December 4, 2008

Saxby Chambliss and the Filibuster-Proof Majority

The American Conservative Union rates Saxby Chambliss as a 92. That's a pretty good score. The more important score is how he keeps the Democrats from getting 60 Senate seats. That takes the pressure off the Norm Coleman "Weird" Al Franken race, though it's still one we need to win.

In 1917 the Senate adopted the cloture rule which allows filibusters to be stopped with a 2/3 majority vote. In 1975, the rule was amended to 60 out of 100 votes being enough of a majority to stop debate (i.e. a filibuster). The reason an extra seat is so important is that in order to filibuster with 41 Senators or 42, versus 40 is because there are some Republican Senators with moderate to liberal leanings that could vote for cloture by siding with Democrats. Every bit of cushion counts since we can't rely on every Senator siding with the Republican party on every filibuster. There may be many or there may be few filibusters, but when they occur winning means a lot. At this point every victory counts, and every victory simply means NOT taking a step in the wrong direction.

For the record, here are the rules, according to Wikipedia;

The Cloture Rule originally required a supermajority of two-thirds of all senators "present and voting" to be considered filibuster-proof.[4][5] For example, if
all 100 Senators voted on a Cloture Motion, 67 of those votes would have to be
for cloture for it to pass; however if some Senators were absent and only 80
Senators voted on a cloture motion, only 54 would have to vote in favor.[6]
However, it proved very difficult to achieve this; the Senate tried eleven times
between 1927 and 1962 to invoke cloture but failed each time. Filibuster was
particularly heavily used by senators from Southern states to block civil rights

In 1975, the Democratic Senate majority, having achieved a net gain of four seats in the 1974 Senate elections to a strength of 61 (with an additional Independent
caucusing with them for a total of 62), reduced the necessary supermajority to
three-fifths (60 out of 100). However, as a compromise to those who were against
the revision, the new rule also changed the requirement for determining the
number of votes needed for a cloture motion's passage from those Senators
"present and voting" to those Senators "duly chosen and sworn". Thus, 60 votes
for cloture would be necessary regardless of whether every Senator voted. The
only time a lesser number would become acceptable is when a Senate seat is
vacant. (For example, if there were two vacancies in the Senate, thereby making
98 Senators "duly chosen and sworn", it would only take 59 votes for a Cloture
motion to pass.) [6]

The new version of the Cloture Rule, which has remained in place since 1975, makes
it considerably easier for the Senate majority to invoke cloture. This has
considerably strengthened the power of the majority, and allowed it to pass many
bills that would otherwise have been filibustered. (The Democratic Party had
held a two-thirds majority in the 89th Congress of 1965, but regional divisions among Democrats meant that many filibusters were invoked by Southern Democrats against civil rights bills supported by the Northern wing of the party.) Some senators wanted to reduce it to a simple majority (51 out of 100) but this was rejected, as it would greatly diminish the ability of the minority to check the majority.

It should be noted that the three-fifths version of the Cloture Rule does not apply to
Cloture motions to end filibusters relating to Senate Rule changes. In order to
invoke Cloture to end debate over changing the Senate Rules, the original
version of the rule, two-thirds of those Senators "present and voting", still
applies. [7]

The procedure for "invoking cloture," or ending a filibuster, is as follows:
-A minimum of sixteen senators must sign a petition for cloture.
-The petition may be presented by interrupting another Senator's speech.
-The clerk reads the petition.
-The cloture petition is ignored for one full day during which the Senate is sitting (If the petition is filed on a Friday, it is ignored until Monday, assuming that the Senate did not sit on Saturday or Sunday.)
-On the second calendar day during which the Senate sits after the presentation of the petition, after the Senate has been sitting for one hour, a "quorum call" is undertaken to ensure that a majority of the Senators are present.
-The President of the Senate or President pro tempore presents the petition.
-The Senate votes on the petition; three-fifths of the whole number of Senators (sixty with no vacancies) is the required majority; however, when cloture is invoked on a question of changing the rules of the Senate, two-thirds of the Senators voting (not necessarily two-thirds of all Senators) is the requisite majority.

After cloture has been invoked, the following restrictions apply:
-No more than thirty hours of debate may occur.[8]
-No Senator may speak for more than one hour.
-No amendments may be moved unless they were filed on the day in between the presentation of the petition and the actual cloture vote.
-All amendments must be relevant to the debate.
-Certain debates on procedure are not permissible.
-The presiding officer gains additional power in controlling debate.
-No other matters may be considered until the question upon which cloture was invoked is disposed of.

The ability to invoke cloture was last attained by any US political party in the 95th
, in that case by the Democrats.

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