3:15 PM Eastern - Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cloture: Procedural or Substantive Vote?

There are a lot of questions about whether or not a "cloture vote" in the Senate is actually a measure of a Senator's position one way or another on a piece of legislation. According to Senate.gov, a cloture vote does nothing more than to "limit consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster."

So, in short, a vote for cloture means the Senator is ready to get onto the business of actually voting for or against amendments and / or final passage. For a long time, Republicans like to call this giving a bill, or a judge, "an up or down vote."

We learned yesterday with Joe Lieberman that sometimes Senators will vote for cloture and against final passage of a bill. It's not uncommon.

Even Evan Bayh, who said earlier today he doesn't see "much difference between process and policy at this particular juncture" hasn't always voted the same way on cloture as on final passage. Here are a few quick examples:

Example 1: In 2008, Evan Bayh voted in favor of a cloture motion on the bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, though he opposed the bill itself. "Bayh voted with most Democrats to stop the filibuster because, he said, it was preventing amendments that could have improved the bill."[Gannett, 6/12/2008; Vote 145, 6/6/2008]

Example 2: In 2005, Senator Bayh voted for cloture on Judge Owen's nomiation, but against final confirmation. Vote 127, 5/24/05: Senate.gov ; Vote 128, 5/25/05: Senate.gov. Judge Owen, you might recall, was the first nominee to reach the floor after the "Gang of 14" agreements.

Example 3: In 2004, Senator Bayh voted for cloture on the conference report to H.R. 1047, a $388 billion spending bill, then voted against final passage the next day. Vote 214, 11/19/04 ; Vote 215, 11/20/04

So, in short, when Senators take to the floor and vote for "cloture," they are saying that it is time to move beyond obstructing a health care bill and on to an "up or down vote" on the substance of the legislation.

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