December 11, 2012

The Facts of Senate Dysfunction

Senate Democrats claim that there has been excessive use of the filibuster in the 112th Congress. But a quick look at the number of times Leader Reid has “filled the tree” -- and at the count of cloture votes -- shows that the Democrats’ claim is incorrect.

filibuster facts

Cloture Petitions Not the Same as Filibusters

A filibuster occurs when an attempt to end debate fails, not simply at the filing of a cloture petition. The Majority Leader has the prerogative to file cloture petitions and can do so at any time, even when there is no filibuster. Often these petitions are withdrawn without a vote, suggesting that a filibuster never occurred in many of those cases.

  • During the 112th Congress, the percentage of cloture petitions withdrawn or vitiated has increased to 37 percent. This is the highest for any Congress since 1996.
  • It is the Majority Leader’s impulsiveness – his unilateral and often unnecessary choice to file cloture – that is the reason so many cloture petitions have been filed. 

Shutting Down Debate Before it Starts

  • Leader Reid has filed cloture 107 times on the very day a measure was first raised on the Senate floor. Of these, 82 were during the 110th and 111th Congresses. In comparison, during the two preceding Congresses Majority Leader Frist employed this tactic 30 times.

Unprecedented Use of Filling the Tree

  • Leader Reid has used his right of first recognition a record 69 times – more than twice as often as the last four Majority Leaders combined – to introduce all the amendments allowed on a bill. This parliamentary gag rule eliminates the right of any other Senator to introduce amendments and leaves the minority with no option but to oppose ending debate.

By-Passing Committee Processes

  • Leader Reid has made unprecedented use of Senate Rule 14. He has used this rule to bypass committees and bring bills directly to the floor 69 times in six years.
  • In the 110th Congress, Leader Reid by-passed committees a record 30 times. This Congress, he has used it 26 times – the second highest number ever. 

Issue Tag: Judiciary