by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tensions remain high here in Wisconsin as the standoff between Gov. Walker and the public employee unions continues unabated.  Some have directed their anger at the so-called "Wisconsin 14;"the 14 Democratic State Senators who engaged in a "foot filibuster" by leaving the state to prevent a quorum on the budget repair bill stripping Wisconsin public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights.  Some have argued that these Senators should be back in Wisconsin doing their jobs and letting the budget bill come up for a vote accordingly.

I would be much more sympathetic to this view, if I didn't just live through repeated use (or abuse) of cloture votes, filibusters, and appointee holds by the minority party in 2008-2010.  In a decade where winning 51 percent of the vote was considered an electoral "mandate," the 2009-2010 US Senate was limited in their ability to pass any legislation, despite Democrats having a 57 to 41 majority.  Cloture votes preventing even a debate on a bill, let alone an up or down vote, occurred in record numbers.  Similarly, Obama appointees are repeatedly denied an up to down vote due to Senate holds (see one example here), with far more appointees being held up than the previous administration.

While I would appreciate more transparency by both parties, here's one solution to the cloture problem: treat cloture votes like the NFL Instant Replay rules.  In the NFL, Coaches get two challenges during the course of game to challenge a referee's call.  Strategy certainly comes into play as they have to decide when to make such a call; use them up too early, and you don't have any remaining to challenge a bad call made late in the game.

So, give each Senator two opportunities to invoke cloture in the course of the year.  Prior to 2007, the highest number of cloture votes in the past 88 years was 82.  Limiting opportunities to invoke cloture to two per year would bring such political tactics more in line with historical norms.

Leave your comment