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 during Obama’s presidency. 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.
It is also used to counter any argument that Republican legislation, (passed during the six years of total Republican control,) has anything to do with today’s problems. They claim that the Democrats had a super majority for two years and passed all kinds of legislation, (over Republican objection and filibuster,) that completely undid all Republican policies and legislation, and this absolves them from today’s problems.
The Truth is that the Democrats only had a filibuster-proof majority for 60 working days during that period, insufficient time to undo even a small portion of the legislation passed during six years of Republican control. 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 casthis last vote in April and left 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 returned, even to vote on the Sotomayor confirmation. That left 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 was 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.
9. SPECIAL SESSIONS. During October, November and December, the Senate had several special sessions to deal with final passage of ACA and Budget appropriations.
October = 13th – 15th, 20th – 22nd, 27th, 29th = 8 days
November = 2nd, 4th, 5th, 9th 16th, 17th, 19th, 21st = 8 days
December = 1st, 3rd - 8th, 10th – 13th, 15th – 18th, 19th, 21st – 24th = 20 days
Total Special Session Days = 36.
Regular Session: 11 working days
Special Session: 36 working days
Lame Duck Session: 13 working days
The Democrats only had 60 days of Super Majority between 2008 and 2010.
Discussion: One of the central themes of the Republican argument is that the Democrats had a super majority for two full years and so they had plenty of time pass new legislation or undo any problems that were caused by six years of Republican control of all three branches of government. This is argument is used by the Republicans immunize themselves against any responsibility for ongoing problems that might have been caused by their policies.
However, the fact is that the Democrats had a super majority for a total of 60 days, which is no where near the two years that Republicans are always claiming. On top of that, the period of Super Majority was split into short sessions, none of which was longer than five days. In addition, the special session time was entirely devoted to budget issues and Republican amendments to the ACA.
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. No one can seriously expect that the Democrats could undo in 60 days all the damage that Republicans created in six years.
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. He even threatened to caucus with the Republicans if legislation came to the floor that he didn’t like.
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 – 12/24- 60-40 – Super Majority for 47 working days.
6. 1/10 – 2/10 – 60-40 – Super Majority for 13 working days
Total Time of the Democratic Super Majority: 60 Working days.