Senate Filibusters Reveal Deliberate Obstruction

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SUMMARY

Americans are holding Congress in low esteem because there is little getting done to solve the nation’s problems. Neither party is blameless. Americans want results, but that requires both parties to govern. One cause analyzed here is the recent dramatic increase in use of the filibuster which has reached extraordinary levels. The source of all graphs is one table from U.S. Senate Archives: Senate Action on Cloture Motions

As much as this huge increase in filibusters stands out, even more striking has been their success or failure. For 93 years, the majority of cloture motions to end filibusters failed. In the 2013-2014 session however, 74% of all filibusters were overridden by super majorities of the Senate.

This is not the majority trampling on the wishes of a large minority, but a small minority trying to impose their wishes on a super majority. Clearly, this was not the intent when the Senate set filibuster rules. Rather, this is simply obstruction by a small group abrogating their responsibility to govern.

DISCUSSION

When the founding fathers created the constitution, they put no restrictions on the senate as to debates. Having no limits was one way to restrain a bare majority from ignoring a large minority. Filibusters offered a protection. While there were some lengthy debates in the 19th century, it was during World War I when filibusters got a bit out of hand as some tried to limit U.S. involvement in the war. But so little else got done that President Wilson urged some limits on debate.

“In 1917, senators adopted a rule (Rule 22) … that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote, a device known as “cloture.” The new Senate rule was first put to the test in 1919, when the Senate invoked cloture to end a filibuster against the Treaty of Versailles.”  In the next 42 years cloture was invoked just 4 times.

The Senate posts its cloture data back to its origin in 1919. First, it is noted that only one senator is needed to start a filibuster. Senate archives track three items: [1] cloture motions filed by at least 16 senators to end a filibuster or debate. Motions are not a vote on the legislation itself, but simply a vote to limit further debate on legislation; [2] votes on cloture that for years this required 2/3 or 67% of all senators, later reduced to 3/5 or 60%; [3] cloture invoked whereby this super majority of senators vote to limit debate to 30 more hours thus ending the filibuster.

The current senate filibuster rule began 95 years ago, and through 2014. 1,624 motions have been filed to end debate. But its use has not been uniform. In its first 50 years, only 49 cloture motions were filed. Prior to 1971, senate filibusters were rarely used with cloture motions averaging about one per year. Rarity was no longer the case from 1971 through 2014 as shown in Graph 1 below. For 36 years, cloture motions trended upwards. However, in the last 8 years, they first jumped to over 100 and then in the last session, rose past 250. In short, the use of filibusters in the last two years was unprecedented in senate history.

motions1

    Graph 1                                                    

An obvious question is what is behind this fairly drastic increase in the use of filibuster. This analysis explores multiple aspects to identify root causes.

The first aspect explored was whether the parties of the President and Senate could explain the use of filibusters. Graph 2 above modifies Graph 1 by color coding the party of the President and Senate for each session. The solid blue bars represent both a Democratic President and Senate. The red blue bars represent both a Republican President and Senate. The green and gold bars represent a mix with the President’s party having a minority in the senate.

motionsparty

    Graph 2                                                     

For all but the last bar, both parties engaged in filibusters to restrain senate legislation. Save for the last session, it is fair to say that both parties used the filibuster to require the majority to consider the minority. Motions were filed, votes were taken, and filibusters were or were not sustained.

This graph shows that both parties increasingly relied on filibusters. In 2007-08, the senate majority changed from the party of the President and it was Democrats who were behind the doubling of cloture motions. In 2013-14, motions doubled again, but something else occurred as shown in Graph 3.

Graph 3 is the same as Graph 1 showing motions filed, but adds yellow bars for the filibusters overridden. For all but the last session, attempts to end filibusters failed over half the time which means they achieved their purpose of enabling minority senators to apply some brakes on the majority.

overridden

    Graph 3                                                    

However, the same cannot be said for the 2013-2014 session where attempts to end filibusters succeeded 74% of the time rather than failing over half the time. This is not the majority trampling on the wishes of a large minority, but a small minority trying to impose their wishes on a super majority. Clearly, this was not the intent when the Senate set filibuster rules. Rather, this is simply obstruction by a small group abrogating their responsibility to govern.

It also demonstrates that blame for recent senate gridlock is not evenly divided between the two political parties. Rather, the evidence clearly places responsibility on a small group of Republicans sometimes associated with the Tea Party. To be clear, this is not to blame Republicans in general, but only a few disruptive Senators and only in the last session.

Another aspect is to view filibusters by President, regardless of the party of the senate. The next Graph 4 shows motions filed per year for Presidents Kennedy through Obama.

motionsyear

   Graph 4                                                     

In this graph there was less than one cloture motion/year (28 in 42 years) to end filibusters from inception up to President Kennedy in 1961. Motions almost doubled under Presidents’ Reagan & Bush 39, then nearly doubled again under Presidents’ Clinton & Bush 41. Finally, under President Obama, motions doubled yet a third time to over 80 per year and more than four times versus President Reagan. Filing   motions to invoke cloture sometimes ends the filibuster.

Failing withdrawal, the Senate then votes on the cloture motion. Graph 5 below shows a fairly flat trend in percent of motions that went to a vote.

Taking votes on cloture has had little effect on filibuster usage. As suggested in Graph 3 above, the same cannot be said for percent success in ending filibusters.

votedon

   Graph 5                                                     

Graph 6 below shows the percent of filibusters defeated by president. For both President Bush 41 and Obama, percents are heavily affected by their two latest years in office. But only in Obama’s presidency is the overall average of filibuster defeats approaching a super majority. Clearly, many minority senators are voting with the majority to at least end debate and allow a vote on the actual legislation. And voting yea or nay is the responsibility of governing.

pctdefeated

   Graph 6                                                     

Yet another view of filibusters is to compare the first six years of Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 41 and Obama, the last five presidents who had a second term. In Graph 7 below, the red bar is the number of motions filed. The blue bar is the number of cloture votes which alone suggests strong opposition to the filibuster. Finally, the green bar is the number of filibusters overridden, with 2013-2014 Senate having more overrides than all four previous presidents.

The key takeaway of this graph is that both Democratic Presidents had filibusters more than double over the same period of the Republican presidents before them. Again, this exhibits a greater reliance by Republicans to use filibusters to restrain the incumbent President.

presfilibuster6yr

    Graph 7                                                   

CONCLUSION

Americans are holding Congress in low esteem because there is little getting done to solve the nation’s problems. Neither party is blameless. Americans want achievement, but that requires both parties to govern. Each party blames the other for the gridlock, but is blame really equal? This analysis shows that with regard to filibusters, recent blame falls more heavily on a small group of Republican senators.

Once a rarely used tool, the Senate’s increased use of the filibuster not only has reached extraordinary levels but differs significantly from history. The current senate filibuster rule began 95 years ago, and through 2014, 1,624 motions have been filed to end debate. But its use has not been uniform.

In its first 50 years, only 49 cloture motions were filed. In the 24 years from President Nixon through Bush39, 427 motions (18 per year) were filed. In the 8 years from President Clinton through Bush41, motions increased to 643 (40 per year). Finally in 6 years of President Obama, 505 motions were filed (84+ per year).

As much as this huge increase in filibusters stands out, even more striking was their success or failure. For 93 years, the majority of cloture motions to end filibusters failed. In the 2013-2014 session however, 74% of all filibusters were overridden by super majorities of the Senate.

This is not the majority trampling on the wishes of a large minority, but a small minority trying to impose their wishes on a super majority. Clearly, this was not the intent when the Senate set filibuster rules. Rather, this is simply obstruction by a small group abrogating their responsibility to govern.

Still another apparent trend is for Republicans to sharply increase use of the filibuster when the presidency changes from Republican to Democratic. While not conducive to results, it is a method Republicans have felt very free to use.

Download PDF Report >>> Senate Filibusters Reveal Deliberate Obstruction

SOURCE REFERENCES

Filibuster and Cloture

Institutional Development

Senate Action on Cloture Motions

 

MORE GRAPHS AND SOURCE DATA

motionbypres

votesbypres

overridebypres

senatearchive

While most senate filibusters are initiated by the minority party, the most controversial filibusters were initiated by senators in the majority, not minority party. “During the 1930s, Senator Huey P. Long effectively used the filibuster against bills that he thought favored the rich over the poor. The Louisiana senator frustrated his colleagues while entertaining spectators with his recitations of Shakespeare and his reading of recipes for “pot-likkers.” Long once held the Senate floor for 15 hours. The record for the longest individual speech goes to South Carolina’s J. Strom Thurmond who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.”

 

Senate Gridlock – the Filibuster Factor 2012

Download PDF Report >>> Filibuster Trends 2012

SUMMARY

For decades, filibusters served Congress well as a method for the minority to put some checks on the majority. But the nation’s founders never envisioned this turn of events. The constitution requires the VP to break Senate vote ties clearly indicating that 51 % is a majority. Republicans recent reliance on the filibuster has effectively raised the votes needed to pass to 60%, a super majority. Using the filibuster to wrestle power back is not a recipe to reduce people’s frustration with gridlock.

ANALYSIS

This is a mid 2012 post updating earlier posts that record actual data through summer 2012. Americans of all political persuasions are more and more frustrated with the gridlock that has almost brought Washington to a standstill. This analysis focuses only on the Senate and the filibuster.

The Senate posts filibuster data back to 1919. Records track three items.

  • First, cloture motions to end debate which occur when a minority of senators threaten or actually filibuster. That sometimes ends the filibuster.
  • Second, once a motion has passed, there is a cloture vote.
  • Third is recording the cloture vote. If the vote succeeds, cloture is invoked and the filibuster is overridden.

When a filibuster is overridden, then the Senate still has to vote on the actual bill. But then, only a simple majority or 51% is required for the legislation to pass.

cloture motions

Republicans’ use of filibuster has reached unprecedented levels with no signs of abating. But it was not always so. In the graph above, only 56 cloture motions were filed over 52 years from 1919 through 1970. At just over one per year, filibusters were rarely used. 420 cloture motions were filed over the next 22 years, from 1971 to 1992, a sharp increase to 19 per year.

1993-1994 saw Republicans’ “Contract with America” that escalated partisanship to higher levels. From 1993-2006, motions nearly doubled to 36 per year. Cloture motions took an even more dramatic upturn in 2007 when Republicans lost control of the Senate. Cloture motions again jumped sharply through mid 2012 to average nearly 70 per year. Clearly, filibuster has become the weapon of choice for Senate Republicans.

Republicans accuse Democrats of filibustering, and there is some truth to that. But as the graphs show, Republicans (red bars) initiated each spike and have now taken filibustering to an absurd new level. Virtually every major piece of legislation now runs the filibuster gamut. Motions to end filibusters is only the first part. The senate then needs to vote and this occurs about 75% of the time. Of those times when no vote is taken, either a compromise is reached or the bill is withdrawn.  The graph below shows the trend in cloture votes taken.

cloture votes

Americans hold Congress in low esteem because of gridlock. Americans want achievement, but that requires both parties to compromise. Neither party is blameless but neither is the blame 50/50. The frequency of filibuster and threats of it does not reflect well on Republicans’ acting in good faith.

Credit Republicans with discipline. They threaten any of their own party who don’t tow the party line and vote out of office those who compromise, not in the general election but in the Republican primaries. While that increases the effect of their filibuster threats, it is essentially a negative strategy. They’re short on their own ideas. They’re adamant about their own ideas while they just say “NO” to all Democratic ideas.

cloture invoked

As the above graph shows, those filibustering do not always get their way. Since 1960, filibusters have been overridden less than 45% of the time. However, in the past 5 ½ years with Republicans filibustering, overriding those filibusters has succeeded almost 60% of the time.

For decades, filibusters served Congress well as a method for the minority to put some checks on the majority. But the nation’s founders never envisioned this turn of events. The constitution requires the VP to break Senate vote ties clearly indicating that 51 % is a majority. Republicans lost majority through the ballot. Their reliance on filibuster has effectively raised the votes needed to pass to 60%, a super majority. It’s ironic that Republicans should blame Senate Democrats for not passing legislation, even though Democrats are in a majority. Using the filibuster to wrestle power back is not a recipe to reduce people’s frustration with gridlock.

Download PDF Report >>> Filibuster Trends 2012

Source Document shown below: http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/reference/cloture_motions/clotureCounts.htm

filibuster history

Senate Gridlock – the Filibuster Factor – Update

This Analysis has been replaced with a new version: Senate Filibusters Reveal Deliberate Obstruction

 

Key Healthcare Provisions – Kaiser Foundation

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Kaiser Foundation Source

Some of the items that go into effect in the first year include:

NEW HELP FOR SOME UNINSURED: People with a medical condition that has left them uninsurable may be able to enroll in a new federally subsidized insurance program that is to be established within 90 days. The legislation appropriates $5 billion for this, although that may not be enough to cover all who apply; it’s not clear how much consumers would pay as their share of the cost. About 200,000 people are covered in similar state programs currently, at an estimated cost of $1 billion a year, says Karen Pollitz, a research professor at Georgetown University.

DISCOUNTS AND FREE CARE IN MEDICARE: The approximately 4 million Medicare beneficiaries who hit the so-called “doughnut hole” in the program’s drug plan will get a $250 rebate this year. Next year, their cost of drugs in the coverage gap will go down by 50 percent. Preventive care, such as some types of cancer screening, will be free of co-payments or deductibles starting this year.

COVERAGE OF KIDS: Parents will be allowed to keep their children on their health insurance plan until age 26, unless the child is eligible for coverage through a job. Insurance plans cannot exclude pre-existing medical conditions from coverage for children under age 19, although insurers could still reject those children outright for coverage in the individual market until 2014.

TAX CREDITS FOR BUSINESSES: Businesses with fewer than 25 employees and average wages of less than $50,000 could qualify for a tax credit of up to 35 percent of the cost of their premiums.

CHANGES TO INSURANCE: All existing insurance plans will be barred from imposing lifetime caps on coverage. Restrictions will also be placed on annual limits on coverage. Insurers can no longer cancel insurance retroactively for things other than outright fraud.

GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: Insurers must report how much they spend on medical care versus administrative costs, a step that later will be followed by tighter government review of premium increases.

Some of the major changes the reconciliation proposal would make to the Senate-passed bill:

HEFTIER SUBSIDIES: Compared to the Senate legislation, the reconciliation bill would provide more generous subsidies to low- and moderate-income Americans to help them buy health coverage.

THE “MASERATI” TAX: The levy on high-cost insurance plans is scaled back and delayed, rendering it more a “Maserati” than a “Cadillac” tax. It would apply only to the portion of plans costing more than $10,200 a year for individuals, up from $8,500, and $27,500 for families, up from $23,000. The tax wouldn’t kick in until 2018, reducing the projected revenue to the government by 80 percent. Over time, however, the tax would hit more and more plans, because the tax’s threshold is set to increase at the rate of inflation while premiums are expected to continue to grow much more quickly than that.

CLOSING THE DOUGHNUT HOLE: Unlike the Senate bill, the reconciliation measure would eventually close the coverage gap, called the “doughnut hole,” for Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in Part D drug plans. (Currently, seniors who hit the gap must bear the full cost of their medications until they spend a certain amount, when coverage kicks back in.)

Under the new bill, seniors who hit the gap this year would get $250 to help cover the costs of their medications. Starting next year, they’d get a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs, with the cost borne by the drug industry. In subsequent years, the discounts would expand and begin covering generic drugs, with the expense picked up by the government. By 2020, the discounts would reach 75 percent.

SHIFT IN MEDICARE ADVANTAGE PAYOUTS: Government payments to Medicare Advantage, the private-health plan alternative to traditional Medicare, would be cut back more steeply than under the Senate bill: $132 billion over 10 years, compared to $118 billion.

The government currently pays the private plans an average of 14 percent more than traditional Medicare. The new bill, besides reducing payments overall, would shift the funding; some high-cost areas would be paid 5 percent below traditional Medicare, while some lower-cost areas would be paid 15 percent more than traditional Medicare. The Senate’s plan that would have shielded some areas of the country such as South Florida from major cuts was largely eliminated.

A RAISE FOR DOCTORS: Primary care doctors would get a Medicaid payment boost in the reconciliation bill. Beginning in 2013 and 2014, the doctors’ payment rates would be on par with Medicare rates, which typically are about 20 percent higher than Medicaid. The goal is to ensure that there will be a sufficient number of doctors willing to care for the millions of additional people who would become eligible for Medicaid under the health care overhaul.

PUSHING UP THE MEDICARE TAX: The Senate bill adds a 0.9 percentage point to the Medicare payroll tax on earned income above $200,000 for individuals, or $250,000 for couples. Under the reconciliation bill, starting in 2013, people in those income brackets also would face a 3.8 percent tax on investment income, such as interest, capital gains and dividends.

PENALTY FOR NOT HAVING INSURANCE: Under the new bill, most Americans without insurance would face an annual penalty, starting in 2014 at $95 – the same as in the Senate bill. But in following years, the penalties in the reconciliation bill are slightly different. Those without insurance in 2016, for example, would pay the greater of two alternatives: a flat fee of $695, down from the Senate’s $750, or 2.5 percent of their income, up from 2 percent in the Senate bill.

EXPANDING MEDICAID: The reconciliation package differs from the Senate-passed bill in several ways. It would delete a provision dubbed the “Cornhusker kickback” that would have exempted Nebraska from paying any cost of a Medicaid expansion included in the bill. But it would provide full federal funding to all states for newly eligible Medicaid recipients for three years. And it would give additional funding to states like Vermont and Maine that have already moved to cover adults without children, which isn’t required under the Medicaid program.

MEDICARE SPENDING BOARD: The Senate bill would create an independent, 15-member board to recommend ways to control Medicare spending. The board remains in the reconciliation package, but would be expected to produce just about half of its original projected savings of $23 billion in the Senate bill. That’s because the new proposal would make greater cuts in Medicare Advantage plans.

Download PDF Report >>> Key Healthcare Provisions


Senate Gridlock – the Filibuster Factor

This Analysis has been replaced with a new version: Senate Filibusters Reveal Deliberate Obstruction