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.
Reid has sometimes had the advantage of an outsized majority, but he primarily operated with 58 or 59 votes. He only had 60 Members of the Democratic caucus for six months of the past two years. That was the time between Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) delayed July 2009 swearing-in and the special election win of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in January 2010. Regardless of whether he had 60 caucus members, Reid rarely won without the votes of at least a few Republicans. That was largely because of the illnesses and subsequent deaths of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) in 2009 and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) in 2010.
However, the controversial health care reform bill would not have likely passed the Senate without Reid’s 60-strong caucus, given all the key cloture votes broke down along party lines.
In the 110th Congress, Reid set the record for overall cloture motion filings with 112, but he only won 54 percent of the time with a small 51-vote majority. This Congress, he filed cloture only 91 times.
In the 112th Congress, which begins Wednesday, Reid will have only 53 Members of the Democratic caucus, making it likely his record in 2011 and 2012 will look more like the 110th Congress than the 111th.
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