ICYMI: U.S. Senate Has Changed its Practices By Simple Majority Vote 18 Different Times Since 1977

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Washington, DC – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) today announced his plans to file cloture on a series of obstructed executive branch nominees to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Labor, Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB), and Export-Import Bank, and a slate of nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Notably, Senate Majority Leader Reid pledged that if the Senate Republicans continued to block these nominees from advancing to an up-or-down vote, the Senate Democratic caucus was prepared to overhaul Senate procedures related to the filibuster and to establish a simple majority vote threshold for their confirmation.

While the Fix the Senate Now coalition supports reforms designed to improve Senate functionality and raise the costs of obstruction, the claims that what Senator Reid is proposing is unprecedented miss the mark. Below is a recap of the 18 instances since 1977 in which the U.S. Senate changed its practices by a simple-majority vote (compiled by Senator Jeff Merkley’s office):

  • 1977: The Senate limits post-cloture filibusters by establishing that the Chair must take the initiative to rule out of order amendments that are dilatory or otherwise out of order under cloture
  • December 12, 1979: The Senate establishes that if the Senate stays in session past midnight on the intervening day after a cloture motion is filed, then the cloture vote doesn’t occur until an hour after convening on the next legislative day (ruling sustained 43-32)
  • November 9, 1979: The Senate establishes that the Chair should rule on whether an amendment is legislating on appropriations rather than submitting it to the Senate and allowing a defense of germaneness if the underlying House appropriations bill has no legislative language to which the amendment is germane (ruling sustained 44-40)
  • March 5, 1979: The Senate establishes that the Chair should rule on whether an amendment is legislating on appropriations rather than submitting it to the Senate and allowing a defense of germaneness if the underlying House appropriations bill has no legislative language to which the amendment is germane (ruling sustained 44-00)
  • June 10, 1980: the Senate establishes that a quorum call during post-cloture time is dilatory even though a motion to reconsider has been made since a quorum was last demonstrated *ruling 52-34)
  • June 11, 1980: The Senate establishes that during post-cloture time, a motion to reconsider a vote by which a tabling motion had failed by large margins is dilatory (ruling sustained 53-31)
  • August 5, 1980: The Senate establishes that a cloture motion takes precedence over a time agreement ordered by unanimous consent on the same measure (ruling sustained 71-16)
  • August 20, 1980: The Senate establishes that a cloture motion may be filed on a pending amendment even if it has lower precedence than an amendment that is the immediately pending question (ruling sustained 74-15)
  • December 11, 1985: The Senate allows a conference report on the basis that everything included is “relevant,” even though multiple provisions have been ruled to violate the scope if the conference committee’s authority (rules reversed 27-68)
  • September 25, 1986: The Senate establishes that procedural motions or requests do not constitute speeches for purposes of the two-speech rule (ruling reversed 5-92)
  • April 28, 1987: The Senate establishes that the Presiding Officer should defer to the Budget Committee Chair on whether an amendment violate Section 201 (i) of the Budget Act (ruling sustained 50-46)
  • May 13, 1987: The Senate establishes that a Senator may not decline to vote when it is done for the purposes of delaying the announcement of that vote (ruling reversed 46-54)
  • March 16, 1995: The Senate allows legislating on appropriations bills (ruling reversed 42-57) [this precedent was reversed in 1999 by resolution]
  • May 23, 1996: The Senate establishes that a budget resolution with reconciliation instructions for a measure increasing the deficit is appropriate (ruling sustained 53-47)
  • October 3, 1996: The Senate broadens the scope of allowable material in conference reports (ruling reverse 39-56) [this precedent was reversed in 2000 by language in an appropriations bill]
  • June 16, 1999: The Senate establishes that a motion to recommit a bill with instructions to report back an amendment had to be filed before the amendment filing (ruling sustained 60-39)
  • May 17, 2000: The Senate establishes that it is the Chair’s prerogative to rule out of order non-germane precatory (sense-of-the-Senate or–of-Congress) amendments (ruling reversed 45-54)
  • October 6, 2011: The Senate establishes that motions to suspend the rules in order to consider non-germane amendments post cloture are dilatory and not allowed (ruling reversed 48-51)

  • For more information, or to schedule an interview with Fix the Senate Now leaders, contact Michael Earls at 202-261-2388, media@fixthesenatenow.org

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