

The filibuster was primarily used to block judicial and executive-branch nominees Mother Jones notes:

Democrats had struck one deal after another with Republicans to try and rein in their abuse of the filibuster, but nothing worked. A few nominees would get through, and then another batch would promptly get filibustered. The chart below tells the tale. Under George Bush, Democrats mounted filibusters on 38 of his nominees. That’s about five per year. Under Obama, Republicans have filibustered an average of 16 nominees per year.

This chart tells that story:

cloture3

Mother Jones:

Republicans announced their intention to filibuster all of Obama’s nominees to the DC circuit court simply because they didn’t want a Democratic president to be able to fill any more vacancies. At that point, even moderate Democrats had finally had enough. For all practical purposes, Republicans had declared war on Obama’s very legitimacy as president, forbidding him from carrying out a core constitutional duty. Begging and pleading and cutting deals was no longer on the table.

To get around the use of a filibuster for legislation, the Senate can limit debate to 20 hours by using the “reconciliation” process , which limits debate, effectively taking the filibuster out of play. They simply can de-fund something when preparing a budget.  During the Obama administration, reconciliation was used to pass the A.C.A. because Democrats could expect no compromise from Republicans, no matter how moderate a nominee was or beneficial a law would be. Even if something or someone Republicans had previously championed  was proposed by a Democrat, the answer would be no. Democrats had a majority of 59 in the senate, which was historically plenty to pass legislation, but not a super-majority of 60, which would be enough to end any filibuster.

Republicans were, and have remained, apoplectic about the A.C.A. being passed in this way. In 2009, Mitch McConnell said that using reconciliation would “make it absolutely clear that they intend to carry out all of their plans on a purely partisan basis. Look … we expect to be a part of the process.” He also talked about how using reconciliation on health care would be a “disservice to the American people” because it would deny a “full and transparent debate.”

Well, folks, this week that very same Mitch McConnell, now Senate Majority Leader, has done the very thing he railed against just a short time ago, when the shoe was on the other foot. He used reconciliation to de-fund the A.C.A.

It goes without saying that they have offered nothing to take its place. For the last eight years, the Obama administration has been asking them for their ideas on this. They had none. They have none.

 For those of us who are hoping someone will have the courage and principle to say “no” to Trump about anything at all in the next four years, we need to look some place else. The Republican controlled Senate and House will not rise to this challenge. They have no shame. They are the Party of No Shame. And hypocrisy. And corruption.

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