One senior Senate GOP aide said Reid might have encountered fewer filibuster attempts if he had sought out minority input in legislation more often. Of course, Democrats have argued Republicans were the ones eschewing bipartisanship. Either way, cloture votes have become much more common in recent years as the minority has used them not just as an attempt to block bills but also as a way to slow down the majority’s agenda. Rarely do modern-day filibusters result in one or more Senators holding the floor and trying to talk a bill to death. Instead, the minority often threatens filibusters as a way to limit the majority’s ability to easily bring bills to the floor for debate. Just one Senator can block a motion to proceed to a bill, and as more Senators are willing to do that, the call for filibuster-killing cloture votes has risen, too.
The current partisan clash over cloture votes has largely come down to GOP objections to bringing many measures up for debate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly said Republicans have been trying to ensure their right to offer amendments on the floor.
On Dec. 18, McConnell took to the floor to highlight what he called majority Democrat’s “dubious record” of “denying the minority its right to amendment a total of 43 times.”
McConnell noted that Frist, over a similar four-year period, used the procedure known as filling the amendment tree, only 15 times to prevent then-minority Democrats from offering amendments.
“The current Majority has blocked the minority from offering amendments more often than the last six Majority Leaders combined,” McConnell asserted.
Besides reacting to McConnell’s push for “minority rights,” Reid also has attempted to use the cloture motion as a bludgeon in recent years. For example, Reid held three separate cloture votes on this spring’s financial regulatory reform measure in an attempt to put public pressure on wavering Republicans, Democratic aides acknowledged. The gambit worked, with the GOP allowing the bill to come to the floor by unanimous consent shortly after the third cloture vote. On other votes, such as two separate roll calls on a campaign finance measure designed to mitigate the effects of a recent Supreme Court decision, Reid knew he didn’t have the votes, but he hoped to put Republicans on record as supporting corporate money in elections, Democratic aides have said.
Reid also was able to reverse his fortunes on some cloture motions by holding a second procedural vote to reconsider the filibuster weeks after the first vote failed. For example, Reid was able to kill filibusters of an unemployment benefits bill and his own travel promotion measure when he brought those issues back to the floor for a second time.
When Mansfield set his record in 1976, filibuster rules had just been changed to set the threshold for cutting off debate at 60 votes, instead of 67. Mansfield’s majority boasted 61 votes, while Frist set his record with only 55 caucus members.