July 7th, 2009
10:50 AM ET
13 years ago

Even with Franken, breaking up (a filibuster) is hard to do

WASHINGTON (CNN) – When Al Franken is officially sworn in Tuesday as the junior senator from Minnesota, he will become the 60th Democratic member of the U.S. Senate and, in theory, give his party its first filibuster-proof majority in more than 30 years.

The last time any party had a filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate was during the 95th Congress from 1977 to 1979, when Democrats held 62 seats. The Senate's filibuster rule had just changed two years earlier, when the threshold needed to invoke cloture, or to end debate, was lowered from a two-thirds majority of senators present and voting to three-fifths of the total senate membership, which translates to 60 votes of the 100-member body. At the time of the rule change in 1975, the Democratic caucus had 61 votes.

However, reaching the 60-member mark with Franken's swearing-in does not automatically guarantee Democrats the ability to end GOP-driven filibusters.

Party leaders must still work to hold the Democratic caucus together on important votes, which could prove difficult with a party that includes conservative Ben Nelson of Nebraska and recent Republican convert Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania on the right and liberal stalwarts like Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts on the left. The caucus also includes two independent senators: Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who campaigned and voted for GOP presidential nominee John McCain in 2008, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described socialist. In addition, both Specter and Franken have said publicly that they would not necessarily be an automatic 60th vote for the party.

Donald Ritchie, associate historian at the U.S. Senate Historical Office, notes that a theoretical filibuster-proof majority did not necessarily translate into smooth legislative sailing for Democrats in the 1970s. During the 95th Congress, even though Democrats had 62 members in the Senate, straight party-line votes were very rare, and filibusters still occurred, comprised of coalitions between Democrats and Republicans. Ritchie says that, at the time, cloture motions to end filibusters often were brought forth jointly by both the leadership of both parties.

Filed under: Senate
soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. johnnie

    we need to break up cnn, david gergen needs to go away,and cnn has become the clown news, the democrats will do just fine. the president is about ready to turn the volume on the cable chatter, every day their is a crusade with cnn to try to bring down the president. watch out real change is coming to cnn. you have taken the president for granted, and now it is time to see ,what it wil cost you cnn and gop.cnn must have forgot ,who won this past election by a landslide. the american people are with president obama. we are still angry with the gop and bush and cheney, change is gonna come and it already has. and how can the stimulus be a failure at only 6 months(fox news)david gergen is doing the dirty work for the gop,because they fear the power of president obama and his majority. the gop is over.

    July 7, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  2. Rich

    The Dumbocrats are already looking for excuses for their inevitable failures. They claim not to vote in lockstep with each other, but Dumbocrats like VP Biden and Sec of State Clinton did a good job of voting in lockstep with George Bush when they voted for the war in Iraq.

    July 7, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  3. lovable liberal

    The early 1970s had an even less unified Democratic caucus, since it still included lots of Dixiecrats. They're all Republicans now.

    July 7, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  4. Boisepoet

    Reid needs to man-up and not be afraid of the filibuster. If the Republicans want to, let them. Make them articulate why they are opposing whatever it is they are opposing that day. Let the public hear their arguments as to why they want to obstruct the work of the Senate. Make them filibuster, make them vote no, make them show themselves for what they are; tired old politicians who don't care about anyone but the lobbyists and corporatations that support them.

    July 7, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
1 2 3