Closing the Book on Cloture

Okay, maybe the various news services have gotten this whole issue of how the Democrats are stifling debate backwards, but maybe the pattern isn’t one of ignorance, willful deceit or childlike gullibitlity. Maybe this is merely a matter of a long standing way of media outlets looking at this issue?

So, how did the Washington Post describe a similar vote for cloture by Republicans in 2005:

GOP Files Cloture Motion to End Debate

As opposed to today when they vote against cloture:

GOP Stalls Debate On Troop Increase

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Okay, but surely we can expect better from the New York Times (stop sniggering Michael)? In 2006 a vote against cloture was described in this manner:

the Senate voted 49-to-48 against shutting off debate on the issue,
well short of the 60 votes needed to move ahead with formally
considering the amendment

They also claimed two Republicans who broke with the party:

voted against limiting debate

Today, when voting against cloture we get:

G.O.P. Senators Block Debate on Iraq Policy

What about that stalwart of open, honest debate on issues, Senator Harry Reid? In 2005 he called a Republican vote for cloture:

cut[ting] off debate

Here is more on that vote from Harry:

After keeping the Senate from debating the FY2006 Defense Authorization bill for more than 2 months, I was informed yesterday that the Majority Leader was going to file a motion to cut off Senate debate on this important legislation and all the critical issues it raises. “This news should be deeply troubling to all members of this body, our troops and their families, and every American who cares about the security of this country.

[…] [I]f cloture is invoked, members of this body will be denied the opportunity to debate and vote on major issues like ensuring that our troops - active and retired - get the pay and benefits they have earned. No time to debate our course in Iraq.

[…] As things stand now, if the Majority Leader proceeds with this motion, it is entirely possible that the Senate will vote to cut off debate on this legislation before we will even have had a vote on a single Democratic amendment. Let me repeat, it is possible we will have voted to cut off debate before we will have voted on a single Democratic amendment. We cannot find an instance when this has occurred.

If the Majority Leader takes this action, those who support this motion are sending one message: they do not believe the Senate should debate the important national security issues that are very much on the minds of our troops, their families, and the American people.

[…]The Majority Leader’s decision raises an important question: Why would he prematurely cut off debate on critical national security legislation? Why would he want to prevent the Senate from doing everything we can to help our men and women in uniform? Why would he deny the Senate the opportunity to make this country more secure?

[…] I hope the Majority Leader will reconsider this action and let us get back to work on this important bill. If he does not, we will oppose cloture. That is the only course that will ensure that we effectively address the security needs of this nation.

Here is the template. Whatever way Republicans vote on cloture, assuming the parties are generally on opposite sides, it is the Republicans who are limiting debate.

As long as we are taking a look back at history, what is the history of the filibuster and cloture? I point you to this summary from, Poynter (emphasis mine):

Using the filibuster to delay debate or block legislation has a long history. In the United States, the term filibuster — from a Dutch word meaning “pirate” — became popular in the 1850s when it was applied to efforts to hold the Senate floor in order to prevent action on a bill.In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could use the filibuster technique. As the House grew in numbers, however, it was necessary to revise House rules to limit debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued since senators believed any member should have the right to speak as long as necessary.

In 1841, when the Democratic minority hoped to block a bank bill promoted by Henry Clay, Clay threatened to change Senate rules to allow the majority to close debate. Thomas Hart Benton angrily rebuked his colleague, accusing Clay of trying to stifle the Senate’s right to unlimited debate. Unlimited debate remained in place in the Senate until 1917. At that time, at the suggestion of President Woodrow Wilson, the Senate adopted a rule (Rule 22) that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote — a tactic known as “cloture.”

The new Senate rule was put to the test in 1919, when the Senate invoked cloture to end a filibuster against the Treaty of Versailles. Despite the new cloture rule, however, filibusters continued to be an effective means to block legislation, due in part to the fact that a two-thirds majority vote is difficult to obtain. Over the next several decades, the Senate tried numerous times to evoke cloture, but failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote. Filibusters were particularly useful to southern senators blocking civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds (67) to three-fifths (60) of the 100-member Senate.

Many Americans are familiar with the hours-long filibuster of Senator Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” but there have been some famous filibusters in the real-life Senate as well. 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.

Once again, here is the definition of cloture, emphasis mine:

The only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster. Under the cloture rule (Rule XXII), the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes.

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14 Responses to “Closing the Book on Cloture”

  1. on 06 Feb 2007 at 4:11 pm MichaelW

    … (stop sniggering Michael) …

    Heck, I’m crying at utterly predictable it all is. The Fourth Estate has completely abdicated all responsibility and reason.

  2. on 06 Feb 2007 at 4:18 pm Jordan

    No doubt CaptinSarcastic will soon be by to explain that the liberal media is just a myth.

  3. on 06 Feb 2007 at 4:22 pm John Thacker

    In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds (67) to three-fifths (60) of the 100-member Senate.

    A fact not entirely unrelated to the Democratic majority of over 60 but less than 67 in that Senate.

  4. on 06 Feb 2007 at 4:44 pm Lance


    An excellent point. That of course was back in the day when Senate comity was easy to come by since in the end it pretty much didn’t matter what the Republicans wanted, they never had the votes.

  5. on 06 Feb 2007 at 4:58 pm Becky

    I notice that whenever the press wants to hide the fact that the republicans are acting responsibily they use multiple negatives to cloud the wording.

    For example:
    against shutting off debate on the issue
    (ie: voted for debate)

    voted against limiting debate
    (ie: voted for debate)

    For the ordinary sap like me, it sounds negative just because they used so many negatives.

  6. on 06 Feb 2007 at 5:05 pm Lance


    Sure, they make a statement which colors your view and then say things that are technically correct but given the context are unlikely to be read correctly. It is a common technique and many bloggers use it (Glenn Greenwald comes to mind.)

    Now, while it leans against Republicans, the Democrats get misrepresented as well. It is a partisan issue, but not exclusively.


    You should e-mail that point to Glenn Reynolds. He would appreciate the historical point on the rules evolution I would think.

  7. on 06 Feb 2007 at 5:05 pm GM Roper

    Great post Lance, now I have to follow up this evening and link back to your post. Sigh, more work. But, on the other hand, when it is spurred by quality like this, it is a true pleasure. Keep up the good work.

  8. on 06 Feb 2007 at 5:28 pm Lance

    I have another post coming on this. I am going to examine the pushback, which is actually kind of amusing.

  9. on 06 Feb 2007 at 7:19 pm Tom

    “… this whole issue of how the Democrats are stifling debate backwards …”

    How does one stifle debate backwards?

  10. on 06 Feb 2007 at 7:27 pm Orson

    DOES the MSM ever learn!!!?!?!?

    I say no.

    THIS is why I’m a news junkie who has refused his life-long newspaper subscription habit for nine years now.And how does the dwindling newspaper industry respond? By getting worse and more unreliable.

    F**k em!

  11. on 06 Feb 2007 at 7:46 pm Lance


    I have a vivid imagination:^}

  12. on 06 Feb 2007 at 7:59 pm A Second Hand Conjecture » The Blue Putz Speaks on Cloture

    […] Now, we shouldn’t be too hard on the Instaputz, because he obviously had not read at that time my piece on the history of the media’s coverage of debates such as these. He might, if he had, show a bit of intellectual honesty and admit that while he disagrees with my characterization of the debate, it was curious that the “framing” of the issue changed so dramatically depending on the party. […]

  13. on 06 Feb 2007 at 8:08 pm Lance

    My response to Blue Texan aka, Instaputz, can be linked at the trackback above.

  14. on 07 Feb 2007 at 12:19 am Will Franklin

    This is so amazingly shameful. But typical.

    Just like tax cuts “cost” money and slowing the rate of growth in a government program is a “cut.”

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