As Senators Highlight Continued Filibuster Abuse, Leaders & Experts Condemn Unprecedented Obstructionism as Bad for Democracy

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  • Dale Eisman

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Washington, DC – As the U.S. Senate this week anticipates another filibuster over the Department of Defense authorization bill and upcoming filibusters over President Obama’s middle class tax cuts, leading policy advocates and congressional experts today hosted a telephonic press conference to highlight the runaway usage of Senate filibusters and their role in derailing our democratic process and prioritizing corporate special interests over progress.

“The level of obstructionism we are currently witnessing is unprecedented in American history,” said George Kohl, Senior Director for Policy at Communications Workers of America. “The filibuster promotes gridlock, stalls our democracy, and blocks important and necessary work on appropriations and other legislation.”

Today’s call set the stage for a Senate Rules Committee hearing tomorrow, chaired by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), that will feature the testimony of Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Tom Udall (D-NM) discussing the unprecedented levels of filibuster abuse this Congress and its related consequences on the democratic process.

“Filibusters aren’t about democracy,” said Carl Pope, Executive Chairman of the Sierra Club. “They’re about special interests flexing their power. An overwhelming number of Americans want our country to build a clean energy economy, but they don’t hold the same sway as the coal and oil industry when it comes to asking their allies to filibuster a bill.”

Though the Senate averaged approximately one filibuster a year until 1970, Senators in the past two sessions have used this obstructionist tactic roughly 70 times per year, derailing popular legislation, securing sweetheart deals and pork projects, and making it impossible for the administration to get senior agency managers and judicial nominees confirmed.

By abusing this loophole in Senate procedures and favoring the interests of a few over the majority, this unprecedented obstructionism is harming the Senate’s right to seek meaningful compromise and votes on legislation.

Filibuster by the Numbers



Cloture motions filed 27 times

108th Congress: 2003-04

Democrat minority

Cloture motions filed 62 times

109th Congress: 2000-06

Democrat minority

Cloture motions filed 68 times

110th Congress: 2007-08

Republican minority

Cloture motions filed 139 times

111th Congress: 2009-present

Republican minority

Cloture motions filed 118 times*

* Since the 111th Congress is still in session, this number is not the final count.

The recent upswing in filibuster usage is surprising, given the Founding Fathers’ attempts to limit supermajority requirements to a few specific items.

“A review of the Constitution will show that the filibuster was never a part of the Framers’ plan,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Executive Director of the American Constitution Society. “The filibuster is a Senate-created procedure, and has no basis in the Constitution or American history.”

Recently, millions of unemployed Americans felt the consequences of this political obstructionism first-hand when the Senate failed to renew jobless benefits in a timely manner because of multiple Republican filibusters.

“Honest and accountable government starts with an open democratic process, including the ability to vote on legislation,” said Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause. “Deliberation and debate have given way to complete obstruction, all at the expense of American voters.”

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