One of the standard Republican talking points is that the Democrats had a filibuster-proof, super majority for two years between 2008 and 2010. This talking point is usually trotted out when liberals complain that the Republicans filibustered virtually every piece of legislation proposed by Obama or the Democrats over that period of time.
The implication is that Democrats had ample opportunity to pass legislation and that the reason they didn’t pass more legislation doesn’t have anything to do with the Republicans. The Truth is that the Democrats only had a filibuster-proof majority for 24 working days during that period. Here are the details:
To define terms, a Filibuster-Proof Majority or Super Majority is the number of votes required to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. According to current Senate rules, 60 votes are required to overcome a filibuster.
Here is a time-line of the events after the 2008 election:
1. BALANCE BEFORE THE ELECTION. In 2007 – 2008 the balance in the Senate was 51-49 in favor of the Democrats. On top of that, there was a Republican president who would likely veto any legislation the Republicans didn’t like. Not exactly a super majority.
2. BIG GAIN IN 2008, BUT STILL NO SUPER MAJORITY. Coming out the 2008 election, the Democrats made big gains, but they didn’t immediately get a Super Majority. The Minnesota Senate race required a recount and was not undecided for more than six months. During that time, Norm Coleman was still sitting in the Senate and the Balance 59-41, still not a Super Majority.
3. KENNEDY GRAVELY ILL. Teddy Kennedy casts his last vote in April and leaves Washington for good around the first of May. Technically he could come back to Washington vote on a pressing issue, but in actual fact, he never returns, even to vote on the Sotomayor confirmation. That leaves the balance in the Senate 58-41, two votes away from a super majority.
4. STILL NO SUPER MAJORITY. In July, Al Frankin was finally declared the winner and was sworn in on July 7th, 2009, so the Democrats finally had a Super Majority of 60-40 six and one-half months into the year. However, by this point, Kennedy was unable to return to Washington even to participate in the Health Care debate, so it was only a technical super majority because Kennedy could no longer vote and the Senate does not allow proxies. Now the actual actual balance of voting members is 59-40 not enough to overcome a Republican filibuster.
5. SENATE IS IN RECESS. Even if Kennedy were able to vote, the Senate went into summer recess three weeks later, from August 7th to September 8th.
6. KENNEDY DIES. Six weeks later, on Aug 26, 2009 Teddy Kennedy died, putting the balance at 59-40. Now the Democrats don’t even have technical super majority.
7. FINALLY, A SUPER MAJORITY! Kennedy’s replacement was sworn in on September 25, 2009, finally making the majority 60-40, just enough for a super majority.
8. SENATE ADJOURNS. However the Senate adjourned for the year on October 9th, only providing 11 working days of super majority, from September 25th to October 9th.
8. SCOTT BROWN ELECTED. Scott Brown was elected in November of 2009. The Senate was not in session during November and December of 2009. The Senate was in session for 10 days in January, but Scott Brown was sworn into office on February 4th, so the Democrats only had 13 days of super majority in 2010.
Summary: The Democrats only had 24 days of Super Majority between 2008 and 2010.
Discussion: The Democrats had a super majority for a total of 24 days. On top of that, the period of Super Majority was split into one 11-day period and one 13-day period. Given the glacial pace that business takes place in the Senate, this was way too little time for the Democrats pass any meaningful legislation, let alone get bills through committees and past all the obstructionistic tactics the Republicans were using to block legislation.
Further, these Super Majorities count Joe Lieberman as a Democrat even though he was by this time an Independent. Even though he was Liberal on some legislation, he was very conservative on other issues and opposed many of the key pieces of legislation the Democrats and Obama wanted to pass. For example, he was adamantly opposed to “Single Payer” health care and vowed to support a Republican Filibuster if it ever came to the floor.
1. 1/07 – 12/08 – 51-49 – Ordinary Majority.
2. 1/09 – 7/14/09 – 59-41 – Ordinary Majority. (Coleman/Franklin Recount.)
3. 7/09 – 8/09 - 60-40 – Technical Super Majority, but since Kennedy is unable to vote, the Democrats can’t overcome a filibuster
4. 8/09 – 9/09 - 59-40 – Ordinary Majority. (Kennedy dies)
5. 9/09 – 10/09 - 60-40 – Super Majority for 11 working days.
6. 1/10 – 2/10 – 60-40 – Super Majority for 13 working days
Total Time of the Democratic Super Majority: 24 Working days.