Mar 082013

What a coincidence! Yesterday’s post discussed the Advice and Consent Clause of the Constitution in reference to Senator Paul’s filibuster. Today is the anniversary of the Senate’s adoption of the Cloture rule. Cloture is the means by which the Senate can decide to place a time limit for consideration on a bill or other matter (such as confirmation of a potential Presidential appointment). On March 8, 1917, the Senate agreed to President Woodrow Wilson’s proposed rule that an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Senate could end debate on a matter. Wilson proposed the rule after becoming frustrated as the Senate dragged its feet in passing many of his desired progressive reforms and appropriating funds related to the United States’ involvement in World War I. After Cloture is invoked each Senator is then permitted to speak for one hour’s time on the floor to articulate his or her position on a matter before voting would begin. The rule, Senate Rule 22, was first invoked on November 15, 1919 in order to begin voting on the Treaty of Versailles.

How is Cloture invoked? There is a six step process:
1. 16 Senators sign a motion for cloture.
2. A Senator interrupts the Senator who is speaking, and the clerk reads the motion for Cloture.
3. The motion is not voted on, or “lies over”, for two calendar days.
4. The motion is voted on one hour after the Senate convenes on the second day.
5. The presiding officer calls for a vote at the prescribed time.
6. A majority vote (assuming there are no vacancies or the vote pertains to a change in Senate rules) carries the motion.

The Cloture rule was weakened in 1975 to require only a simple majority to invoke the rule. It is unknown how many bills have been impacted by this change. In essence, this rule change strengthened the power of the majority in the Senate. The impact on this change is evident by examining the dramatic increase in the number of times Cloture has been successfully invoked after 1975. You can view the table here: If you click on a particular session of Congress, you can look at what issue was being debated upon in which the motion was sought. Then, select the number in the “Vote” category to review how each Senator voted on the motion. The attached chart is a graphic representation of Cloture motions filed, voted on, and invoked since 1947.

While this topic may not be as interesting to many of you as other issues I have covered, I think it is important to understand the mechanics of how our government functions. In a system of Checks and Balances, We the People are essentially an oversight committee for our elected officials. If we understand how the government functions, and do not approve of the process, we can decide to take action.


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