A Filibuster in ’94?


I got a lot of good answers and commentary on my question yesterday about whether or how much the possibility of a filibuster against Health Care Reform was floated in 1994. The one below goes over some key details as well as provides some broader perspective. The key is that when Health Care even got down to the legislative phase in 1994 it was clear that the Democrats couldn’t even muster 50 votes for a bill, despite having a 56 seat majority (but not for long). So even though a filibuster was pretty clearly in reserve, it was sort of beside the point since the Dems couldn’t even manage a simple majority. It’s this reality that stands out so memorably in my mind when I consider what the Dems should do now with a bill passed out of the senate in the House’s hands.

From our reader …

If you want to use any of this, you can quote me, but not by name.

I covered health care during the Clinton years as well. The difference is that the bill never was in a position to get through the Senate. After about 10-12 days of
work in the Senate (deep into August), it became apparent very fast that the bill wasn’t going anywhere.

The filibuster was talked about – you can find Sen. David Durenberger (R-MN) discuss the possibility on August 15, 1994. But since Democrats never got to the point they were at this year, the filibuster didn’t actually get used. If the process had gone further along, it probably would have.

As for the filibuster, I have a different view than most. This is my 25th year of covering the Congress as a reporter, and the cries of both parties about the filibuster and its supposed abuses have become old and repetitive.

It all boils down to this: One party likes the filibuster when it is in the minority and hates the filibuster when it is in the majority.

Remember, just a few years ago the Democrats were filibustering all kinds of judges. They loved it then. Republicans hated it while they were in charge during that same period, and now they love using it.

I really believe that the change in the Senate rules in 1975 which made cloture 60 votes instead of 67 has made the Senate more partisan.

Why? Because it is much easier to get to 60 without serious compromise than to get to 67. Therefore, Democrats can pick off one or two GOP’ers right now and get cloture.

Remember, lots of stuff went through the Senate with a 67-vote cloture rule between 1919 and 1975. Medicare, Civil Rights in the 60’s and all kinds of stuff before that.
Were there a lot of bills blocked? Absolutely.

I was reading a biography of Teddy Roosevelt a few years ago, and there were all kinds of great quotes from then Speaker Joe Cannon about how the House would pass bills
and they would die in the Senate.

The Framers didn’t design the Senate as a clone of the House. It is obviously frustrating to both sides when dirt gets thrown in the gears. But I think people tend to get aggravated about what’s going on today, and forget about how this has been happening for over 200 years in the World’s Most Deliberative Body.

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