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Chart Of The Day: How The Filibuster Broke The Senate

Via Ezra Klein, here’s an instructive chart on filibuster use in the U.S. Senate over the past 90 years:

A few cavets:

  1. The filibuster rules have changed a few times during the period covered by this chart. It used to be the case that 67 votes were needed to break a filibuster, then the number was reduced to 65, and then to the current level of 60 in the 1970s
  2. We don’t really see an uptick in the use of the filibuster until the early 90s. Quite honestly, that isn’t a reflection of something wrong with filibusters so much as it’s a reflection of an the end of a sense of bipartisanship in the Senate, on both sides of the aisle. Eliminating the filibuster (which isn’t going to happen) will do nothing to address the root causes of the problem.

Update: Ezra Klein responds here. I respond to Klein here.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. PoliPundit says:

    The filibuster is America’s best friend. It’s the only thing that prevents our ultra-liberal political class from “transforming” America into Europe.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 11

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    This data looks a little different to me than it does to you. I see three major up-ticks: the 92nd Congress (last two years of Nixon’s first term), the 102nd Congress (last two years of George H. W. Bush’s term), and the 109th Congress (first two years of George W. Bush’s second term).

    The first two of those are both instances of divided government: Democratic Congresses with a Republican president. If the last up-tick were the 110th it would be the same.

    Beyond that I have no particular interpretation. I suspect it has more to do with leadership style in the Congress than with anything else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Dave,

    I agree with your interpretation of the other upticks, but they were clearly not of the scale of the increase in the use of the filibuster that started roughly in the early 90s and seems to show no signs of ending unless the rules are changed. Bad leadership is certainly one explanation, but the increasing bitterness of partisan battles and the need for politicians on both sides of the aisle to play to their respective bases also seem to me to play a role in turning the Senate into a body that requires a supermajority to get anything done

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. Tano says:

    ‘Eliminating the filibuster (which isn’t going to happen) will do nothing to address the root causes of the problem.”

    That depends on what you imagine the problem to be. If the problem is that a minority can abuse the historical arrangement by which Senators could insure that issues be thoroughly debated before a (majority) vote – and turn it into a requirement for a super-majority, then eliminating the filibuster directly addresses the root of the problem.

    If the only problem you see is the death of bipartisanship, well then you are right- eliminating the filibuster does nothing for that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. john personna says:

    I think eliminating the filibuster (or limiting it to actual filibuster) would definitely improve the legislative climate. It would mean authentic negotiation, or (note this PolPundit) a genuine down vote.

    If you’ve got the votes, you can stop the Liberals from “transforming” America into Europe.

    Chances are though, you are really more worried about moderates and moderate solutions that you want to call something else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. MarkedMan says:

    Eliminating or greatly reducing the filibuster may help bipartisanship. Right now, if you can get forty people to agree with you, you can say f-you to everyone else and block them from doing what they want. It is possible that having to gather a majority might make more people reach across the aisle.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    but they were clearly not of the scale of the increase in the use of the filibuster that started roughly in the early 90s

    The scale is precisely the same. The great up-tick in scale was between the 90th and 92nd. The number of cloture filings doubled from the 92nd to the 102nd and doubled again from the 102nd to the present. It’s the absolute number that has increased.

    Interesting would be invocations per bill submitted (or, possibly, per page of bills submitted for consideration.

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  8. […] response to my earlier post on the filibuster, Ezra Klein says: We don’t know how to fix partisanship. It’s ebbed […]

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  9. An Interested Party says:

    “The filibuster is America’s best friend. It’s the only thing that prevents our ultra-liberal political class from “transforming” America into Europe.”

    Remember that when the GOP controls everything again some day and the filibuster will be the only thing preventing them from “transforming” America into a Latin American-style banana republic oligarchy…oh wait, in some ways, we’re already on that path…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2