December 27, 2012

Cloture votes do not equal filibusters. Cloture votes do not equal filibusters.


Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell (Getty Images)

One more time: Cloture votes do not equal filibusters.

Learn it. Use it. Cloture votes do not equal filibusters. 

I just wrote about this last week, but since then I see that a court has (quite properly) tossed out Common Cause v. Biden with an explanation that made this elementary mistake. So I figure I should just keep repeating it until people understand. Here’s what the court said:

In 2009, there were a record sixty-seven filibusters in the first half of the 111th Congress — double the number of filibusters that occurred in the entire twenty-year period between 1950 and 1969. By the time the 111th Congress adjourned in December 2010, the number of filibusters had swelled to 137 for the entire two-year term of the 111th Congress.

That is utterly wrong. In the historic 111th Congress, Sen. Mitch McConnell and the Republicans decided to create a 60-vote Senate, which meant that 60 votes were needed on absolutely everything. Which means that they filibustered every single bill, every single nomination, every single amendment, even every single motion, or at least all those for which the Senate rules allowed them to force a 60-vote supermajority. It wasn’t 137 filibusters; it was far, far more. 

(Via Garrett Epps, who is right about the court and the lawsuit, but gets this part wrong also).

One more time: Cloture votes have been one useful measure of filibusters, but no one who understands the Senate has ever believed they were a perfect measure — just an easy and relatively useful one. However, they can both undercount and overcount (if there are multiple attempts to break a filibuster on a single measure) the actual number of filibusters. In the last two Congresses, when Republicans have filibustered absolutely everything, it’s no longer a useful way to measure it; a much better way is to just say 100%.

Cloture votes do not equal filibusters. Everyone should stop using them as if they do.