Cloture

Senate SealThere’s been a lot of whining from the left lately about Republicans using the filibuster. Well, with such a minority, how else can Republicans stop the democrats from instituting their socialist policies? Besides, it’s part of a natural increase in the use of the filibuster, and as such nothing can be done.

For those lucky few who aren’t familiar with the internal machinations of the political class in Washington, the filibuster is a process in the Senate by which the minority party can stop debate on a bill indefinitely, thus preventing the bill from being voted on. This essentially kills the bill, unless there is a successful vote for cloture (which is a vote to kill the filibuster) and (as of right now) takes 60 votes to do. So it takes a ‘supermajority’ of 60 votes instead of the normal 51 votes to pass a bill if a filibuster occurs. Or is threatened. You see, until recently Senators would actually have to be on the Senate floor speaking to maintain the filibuster as long as the opponents of the filibuster were present. Nowadays that isn’t strictly required. All you have to do is inform the Senate majority leader that you are filibustering, and no speeches are necessary if the majority leader agrees to that. This is a lot easier on the Senators, who would otherwise have to actually be present for their own filibuster.

Now, about the natural increase in its use, take a gander at the following chart of cloture actions for each two-year session since 1919:

Cloture Motions

The green points are the number of times in each session that cloture is invoked (the motion for cloture is actually filed). The orange points are when the cloture motion is actually voted on, and the yellow points are when the cloture motion is successful. There are also trend lines for each group which show a natural exponential growth. (Note: the 2010 session has just begun, so you can probably about double the numbers listed for the last term.) In fact, by my calculations, the number of times cloture is invoked will actually exceed the number of bills considered fairly soon. I know that seems counterintuitive, but that’s just math.

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