“New Nullification” Report Highlights Senate’s Dysfunction

"New Nullification" Report Highlights Senate's Dysfunction

Remember last fall, when Democratic leaders in the Senate forced through a rules change that lets 51 senators — a simple majority — break filibusters of presidential nominees for most federal judgeships and executive branch jobs?

The hotly-contested reform was supposed to break the Senate’s partisan gridlock and let the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest deliberative body” get some work done.

Well it didn’t exactly work out that way.

“The “New Nullification’ at Work,” a report today from Steve Spaulding, Common Cause’s policy counsel, documents the Senate’s continuing dysfunction. While there’s been some action of late on President Obama’s judicial nominees, Spaulding found that the backlog of executive branch nominees awaiting action is far larger now than at this point in the administrations of former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

“While a simple majority can now end filibusters to most nominees, the current minority is exploiting other Senate rules and customs to gum up the works and waste time that ought to be spent on important issues,” Spaulding said.

The Senate passed an unfortunate milestone last week with its 115th cloture vote, breaking the six-year-old record of 112 cloture votes in a single Congress. Cloture is the Senate’s term for a vote to end debate and bring a bill or nomination to a final vote. Many of the new cloture votes are to break filibusters of nominations.

Even on nominations with substantial GOP support, the report said, Republicans routinely are running out the clock. Rather than give “unanimous consent” to end debate and move those nominees to a final vote, they’re forcing Democrats to file a cloture motion and wait two days before taking a vote to end debate. Once cloture is invoked, they’re using the maximum time permitted for post-cloture debate — 8 hours for executive branch nominees.