Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler gave the President’s claim that Senate Republicans has filibustered about 500 bills since 2007 four Pinocchios, saying, “The President’s claim makes little sense no matter how you do the numbers.”
“Here’s what’s more disconcerting. Their [Republicans] willingness to say no to everything — the fact that since 2007, they have filibustered about 500 pieces of legislation that would help the middle class just gives you a sense of how opposed they are to any progress.
According to the official Senate statistics, since 2007, there have been 527 cloture motions filed (motions to end debate). This may be where the President got his number. But that ignores out of those 527 motions, only 392 were voted on and 250 of those motions were passed, meaning discussion was cut off, leaving only 133 filibusters. However as Kessler points out, “the Congressional Research Service, using newer data, warned in a 2013 report that ‘it would be erroneous, however, to treat this table as a list of filibusters on nominations.”
Another problem with the President’ statement is he claims Republicans have filibustered about 500 bills; however, most of the filibusters have been made on votes to approve appointees and have nothing to do with “legislation that would help the middle class”
In the 113th Congress, for instance, 83 of the 136 cloture motions so far have concerned nominations, not legislation.
[Sarah Binder of the Brookings Institution] declined to comment on Obama’s claim, but said: “I would certainly agree with you that if I were counting cloture votes aimed at ‘legislation that would help the middle class,’ I would not count cloture votes aimed at confirmation votes.”
Additionally there’s the fact that a single bill may end up with more than one cloture motion:
Even then, while Obama referred to “500 pieces of legislation,” the same bill can be subject to as many as three cloture motions, further inflating the numbers. For instance, there may be cloture to get on the bill, cloture on the substitute bill (if lawmakers are simply using an unrelated bill as a vehicle for passage), and cloture on the underlying bill. All of these votes might take place on the same day, but it creates the illusion of the same bill being “filibustered” three times. It certainly does not mean there were three pieces of legislation. So far in the 113th Congress, 36 pieces of legislation were subject to a cloture motion—and 12 were actually filibustered. That’s a far cry from the 136 that Obama is counting in order to tally up 500.
Obama’s count also includes at least a half-dozen instances when Republicans were blocked by Democrats through use of the filibuster. In fact, in the biggest oddity, the president reached back to 2007 in making his claim, so he includes two years when he was still a senator. On eight occasions, he voted against ending debate—the very thing he decried in his remarks.
Kessler concludes that Obama’s claim deserves four Pinocchios, which he defines as a “whopper.”
On just about every level, this claim is ridiculous.
We realize that Senate rules are complex and difficult to understand, but the president did serve in the Senate and should be familiar with its terms and procedures. Looking at the numbers, he might have been able to make a case that Republicans have blocked about 50 bills that he had wanted passed, such as an increase in the minimum wage. But instead he inflated the numbers to such an extent that he even included votes in which he, as senator, supported a filibuster.