Archive | Senate procedure

Reforming the Senate 1: Reviewing the Options

John Sides asked me to comment on Harry Reid’s recent announcement that, at the beginning of the 112th Congress in January 2011, he will attempt to revise the Senate’s rules and practices to reduce the impact of obstruction. I assume that Monkey Cage readers are well aware of the Democrats’ frustration with the pace and politics of the Senate over the last 14 months, contributing to inaction on climate change, student loan reform, banking reform, highway spending, nominations, and forcing excruciating delay and costly bargains to pass health care reform. The question is, what are the Democrats going to do about it? This post reviews and evaluates existing proposals for reforming the Senate’s floor procedures. In later posts I plan to discuss the process by which reform proposals can be debated and adopted and appraise the likelihood of reform actually happening.

Before we go over the options, readers may want to read the text of the Senate cloture rule, Rule 22 (Section 2).

Also, note that reform proposals can have similar but distinct goals. Reformers might be trying to: – Institute majority rule in the Senate. That is, a system in which a simple majority can (usually) set the agenda and pass legislation without delay or bargaining. – Make it easier to end a filibuster on a given bill, e.g. by reducing the number of opportunities to filibuster a given bill or changing Rule 22 to a) lower the threshold for cloture b) shorten the delay between filing cloture and a cloture vote, c) reduce the amount of debate/amending after cloture is invoked. – generally reduce (but not eradicate) the number of filibusters and holds. Such reforms would make the Senate more efficient and/or reduce the influence of individual senators (e.g. Richard Shelby or Jim Bunning) by making it more difficult or costly to filibuster. – generally make the Senate more efficient or productive without directly limiting obstruction.
Now let’s review the proposals.
1) Tom Harkin: lower threshold for cloture
Harkin’s proposal would lower the threshold for cloture on a particular motion/amendment/bill from 60/100 on the first attempt to 57, 54, and 51 on each successive attempt, with a full two-day wait in between each attempt. This proposal came up for a vote in 1995 (when it was cosponsored by, ahem, Joe Lieberman) and was rejected 19-76 (R 0-53, D 19-23).

Evaluation. Some maxims to live by:
a) i before e except after c
b) never get involved in a land war in Asia
c) ask yourself: ‘what happens if I win’?
If Harkin wins, the new rule would likely lead to MORE obstruction. While it would seem to enable a bare majority to pass a Very Important Bill (e.g. health care) after four to twelve cloture votes, it does not guarantee that the VIB would ever make it to the Senate floor. If the rule was adopted, the likely response of the minority party (or other organized factions) would be to obstruct EVERYTHING, thereby forcing (multiple) cloture votes on routine motions and trivial bills. By doing so, a minority could so delay the Senate that the majority party is forced to barter in order to make any legislative progress—just like the status quo, but with more cloture votes.

2) Michael Bennet (D-CO) has proposed a broad set of reforms to improve the Senate (see his interview with Ezra Klein here)
The relevant proposals are: – Eliminate anonymous holds – Require holds to be bipartisan. If not, the hold expires in 2 days. Even bipartisan holds expire in 30 days. – After 3rd failed cloture vote, the minority must find a member of the opposite party or the threshold raises to 45 votes. – After the 3rd cloture vote, if the majority finds support from three members of the minority, it raises to 45 votes. – End the filibuster for motion to proceed – Require 41 Senators to show up to vote in order to block cloture, or else it’s invoked

If senators could reduce the number and effect of holds, that would help Senate be more efficient and transparent. But, remember, the essence of a hold is a refusal to consent to unanimous consent requests (i.e. agenda-setting proposals that require, you know, unanimous consent). This refusal may be conditional (“not unless my write to offer amendments is protected”; “not until the administration does this thing that I care about”) or unconditional opposition to a proposal. If necessary, party leaders will often object to UCAs on behalf of members. So, in order to reform holds , one would need to change the behavior of party leaders in both parties…OR change the way the Senate sets its agenda.

Re: changing the cloture threshold on the 3rd vote, see above.

Ending the filibuster for the motion to proceed (an agenda-setting that requires a simple majority but is usually vulnerable to a separate filibuster) is a proposal dating back to (at least) 1979, when then-majority leader Robert Byrd proposed it. The logic is that it is absurd to allow multiple filibusters against a given bill; one should be enough. More subtly, if a bill gets to the floor, senators may develop the expectation that it will pass and/or have a chance to amend it into a form that can garner 60+ votes, so if the motion to proceed is immune from obstruction the Senate would be more likely to act on major bills without losing the benefits of requiring a supermajority to bring the bill to a final vote.

Requiring 41+ votes AGAINST cloture to extend debate is an intriguing idea. As far as I know, credit for the idea goes to our distinguished colleagues Jonathan Krasno and Gregory Robinson, who proposed it in this Roll Call column. This idea subtly reverses the bias in the rule, since absences count AGAINST a filibuster rather than FOR it. Krasno and Robinson downplay the implications of this proposal “since attendance is generally high for cloture votes.” However, if the rule was adopted the majority could make a habit of filing for cloture on Thursday or Friday and keeping the Senate open on Saturday and Sunday, so that obstructionists would have to stay in D.C. to vote against cloture. For today’s “Tuesday to Thursday” Senate (on a busy week) this would be a real change, and could quite possibly swing the outcome of some cloture votes. If this reform was combined with Krasno and Robinson’s proposal to shorten the time between filing a cloture petition and voting on cloture (to five minutes, an hour, four hours), it would compel obstructionists to actually endure some inconvenience.

3) Force senators to ACTUALLY filibuster—proposed by multiple sources, including senators Byrd (D-WV) and Richard Durbin (D-IL).

Remember, there is no Senate rule that grants the minority a 41-vote veto. The current right to block legislation and nominations evolved out of senators’rights to speak as long as they like, and to force votes on procedural motions and questions; now senators simply skip this time-wasting process and simply concede each other’s ability to filibuster. If the minority was forced to actually conduct a filibuster on the Senate floor, perhaps they would be deterred from threatening trivial filibusters by the extra physical and political costs.

I have previously written about the transition from live filibusters to virtual filibusters here and here. Suffice it to say that there are real reasons that senators stopped fighting these wars of attrition—basically, they value their time too much to waste it on the Senate floor. BUT, there could be political gain in forcing the minority to wage a public fight against popular bills, e.g. extending unemployment benefits or reforming bank laws. And if there is a single senator (or a small band) doing the obstruction, attrition could actually be effective.

So ends my informal survey. Undoubtedly I have left out several interesting ideas—feel free to mention them in the comments section!

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Nuclear Reconciliation

In response to the many recent discussions of the use of reconciliation both on this blog and elsewhere, Columbia University professor Gregory Wawro sends along the following guest post. It’s a tad bit long by Monkey Cage standards, but well worth the read:

Following up on Sarah Binder’s excellent posts on the reconciliation process and health care reform, I felt compelled to address some issues that have arisen over the past week, especially with regard to Republican’s attempt to equate the use of reconciliation with the nuclear option. Although Democrats have responded by spinning reconciliation as majority rule, pulling off the passage of health care may require parliamentary maneuvering similar to that which constitutes the nuclear option.

First off, it is inaccurate to equate reconciliation with legislating via simple majorities—especially for the purposes of keeping score as to how parties have used reconciliation in the past. Some in the media have assumed or asserted that the use of the process invariably means the legislation has been adopted by simple majorities (e.g., see this excerpt from an MSNBC “fact check” on reconciliation).

Here is some data on final roll call votes in the Senate on the twenty-two reconciliation measures that passed between 1980 and 2007. Only nine of these measures passed with fewer than 60 votes, and three of those nine did not become law because of successful vetoes. It is entirely possible that there is a bandwagon effect here and that senators who would have voted against the legislation voted for it once it became clear that the legislation was going to pass. Still, some of the margins here are so wide, that it’s hard to believe that a bandwagon
effect explains all of what is going on.

That said, it is clear that reconciliation has been used in some circumstances to enact legislation that otherwise would not have been passed if 60 votes had been required. And this brings us to the question of the technical and political feasibility of using it to pass health care reform in the current Congress.

The history of reconciliation has been one of innovation. In several instances, reconciliation has been used in ways that it hadn’t been used in the past, and in ways that arguably were not envisioned by the framers of the Budget and Impoundment Control Act. The use of reconciliation to pass health care reform in the 111th Congress will also be innovative in important respects, but success will probably require a committed majority to be willing to use some parliamentary strong-arm tactics to reshape the reconciliation process in areas where the rules are not entirely clear on what is and what is not permissible.

Democrats will most likely have to rely on rulings from the chair/presiding officer to keep things moving along. Such rulings would need the backing of a majority of senators—that is, a majority would have to vote to table any appeals of such rulings, thereby establishing precedents that are as binding as any rule of the Senate. Thus, Democrats will have to keep 51 votes together on some decisions that will potentially have impact beyond health care reform.

A ruling from the chair may be necessary to even allow the use of reconciliation for health care reform. Republicans are likely to raise points of order against the attempt, and the presiding officer—-presumably Vice President Joe Biden would be in the chair—-would have to rule in favor of the Democrats. The Senate here would still be operating in simple majority mode, since only 51 votes would be needed to sustain the ruling and Republicans would have limited ability to obstruct. Republicans pulled off a similar maneuver in 1996, when they attempted to use reconciliation to pass three bills—one to slow Medicare spending, one to overhaul welfare, and one to cut taxes.

Tom Daschle, the minority leader for the Democrats at the time, raised a point of order against the tax bill, claiming that it should not be given reconciliation protection because it would not decrease the deficit. The chair, Republican James Inhofe, ruled against the point of order, and after Daschle appealed the ruling, it was upheld on a strict party-line vote of 53—47, clearing the way for the bill to proceed under reconciliation procedures.

Should health care reform proceed under reconciliation, Republicans have threatened to gum up the process, possibly by using Byrd Rule objections to provisions in whatever reconciliation vehicle makes it to the Senate floor. The presiding officer decides whether to sustain these points of order, consulting with the parliamentarian. Biden could ignore the advice of the parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, should he indicate that points of order against key provisions should be sustained. Republicans will cry foul and even some Democrats will feel uncomfortable proceeding in this manner, but the decision ultimately rests with the presiding officer. Note that it requires 60 votes to overturn the ruling of the chair should he sustain a point of order under the Byrd Rule. But here we are talking about the chair not sustaining the points of order in the first place.

Republicans have also threatened try to stall progress by offering numerous amendments that might force some difficult votes that could fracture the supporting coalition. It is unclear how viable this strategy is. Reconciliation limits debate
to 20 hours, but that constraint does not necessarily apply to amendments. This is uncharted territory, since there has never been an attempt to filibuster a reconciliation bill in this way. Democrats do have the tools at their disposal to stop it, however. That is, a Democrat could raise a point of order that the amendments are dilatory in nature and therefore should be ruled out of order by the chair.

As justification for doing this, Democrats could point to precedents established in 1977 to end so-called post-cloture filibusters. Then-majority leader Robert Byrd worked with Vice President Walter Mondale to establish precedents to close loopholes in the cloture rule to prevent senators from offering dilatory amendments to obstruct after cloture had been invoked. As Eric Schickler and I discuss in our book Filibuster: Obstruction and Lawmaking in the U.S. Senate, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to establish a precedent that required the presiding officer to rule dilatory amendments out of order, rather than waiting for a senator to make a point of order. In implementing the precedent, Byrd called up in rapid discussion thirty-three amendments to a bill to deregulate natural gas, and Mondale ruled each out of order as dilatory (all the while ignoring senators seeking recognition), thus swiftly dispensing with the filibuster. Democrats could adopt a similar approach to addressing dilatory amendments during the reconciliation procedure. This is likely to be highly controversial, even among Democrats, since it would establish a precedent that could severely restrict the minority’s participation in the reconciliation process in the future.

Going the reconciliation route for health care reform is far from a cakewalk. Democrats will have to hold together a majority to withstand a series of potential challenges by the minority. This will surely test the resolve of Democrats and their willingness to push the envelope on the use of reconciliation. From a political science angle, how this plays out has important implications for our understanding of legislative institutions and concerns about how rules can serve as constraints on behavior when legislators have the option to change said rules.

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#Senate procedure

At the request of a reader, I have created a new “Senate procedure” category for our posts. A number of old posts are now cataloged under that heading, including Greg Koger’s posts on the filibuster and Sarah Binder’s recent posts on reconciliation. Find it here or in the listing to the right.

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Fixing the Filibuster

Political scientists Jonathan Krasno and Gregory Robinson offer this modest proposal in Roll Call. In essence, they seek to preserve the tradition of unlimited debate, but make it harder to have those debates. Their three-pronged solution:

Make them vote…Filibustering Senators are the ones trying to prevent the Senate from voting. It would make more sense to require them, after some hours of debate, to assemble 41 votes to continue, rather than the other way around. Our compromise is to allow three-fifths of Senators present and voting to invoke cloture, making votes against just as important as votes in favor.
Make voting easier…allow a filibuster’s opponents to hold a cloture vote with little delay or warning. That would….force a filibuster’s supporters to be constantly at the ready to fend off cloture whether a vote comes at 3 p.m. or 3 a.m.
Reduce debate times…This would streamline the process and give the majority some leverage to strike deals to forgo filibusters in exchange for prolonged debate.

Not that they’re hopeful that these steps will be taken any time soon:

Unfortunately, the Senate’s rules make changes like these all but impossible.
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Reconciliation, revisited


I thought I would offer a few folllow-ups on my earlier post on reconciliation. I appreciate the many questions and corrections I have received since claiming expertise based on my collection of Budget Battle paraphernalia.

1. Can the majority bypass committee consideration of a reconciliation bill?

In response to the question raised in the comments by Jonathan about skipping the committee stage, this apparently remains an unsettled question in Congress. It is not clear whether circumventing the instructed committees is possible without encountering significant obstacles that would affect the contents of the bill.

2. Overturning rulings of the chair during consideration of a reconciliation bill

In response to Keith’s question in the comments about appeals of the chair’s rulings, I should be more explicit about the size of the majorities required to overturn a ruling of the chair on budget-related points of order (including points of order that stem from the Byrd Rule). Only a supermajority of 60 can overturn rulings of the chair on points of order that stem from the Byrd Rule. Similarly, a supermajority of 60 is required to waive the Byrd Rule. (Just an aside—There are a handful of points of order provided for in the Budget Act that require only a simple majority to waive. But the points of order to which a health care package could be vulnerable require 60 votes to waive or to overrule on appeal.) That remains one of the key barriers to Democrats’ deliberations over whether to pursue health care reform through reconciliation.

3. The 20-hour debate limit for reconciliation

A clarification of the time limitation for floor consideration of reconciliation bills in the Senate. I referred to a “time certain” for a vote. Because the Budget Act limits debate time (but not “consideration” time), time spent offering and voting on amendments (and motions and appeals, albeit none with debate) does not count under the 20 hour cap. (This is what gives rise to the “vote-a-rama” scene at the end of debate on the budget resolution in the Senate, when senators vote on often-times dozens of amendments at the close of the process.) In theory, if the minority kept offering amendments and refused to stop, the Senate would never get to a vote. Hence, “time certain” might not be so certain. Again, think Senate. Nothing is certain.

4. Expiration of committee instructions from the previous fiscal year

I suggested that the current parliamentary thinking appears to be that reconciliation instructions would only expire at the end of the Congress. Although the FY2010 instructions have not expired at this point, it is currently unsettled in the Senate as to when exactly in the current (111th) Congress they might expire—at the end of the Congress, or with the adoption of a new budget resolution.

5. Bottom line?

The bottom line, as I’ve tried to convey in the post and comments, is that reconciliation does not provide an easy vehicle for passing major policy change (and certainly less so when the parties are disposed to disagree strongly with each other). Sixty vote thresholds remain embedded in the fabric of reconciliation, even if the process is portrayed as a majoritarian work-around. I think it is also fair to say that the complexities and uncertainties about the application of reconciliation to health care reform raise innumerable questions that cannot be answered aprior (or easily in a blog post!).

I welcome your continued questions and objections!

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Greg Koger on “Fresh Air”

Former guest-blogger Greg Koger was a guest on “Fresh Air” today. He was awesome.

Let me note how this came about. Greg guest-blogged for us. Ezra Klein took note and ended up interviewing Greg. “Fresh Air” came across his work in Ezra’s column, so Greg tells me. Given that a mission of this blog is to “publicize political science research,” we’re justifiably proud. All thanks to Ezra for paying attention.

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Everything (?) you wanted to know about reconciliation (but were afraid to ask…)

On the heels of the Massachusetts election, it appears that the easiest route to health care reform (House concurrence to Senate-passed bill) is off the table. Most of the other options under discussion involve (in one way or another) use of “reconciliation”—a budget procedure that provides a fast-track to passage by circumventing a filibuster. Given all the attention to reconciliation, I thought a little primer on budget procedure might be helpful.

Why trust what you read on the Monkey Cage about reconciliation? Because I am a six-time winner of National Journal “Budget Battle” trivia contests! As proof, here I am with my 2002 mug. If you are ever in D.C., come by and I’ll show you my pennants, mouse-pads, and t-shirt (size XXL…maybe I’ll grow into it someday).


Credentials established, here are some key things to know about reconciliation:

1. What is it?

Reconciliation is an optional stage of the budget process established under the Congressional Budget Act (enacted in 1974 and as amended). Reconciliation is the process that Congress uses when it needs to make changes to law (affecting spending or taxes) in order to conform with budget levels set in the budget resolution. So if Congress found that it needed to reduce the deficit by $200 billion, reconciliation would be the legislative vehicle for proposing the mix of revenue and spending changes needed to reduce the deficit. For example, reconciliation could make changes to Medicare law to reduce outlays, or could make changes to the tax code to increase revenues. (Remember the days when Congress used to reduce the deficit?)

2. Why can’t senators filibuster reconciliation?

Simple. The Congressional Budget Act limits Senate consideration of reconciliation to 20 hours of debate and to 10 hours of debate on a reconciliation conference report. With a time certain for a vote, that means a minority cannot filibuster the effort to get to a vote. Why did senators create a fast-track for reconciliation in 1974? Chalk this one up to unanticipated consequences. Reconciliation was originally intended as a cleaning up mechanism to make the two congressional budget resolutions consistent with one another. When the Budget Act was revised and the second resolution dropped, reconciliation came to be used more aggressively for securing controversial policy changes.

3. How can the House and Senate use reconciliation to pursue health care reform?

In writing the budget resolution each year, legislators have the option of writing “reconciliation instructions” to the committees charged with coming up with revenue and spending changes. These directives grant the committee(s) the opportunity to develop a reconciliation bill (protected from a filibuster). Those changes come to the floor, packaged if need be by the Budget Committees, and then proceed through the legislative process under the Budget Act guidelines.

4. The last budget resolution agreed to in Congress (creating reconciliation instructions) applied to FY 2010. We’re now in FY 2011. Are they still valid instructions?

Yep. Although the news reporting on this issue has been uneven, my parliamentary sources tell me that Senate parliamentarians have over the past 20 years tried to err on the side of “making the budget act work.” In other words, when this issue has arisen in the past, Senate parliamentarians have advised that instructions remain viable until the end of the Congress (rather than the end of the fiscal year). (Although the precedent is apparently not written down, that would be the advice of the parliamentarian today.)

This is important, because it means that Congressional Democrats could start the process today for writing a reconciliation bill that addresses health care reform (rather than waiting for Congress to pass a FY2011 budget resolution—something unlikely to occur until spring). Just an aside—if Congress already has a set of operative instructions, that might reduce Democrats’ incentives to go to the effort to adopt a budget resolution for FY2011.

5. Is it really that simple?

Nope! This is the Senate we’re talking about!

Upset that reconciliation had become a vehicle for avoiding a filibuster of major policy change at times unrelated to deficit reduction, Senator Robert Byrd convinced his colleagues in the mid 1980s to place the “Byrd Rule” into the Budget Act. Under the Rule, the Senate is restricted from adding “extraneous matter” to a reconciliation bill or conference report. The Budget Act lays out the definition of “extraneous,” but in short these would be provisions that do not change revenues or outlays or would increase the deficit. Critical to its enforcement, the Byrd Rule requires 60 votes to waive any points of order that challenge the content of the bill under the Byrd Rule. But again, it’s not this simple. In practice, the Senate parliamentarians have become the arbiter of what counts as legit under the Byrd Rule. (Yes, senators could challenge the advice of the parliamentarian. And yes, the majority could fire the parliamentarian if they didn’t like his advice.) All this is important because it limits which health care provisions can be included in a reconciliation bill.

So, no, nothing regarding reconciliation is as simple or as fast as it may be seem. “If you want something done quickly, don’t send it to the Senate.”

6. So, is health care reform likely to happen this year?

Good question. Next?

7. Having made it to the end of your post, do I have a good chance of winning a National Journal budget battle?

Sorry. The contest was discontinued a few years ago, sometime after I won my second pennant. Just as well. It was hard to get excited about the prospects of winning a third.

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A Majority of the Public Supports the Filibuster

Jon Bernstein wants new polling data on the filibuster. The new CNN poll has one question about this:

As you may know, the filibuster is a Senate procedure which has been used to prevent the Senate from passing controversial legislation or confirming controversial appointments by the President, even if a majority of senators support that action. A vote of at least sixty senators out of one hundred is needed to end a filibuster. Do you favor or oppose the use of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate?

Just over half, 56%, favor the use of the filibuster, and 39% oppose it. Very few (5%) report having no opinion.

Of course, one poll with one question wording is hardly dispositive. I agree with Jon that we need more.

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Why Senators Filibuster

With health care reform in the hands of the Senate, Joe Lieberman’s threatened filibuster is making headlines. This raises a more general question: why do Senators filibuster?

This paper contributes to the growing empirical literature on filibusters by examining the factors that are associated with individual-level filibustering behavior. We focus particularly on the behavior of senators in the latter part of their careers, using impending retirement as analytical leverage to determine whether decisions to engage or not in dilatory parliamentary practices are driven more by narrowly drawn considerations of instrumental utility or by compliance with institutional norms of deference and cooperation. Using data from 1975 to 1993 and employing multivariate models that allow us to control for other relevant factors, we find only limited support for a narrowly rational model of Senate “followership.” In the course of our enquiry, we clarify the notion of legislative norms, integrate our study with recent interdisciplinary scholarship on the evolution of cooperative behavior and consider how leadership can be exercised in environments largely bereft of formal leadership resources.

That’s from research by Lauren Bell and Marvin Overby (gated; ungated).

The hypothesis is that filibustering is costly and is therefore is more attractive to retiring senators, who have a shorter time horizon and therefore would pay lower costs. More crudely: retiring senators can indulge their personal idiosyncrasies without suffering the same opportunity and reputational costs. An alternative hypothesis is that senators would obey norms of deference and courtesy—norms which could be even more firmly inculcated in retiring senators, most of whom are senior—and so impending retirement should not affect filibustering.

The data are the 227 senators who served in the U.S. Senate from 1975-1993. The model, which controls for several other factors beside imminent retirement, finds:

  • Minority party senators are more likely to filibuster. No surprise, but naturally this is a necessary control variable and a comforting findings.
  • Ideologically extreme senators are more likely to filibuster. This also makes sense.
  • Being from a small state makes no difference.
  • Most importantly, imminent retirement does not matter. Only when the sample is limited to senators whose entire careers took place within the 1975-93 interval does there appear to be an effect of retirement (but this is based on only a small number of observations—16 senators).

The model doesn’t predict much of the variance in the data, which suggests that a lot of filibustering behavior is due to other, and perhaps difficult to measure, factors.

This last finding leads Overby and Bell to write:

The fact that fewer than 20 percent of senators opt to lead filibusters in their last Congress strikes us as underwhelming and indicates, at very least, that retiring senators do not entirely and en masse disregard the chamber’s norms of comity and cooperation in order to pursue narrowly personal legislative goals.

Caveats abound in applying this research to Lieberman. The data stop in 1993, for one. Most importantly, there is no reason to think that this finding—that norms trump rational self-interest—applies to Lieberman in particular. Maybe his behavior is driven by revenge or personality. These things are hard to measure and so they don’t figure in much political science research generally or on the filibuster in particular.

But this research gives us some framework for thinking about Lieberman’s apparent decision. (And we should emphasize apparent; perhaps he is bluffing or strategically threatening.) In fact, it makes his decision all the more curious. He is not a minority party member. He is not ideologically extreme relative to the chamber. (Perhaps more so relative to the median Democratic senator.) However, although he has not announced any plans to retire, perhaps he sees himself as electorally threatened and therefore sees fewer costs to obstruction. Here’s one poll that suggests the threat.

So perhaps, in a way, the finding that retirements do matter—at least among those 16 senators whose careers were fully encompassed in the Overby and Bell data—applies to Lieberman. If he believes he is nearing the end of his career, there is less reason not to pursue a more personal agenda. This, of course, does not explain why Lieberman’s agenda on health care seems more conservative than it was in the past.

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