Mathematics of the Filibuster

Prepping my Congress lecture, I thought about the math on the filibuster for the first time ever. Since 60 votes (out of 100 senators) are needed to impose cloture, 41 senators can block legislation. That part we all knew, but never before did I think about that as a percentage of the whole Congress. 41/536 = 7.6%. Theoretically, a single-digit proportion of Congress can stop legislation. Fortunately that extreme of a case is totally unrealistic (requiring a unanimous, or nearly so, House), and that power is entirely negative–that proportion can’t come anywhere close to passing legislation.

Still, it gives me pause.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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7 Responses to Mathematics of the Filibuster

  1. D. C. Sessions says:

    Don’t overlook the ability of any one Senator to put a hold on a Presidential appointment or (as we’re seeing right now with Rand Paul) block fast-tracking a bill that 99 other Senators favor. In RP’s case it’s a safety regulation for gas pipelines, but he’s a fundamentalist libertarian and opposes all new regulations on principle.

  2. Lance says:

    D.C. Sessions,

    “…he’s a fundamentalist libertarian and opposes all new regulations on principle.”

    Really, are you sure?

    Here’s what his website says about him.

    ” His entrance into politics is indicative of his life’s work: a desire to diagnose problems and provide practical solutions.”

    Doesn’t sound like a “fundamentalist libertarian” to me. What ever that might be.

  3. Matty says:

    Well yes thats the PR but what does his record show, does he tend to diagnose and solve problems or stick rigidly to his policy preferences even when they are shown not to deliver what he wants?

    Fundamentalist is an overused term and I doubt that there is any equivalent for libertarians to the way self declared Fundamentalists treat the Bible but you really can’t judge a politician by what he wants you to think. Unless of course they are all brave outsiders ready to take on the etablishment (made up all those other brave outsiders) and every one of them is the only honest man in the room.

  4. James Hanley says:

    Eh, Rand Paul himself has claimed he’s not a libertarian, so I’m not sure why so many liberals feel so confident calling him one, especially a fundamentalist one. How many fundamentalists of any stripe do you know who actively deny even being a part of the club?

  5. D. C. Sessions says:

    In this situation I’m going from a reference to his own account of why he’s blocking the regulation. Whether he is in some categorical sense a “libertarian” I’ll leave to theologians, but today he’s attributing his actions to an absolutist “libertarian” position that all regulations are bad, bar none.

  6. D. C. Sessions says:

    Side tracks aside, I found the opposition of one Senator to a bill supported by 534 other members of Congress to be rather supportive of Our Gracious Host’s thesis.

  7. James Hanley says:

    It was indeed supportive of my thesis. And I’m still puzzling over why members of the Senate generally have allowed this ridiculous single-senator “hold” business to develop and expand so wildly. It must be the case that a large proportion of Senators–large enough to prevent any serious effort to change the rules–think they gain more than they lose from such an on-going practice. That position is easiest if you only want to block things, and never try to pass something. But if you want to get something, sometime, passed, then you’re assuming something about the probability that you’ll be subject to the same action.

    Or, they’re assuming like most of us, that when the Democrats are in the minority they’ll the toughness to play the same game.

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