Bernie Sanders Filibuster Comment Misleading

A quote on the Facebook page of Sen. Bernie Sanders that is making the rounds in social media blames Republican filibusters for Senate dysfunction is inaccurate and an over simplification.  The quote indicates 252 filibusters, but no source is cited.

The number seems to be a combination of the cloture motions filed almost exclusively by Sen. Harry Reid in the 111th and 112th Congresses. They add up to 252.  Almost all of these motions were initiated by Harry Reid and do not require a filibuster by the Republicans to be initiated and in some cases the filibusters are initiated by Democrats.  There are a variety of reasons for him to invoke cloture.   A better indicator is the number of cloture motions actually voted upon and invoked, which was 104 in that same period.

Cloture was introduced early in the 20th century to make the Senate move legislation that is held up by filibuster or the threat of a filibuster.  A look at this web site will show that the filibuster is not unique to the Republicans.  In fact, Sen. Sanders was made famous in 2010 for his 8 hour filibuster that later became a book.

A filibuster can be any range of tactics to stop or delay a vote on legislation in the Senate.  It has a long tradition in the U.S. Senate and many may remember Jimmy Stewart in the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington passionately pleading his case for what is right against those in power.  This form of filibuster is the one we recognize. 

Cloture votes, as an indicator of filibusters, have been increasing since the 1960s.  Like so many things in our political culture it is a reflection of division.   But remember that the Senate is supposed to be the real home of deliberation and debate while the House is more the home of current popular will.  That is why Senators are elected for six years rather than 2. 

There have been efforts over the years to limit debate in the Senate.  Most of these changes are an imposition of the majority on the minority for the sake of “efficiency.”   In 2013 Sen Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats eliminated filibusters on executive branch nominations and federal judicial appointments using the so-called nuclear option.  This will come back to haunt them one day soon when they are in the minority. 

To quote on this general issue of minority rights in the Senate: “Where you stand on obstructionist behavior depends on where you sit. McConnell in 2006 was in the majority and found the Democrats, from time to time, to engage in “pointless” obstructionism. Today, the Democrats are in power and find McConnell to be an obstructionist. In both cases, the minority party defends its right to slow the process in the world’s most deliberative body and improve legislation.”

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