Can the Senate Be Fixed?

Pick the adjective -- broken, dysfunctional, gridlocked. In the minds of many observers, they all apply to the modern Senate. The perception, particularly after this year’s health care votes, is that this is an institution gone badly off track, where procedural and partisan wrangling has entangled the nation’s business at a time when the country needs an efficient, functioning government more than ever. That's why a group of younger Democrats is studying past efforts to change the Senate's rules.

Illuminating this story are video interviews with three of the people CQ talked with about the Senate and its history -- Senate Historian Donald A. Ritchie, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and former Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove. Also in this package are a slide show of images reflecting the evolution of the filibuster, plus graphics and background data on cloture motions and the rise of the 60-vote Senate.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., left, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., right

Cloture Motions Through the Years

Filibusters were rare and motions to invoke cloture even more rare in the Senate’s first 170 years. Since the rules were changed at the start of the 94th Congress in 1975 to allow a three-fifths majority to invoke cloture and cut off debate, the frequency of filibusters and cloture motions has risen, but a smaller share of motions actually come to a vote today. The number of cloture motions filed in the 111th Congress may end up short of the record from the 110th Congress, but the Democrats are prevailing at an unprecedented 90 percent success rate on cloture votes in this Congress.

The graphics in this series show the number of cloture motions by Congress, the number that come to a vote succeed, the percentage of votes where cloture is invoked and the frequency with which cloture has been used on judicial nominations. Clicking on individual bars in the graphs will display details for that year.

SOURCE: Senate Library

Note: Motions that were voted on and then reconsidered are counted twice. Data for the 111th Congress is current as of April 16 and includes five filed motions that had not yet come up for a vote.

The Evolution of the the Filibuster and Cloture Rule