July 7th, 2009
10:50 AM ET
12 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. Enough

    It is NOT good to have one party running the country........into the ground as the Democrats are doing. Better to say NO to all this out of control spending with money we don't have. Stimulus is a failure and now they talk of another one!!! Just say NO!!! 2010 can't get here fast enough.

    July 7, 2009 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  2. GI Joe

    The Grand Obstructionist Party has it's marching orders from Corporate America and that's what they will do. Anything to get the donaions. JUST SAY NO to what the taxpayers want.

    Next year might not be as good for them as they think. WE ARE MAD

    July 7, 2009 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  3. TCM

    Democrats held majority; I remember....high unemployment, high prices, high crime, and the world was messing with us, especially Iran taking the hostages....enter Reagan, suddenly hostages released, the military received a well-deserved payraise, and the country moved forward to prosperity...now, with Obama, history's repeating itself...
    high unemployment, high prices, high crime, and the world's disrespecting us again....thanks libs! short memories, huh?

    July 7, 2009 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  4. It is not that hard to do

    Breaking up a filibuster so the Democrats can pasas a specific piece of legislation is not that hard. Obama just needs to adk all the democratic Senators to raise their hands for closure, and it is done. Of course, if Obama cannot control his own party, then it becomes more difficult.

    I have every confidence that the democrats will screw up their control of all three branches of governeent – White House, Senate, House of Representatives, and soon the Supreme Court. The really bad news for President Oblamo is that if he runs for a second term, he has absolutely nobody on the GOP side to blame for the country's problems – nobody. The Democrats now own everything that happens in the country

    July 7, 2009 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  5. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    but it's one less toxic GOP in the Senate......

    July 7, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  6. LIP

    If I recall correctly, the Republicans would have had it during either the Clinton years or Bush years, except for a New England state senator that jumped the fence to make it impossible for them.
    The Republicans need one of those blue dog Democrats to do the same now. No party should have so much power that they totally silence the opposing party.

    July 7, 2009 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  7. jp,michigan

    Isn't wonderful, that now in the United States of American, we have a one party ruling the country? This is what the President and the democratics call democracy! These individuals are against it in other countries, but support it here!

    July 7, 2009 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  8. RealityKing

    Clearly America forgot what the progressve 77 and 79 Congress' did to a strong US economy.

    DOW -78.29 -0.94%

    July 7, 2009 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  9. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    As long as we got the 60 votes. It all determines on what they're voting on.

    July 7, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  10. Franky, Land of Lincoln

    Yeah, that's true. And the GOP lost both House and the Senate a couple years ago, right? And I think the last time they had it again was in the 1990's but before that, I think 50+ years ago...bare with me, is all coming out of my head, LOL!!! But something like that.

    So is been 30+ years since Dems had it, huh? Boy, and that was on Ol Jimmy's Administration. But to be fair, that year was literally the end of the Dems hold of the Presidency for like the last 30+ years...bare with me, please, LOL!!! 🙂

    But you know what I think? If there was one thing Dems were so good at is National Security, remember, FDR pretty much gave the torch and the Dems were busting out the next 40+ years and oh yeah, we know what happen to Vietnam thereafter. Believe it or not, Dems do have pretty good National Security on their resume, a good one too but how ironic they can fix it 30+ years later...*wink*.

    Wow, I just gave our history for the last 60+ years, LOL!!! 🙂 And with no paper to get or my notes I use. Radical...LOL!! 🙂

    July 7, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  11. gt

    cant wait to see franken with his arms around the democrat senators that will be up for elections,,,, bet ark senator run from franken like the flu,,,,, what a pathedic joke,,,,, sen franensteal.........

    July 7, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  12. A. Goodwin

    I hope for the sake of the country, those "conservative" Democrats vote for a public health care option. If not, they all will be letting the American public down!

    Vote YES to health care for all American's!

    July 7, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  13. Larry S

    The power is needed so the stupid liberal can continue their spending without having any ways to pay the high spending. They (the liberals) are spending money they do nopt have and will need to come from excessiove spending from the A

    July 7, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  14. Mike in SA

    It's almost like the authors of this and other articles like this pushing the drivel about "how hard it will be to break filibuster" have never even heard of Snow or Collins or Voinovich or Gregg or Murkowski....

    You know, the Dems "hip pocket" Republicans...like Spector used to be.

    July 7, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  15. Terry from West Texas

    Those who choose politics as a profession, like those who choose management as a profession, are primarily interested in their own careers. Most of them do not care what programs are enacted; they only care who gets the contract to do it.

    We voters are suckers. We believe what we hear, not what we see. We don't read. We don't think. We believe that we can render a valid opinion on global warming after a few seconds of thought. We are comforted by lies. We vote for our own short-term self-interest rather than for the greatest good for the greatest number.

    Democracy demands an educated, well-read, thoughtful voter. What book are you reading now?

    July 7, 2009 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  16. Larry S

    The power is needed so the stupid liberals can continue their spending without having any ways to pay the high spending. They (the liberals) are spending money they do not have and will need to come from excessive taxing from the American public (workers not welfare recipents). We have been told that BO is intelligent . . . I'm not sure how this is determined, because his common sense is the lowest of any president in history. Oh, but that is OK, because he is being supported by the hatrid of the liberal clan.

    July 7, 2009 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  17. Pat F

    And two of the Democrats' precious 60 Senators have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel – Bryd and Kennedy.

    July 7, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  18. phoenix86

    Al Franken will do whatever Pelosi and Reid want. He is too much of a patsy to do otherwise.

    July 7, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  19. Kevin in Atlanta

    That is absolutely correct. Heck, if you put 60 Democrats on the Titanic, they wouldn't all agree whether or not to get off. The Democrats need to reach out to moderate Republicans (granted, there's only a few left) to advance a meaningful agenda.

    July 7, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  20. Bill

    I agree the DEMS may have 60 votes but two of them are very sick Bird and Kennedy. Then again the Deems just cannot keep it together long enough to pass good laws. Just think if former President W. George had 60 GOP Senators during his term. Believe me I rather not think about it because it would be to horrible.

    July 7, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  21. Ken in NC

    While I am a Democrat, I must say that Republicans do not have to ever worry about Democrats breaking up a filibuster. Democrats have the numbers but they are not organized like Republicans. Republicans may not all agree on an issue but when it is time to vote they vote in the direction of their majority. Democrats vote on an individual basis. If 3 want the wind to blow one way and 4 want it to blow the other way, that is the way they will vote. Democrats cannot organize and vote as a Party. That is our weakness and it will be our downfall.

    July 7, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  22. Ted Tartaglia

    Even though 60 Democratic votes in the Senate does not guarantee cloture votes, it makes it harder for the Republican party of NO IDEAS, NO SOLUTIONS to sustain a filibuster.

    July 7, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  23. yuri

    Yet, the magic number of 60 is still, in our view, an imoportant landmark in Dems' history. Even in theory, a filibuster-proof majority sounds sweet, but we do realize that a lot may need to be done to earn the trust of people, first by stayin' away from all kinds of scandals.

    July 7, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  24. Bob in Pa

    It is interesting to note what party is always up to lowering the bar when ever they lose.

    July 7, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  25. Peter

    That sure says a lot about the Republican party.....more fillabusters than ever. Why do Republicans hate America? Why can't they move to Iran and run a Totalitarian Theocracy? We are a Representative Demcracy. The replublican ideologues are no different than the Taliban.

    July 7, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
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