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Harry Reid Beat Back Majority of Filibusters in 2011

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid managed to win more than half of the filibuster-breaking votes on the Senate floor in 2011, besting his success rate from the previous year.

Of the 32 cloture votes pushed by the Nevada Democrat this year, Reid won 19, or 59 percent. He lost 13 cloture votes.

That comes after hitting a success rate of 54 percent in 2010, when he won 28 cloture votes and lost 24. Sixty votes are needed to cut off debate and kill a filibuster, or invoke cloture.

Reid’s majority shrunk from 59 Senators in 2010 to 53 in 2011, increasing the number of Republicans needed to vote with the majority of Democrats in order to reach the 60-vote threshold.

Despite their diminished numbers this year, Democrats won a handful of legislative victories this year by defeating attempted filibusters, including on the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill. Invoking cloture led to the bill’s passage in December, no small feat in a divided Congress.

Other cloture votes of significance include a September vote on Trade Adjustment Assistance, a priority for Democrats and the White House. As part of a deal to pass three trade agreements, Reid won cloture on the motion to proceed to legislation extending the Generalized System of Preferences, which was the vehicle for TAA.

TAA offers a variety of benefits and re-employment services to U.S. workers harmed or displaced by foreign trade. The deal struck between the White House and Congressional leaders was to move the three trade deals in tandem with TAA and the Republican-favored GSP bill, which provides duty-free access to the U.S. market for certain products from developing countries.

The Senate also rejected a filibuster on legislation to repeal a law that would require federal, state and local governments to withhold 3 percent of nearly all of their contract payments beginning in 2013. The bill, which became law last month, was one of the few bipartisan moments of the year. The measure was part of a bipartisan deal to pass the bill and tax incentives for hiring veterans.

That victory was preceded by a failed Republican attempt to invoke cloture on a similar bill that was offset with spending cuts Democrats opposed. And Democrats only won the vote after the House passed a bill that repealed the withholding provision and a deal to add the veterans provision was worked out between the chambers.

Although there were some legislative results in 2011, there were also some notable failures in which filibusters kept the Senate from acting, particularly on nominations.

The White House and Democrats were dealt blows on four nominations that failed to win cloture votes: Mari Carmen Aponte to be ambassador to El Salvador, Richard Cordray to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Caitlin Halligan to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Goodwin Liu to join the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Aponte remains a priority for the White House and Reid, who intends to try to bring her nomination back to the floor this year after securing the 60 votes needed to cut off debate, according to Democratic aides. Democrats hope to enlist the help of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to help round up votes for Aponte but are wary of his ability to influence his colleagues after initially opposing her, the aides have said.

Rubio opposed Aponte’s nomination over concerns with the administration’s posture regarding anti-democratic currents in Nicaragua. He now no longer opposes Aponte after the administration agreed to take a tougher stance.

Still, Sen. Jim DeMint is leading opposition to Aponte’s nomination. The South Carolina Republican is concerned by an op-ed Aponte wrote in El Diario de Hoy that he believes was pro-gay and anti-family. DeMint also charged that she had a relationship with a man targeted as part of an FBI counterintelligence investigation and allegedly worked for Cuba’s spy agency.

Cordray’s nomination fell over Republican opposition to how the CFPB was set up. GOP Senators contend that the director has too much power and have demanded changes before they will allow any nominee for director to move forward.

They prefer a board to run the CFPB, like the five-member board that runs the Securities and Exchange Commission. Republicans also cite their concern that the CFPB should be funded through the appropriations process, which would give Congress more input over the agency. Currently, the CFPB is funded through the Federal Reserve System. Finally, they want to allow other financial regulators to provide a check on CFPB rules so they don’t imperil the health of financial institutions and lead to unnecessary bank failures.

Democrats argued that not allowing the CFPB to have a chief prevents it from fulfilling its consumer protection mission and leaves millions of consumers at risk of falling prey to unscrupulous financial companies.

This year also marked the first two filibusters of judges since a 2005 bipartisan agreement by the “gang of 14” that preserved the right to filibuster judicial nominees under “extraordinary” circumstances.

In December, Republicans blocked Halligan with some invoking the extraordinary circumstances clause of the gang of 14 agreement. They argued whether the vacancy even needs to be filled, an argument Republicans said Democrats used when President George W. Bush sought to fill the spot.

The slot that Halligan was nominated for, to replace Chief Justice John Roberts, has been vacant for years.

Democrats charged that the opposition to Halligan could threaten future nominees and questioned whether the 2005 agreement is still in effect.

In May, Republicans blocked Liu from joining the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, charging that he had an activist judicial philosophy and lacked courtroom experience. They also complained about his criticism of conservative Supreme Court justices, including Roberts and Samuel Alito.

Reid’s record of beating back filibusters has consistently been strong during his tenure as Majority Leader.

In 2009, Reid won 35 of 39 — a stunning 90 percent — of his attempts to invoke cloture on a variety of measures and nominations. That was helped mostly by the fact that for most of the year, he only needed to pick off one or two Republicans in order to win a cloture vote. Reid initially operated with a 59-seat majority, and by the end of the year, the Democratic Conference had 60 Members, which ensured passage of the controversial health care reform law.

His impressive success rate in 2009 helped Reid set a record during the 111th Congress, which includes both 2009 and 2010, by becoming the chamber’s most successful Majority Leader in history at killing attempted filibusters. Reid won 69 percent of his total attempts to shut down threatened filibusters in those two years. The next best rate is held by former Majority Leaders Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.), who both won 63 percent of the time in the 109th Congress and the 94th Congress, respectively.

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