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. Jaz in Chitown

    Liberals have been trying to blame Republicans for their economic problems. Liberal ideaology needs to have an advisary – it cannot survive with a filibuster proof majority. Liberal ideaology needs the ability to place the blame of its failures on someone else otherwise, voters who have forgotten what the last round of liberal policies will understand the failures those policies create. I'll give you a clear easily understood example of this: the story speaks of the 95th congress 1977 – 1979. They had their filibuster proof majority and the people didn't like it – lost their majority in the senate in 1981.

    July 7, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  2. TomJay

    Excuses, excuses, already excusing a failure of party leadership. Where is Reid? Where is the Majority Whip? If the Democrats cannot get legislation through the Senate now, then it is the fault of the leadership.

    July 7, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  3. Sniffit

    I can give you 12.2M reasons why we'll see attempts at filibusters why the inane blabber will never stop regarding "soshulizm," "krischun nashun," "teabagging," "family values," "tax & spend," revolution, secession, states' rights to ignore the Constitution, voters' rights to vote to ignore the Constitution, gun rights, overturning abortion rights, keeping same-sex couples oppressed, railing against white guilt and affirmative action, "illegals," and fear fear fear any nation full of non-white people that won't be cowed by us waving the flag and telling them to be like us. It won't stop until they've taken back control, caused another war or killed their party.

    Too bad all the fundraising money in the world doesn't prevent it all from damaging our governmental structure, the documents upon which it was founded, our society's core principles or their party's reputation with the rest of us. With any luck, the GOP will be rich but dead as long as the rest of us don't just sit back and rest on our laurels....the fight didn't end on November 4, 2008...it just began.

    July 7, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  4. B.H.

    Anything that can contribute to countering the GOPs constant -No- to everything put forth to help the country and working people!

    July 7, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  5. George Bush ... With the Benefit of Charm School

    Harry Reid .... it's time to crack some heads ... both Democratic and Republican

    Mr. President ... I know you are no punk so it's time to put the screws to those that oppose you ... however gentlemanly you do it. Deploy Rahm Emmanuel to convey this message.

    It's time for a little bit of the Bushian ... "you are either with me or against me" tone. Just a little bit, sir

    July 7, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  6. a quick way to end of where the GOP is...

    is to abuse your 60 votes


    July 7, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  7. Joseph L.

    First I agree with the person who said it is time for Harry Reid to get this caucus under control. I am not saying that a Democratic Senator should have to vote for a final bill he is not comfortable with but if we have the 50 votes necessary to pass the bill then Senate Leadership should be able to get the caucus in line to stop a filibuster or there should be punishment to senators that side with the Republican obstructionists.

    Second, why does CNN forget that Arlen Spector switched parties? I know he is not the most reliable vote but heck he is no worse than some of the so called Blue Dog "Democrats(?)" already in the Senate. This gives the Democratic Caucus 61 members...

    July 7, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  8. Jo

    Theory based on history, on humane being actions is never absolute, it can change anytime with actors and with goals and objectives that one wants to accomplish. Only mathematic can be absolute 1+1= 2, not 3, 4 and ...... So anything can happen anytime for good for or bad. But the worse thing for the democrats to do is to play the Republicans game. That game was rejected in November, and the americans decided to change course. Be careful democrats, you are playing in the evil's hands. In 2010, they will beat you, because you are stupid by going on the TV to exposed yourselves

    July 7, 2009 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  9. steve

    Unless it is an absolute national priority, I doubt that you will ever see all 60 Dems vote for anything (maybe to end fillibuster but not the final vote). They are not like the clueless robots on the other side of the isle. Every single elephant says and does the same thing. Never a new pragmatic idea just ideology.

    July 7, 2009 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  10. JonDie

    Unlike Republicans, who controlled Congress from 2001-2007), Democrats usually don't vote in lock step or rubber the president's agenda.

    July 7, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  11. JoeCool

    The Dumbocrats are already making excuses for their ineptness.

    July 7, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  12. Joseph L.

    Oops OK I need to learn math... I guess that this does just give us 60; for some reason I thought that Spector gave us 60, I guess because I knew at the time that Franken was inevitable... but my first point still stands that Reid needs to get the caucus in line for filibusters.

    But the key to breaking up a filibuster is negotiating with the holdouts... Having 60 in caucus at least allows that; you may not get everything you want and you may have to add some things you don't want to but at least in this case the negotiations are now with Democrats who can be persuaded and not Republicans who are set on voting against it just because it's Obama's idea...

    July 7, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  13. Casey

    As for being able to end a fillibuster, the dem tent is too broad to easily end a fillibuster. Their caucus is filled with individuals, with their own thoughts and opinions. It's different for the gop. With a bunch of career politicians whose ranks have already been thinned by the conservative wing of the party in the primaries and who move in lock step to save their butts, it's much easier to get the votes. Just imagine if the gop had been successful with their "nucular option". Funny how I don't hear any republicans arguing for that now.

    And all these people arguing that it's not good (anti-democracy) for one party to hold power in all branches of government are just upset because it's the dems and not the gop. You didn't hear these arguments coming from conservatives when W was in charge. Try to remember that the voters in our country chose the members of our governement. For the sake of democracy, would you force certain members out to balance the teams?

    July 7, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  14. Rob in B.Mo


    That's because you would have to be insane to think this president's ideas so far are good ones. Although democrats cannot help repeating every new phrase posted on the internet about republicans no matter how wrong stereotyping can be (see Steve, below your post), I don't believe every democrat politician is insane – just shortsighted.

    July 7, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  15. Tony - Fla

    If your freedom is worth your security then why do you live in this country? Why are so many of you willing to give up on that which I served for. For all that is said, can one of you tell me how things have gotten better. Do you remember, we need to this stimulus passed or unemployment will go to 9%. If we pass the stimulus unemployment won't go passed 8.5%. Aren't we now at 9.5% and rising? How about this Cap and Trade bull that is now being pushed? Strange how the solar system is experiencing the same relative effect must be from all the SUV drivers on Pluto, Jupiter, and Saturn. We are being played people and guess who is pulling the trigger. You want to know what a government option looks like go check out your local VA Hospital. I don't mean that as a slight to the doctors and the nurses, my issue is with the administration that controls it, that through $$$ limits the care that Vets receive and that is only because that is the only way that it can survive. The VA took on to much when it started giving us Vets primary care instead of just treating our service connected disabilities. Now I hear from my fellow citizens that they want to follow the same path, how sad. What happened to personal responsibility? Please stop destroying that what many have fought and died for.

    July 7, 2009 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  16. Kevin in Ohio

    "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"...... and we ALL remember just how GREAT things were then, along with Jimmy Carter at the helm........ can't wait for 2010.

    July 7, 2009 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  17. Markus

    TCM, you have very selective memory. Oh. And you're an idiot.

    July 7, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  18. Ted Tartaglia

    Larry S

    The hate on this board is generated by people like you. Many Republicans seem to hate anyone who doesn't agree totally with them and at the same time they accuse Democrats of hating Republicans.

    Think a little! Who refined the art of gutter politics? Lee Atwood! Who added to what Atwood created? Karl (Turd Blossom) Rove! Both were Republicans so which party is the party of hate? The Republican Party of NO!

    July 7, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  19. citizenjane

    It is not that hard to do July 7th, 2009 10:59 am ET
    The Democrats now own everything that happens in the country.
    Wishful thinking or just plain ignorance?

    The economic downslide did not happen on Jan 20, 2009. Until the GOP can come up with solutions of their own, finger pointing isn't going to get them any further along than it did in 2008.

    Bashing Obama and the democrats is grade school mentality which will be voted upon accordingly in 2010. As will inactivity – especially at a time when our nation most needed civility and workmanship.

    July 7, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |

    a couple of questions – Can you break fillibusters that just plain aren't happening? I have not been knighted (yet). Where are all these fillibusters the Democrats are so scared of? Are they under Senator Kenndey's bed? In CNN's closet? Is "fillibuster" the new bogeyman? This idea of Franken being able to help break fillibusters is the best comedy he has been involved in. You can't break something that's not there.

    July 7, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |

    a couple of questions – Can you break fillibusters that just plain aren't happening? Where are all these fillibusters the Democrats are so scared of? Are they under Senator Kenndey's bed? In CNN's closet? Is "fillibuster" the new bogeyman? This idea of Franken being able to help break fillibusters is the best comedy he has been involved in. You can't break something that's not there.

    July 7, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  22. NY Republican

    Why fillibuster when we can just vote as our constituents want us to, stand back and watch the Democrats fall on their collective faces on their own.

    July 7, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  23. Educate yourselves before you open your mouth and just let the words fall out

    Here's an idea for all of you who are complaining about the Democrats "running the country into the ground":

    Why don't you help your chosen party to become viable again??!! Until or unless you're willing to do something to help . . . get out of the way and let the grown-ups handle it!

    July 7, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  24. Educate yourselves before you open your mouth and just let the words fall out

    @Terry from West Texas:

    VERY well said!

    July 7, 2009 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  25. Rosa Mobumba

    Has the water in Minnesota been poisoned or something? First that joke of a wrestler governor, and now that foul-mouthed "comedian" as a senator. Really, is that the best you have in that state?

    July 7, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
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