Democrats Had a Filibuster-Proof Senate Majority for 72 Days During President Obama’s First Term

(By The Pragmatic Pundit)

I first shared this information in October, 2010 in a post I called “Occupy the Media” (no longer available) then later in a post entitled President Obama DID NOT Control Congress for Two Years.

Without fail, everyday I am either challenged or questioned about the information I presented.  So in an attempt to further clarify the information and hopefully address the many questions, I am presenting it once again. More importantly,  commenters, journalists, reporters, political pundits, Republicans and even some Democrats continue to repeat the same falsehood:

“The president controlled Congress for two years, and had the opportunity to do everything he wanted to do.” 

The statement simply isn’t true.

How did so many people get this so wrong?

I’m guessing that after the election, the media made such a big deal of the fact that Democrats had captured the majority in the Senate (obviously referring to a 51+ majority), I think people became confused.  Just as many things changed once Barack Obama became elected,  the “new filibuster-proof majority” totaled 60 and somehow, the fact Democrats only captured 59 seats got lost in all the excitement.

Everyone also apparently forgot that Ted Kennedy Collapsed At The Obama Inaugural Luncheon and returned to his home in Massachusetts to recuperate. While the Minnesota seat remained outstanding, because the election results were contested.

When Arlen Spector switched parties, in April, 2009 the media announced that the switch gave  “Democrats a filibuster-proof majority”.  The statement was only technically true;  it was an assessment that assigned the still-contested Minnesota seat (between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken) to Democrats.  Perhaps the media did so because Republicans openly admitted contesting the election was a stalling tactic.

Even the swearing-in of Al Franken did not seal the majority of sitting senators because Senator Kennedy was still at home ill, but paid a surprise visit to the Senate to cast a healthcare vote on June 29.  Senator Byrd was hospitalized in Mid-May and did not return to the Senate until July 21.

Many emailed to ask why the President had not accomplished more, though I don’t think most people know what the President has accomplished.

Republicans wanted the President to fail

Despite the fact that the President was democratically elected, Republicans launched an all-out attack against the presidency.

Ten days before the inauguration, Rush Limbaugh declared, “I hope he fails.”  After the inauguration he would add,  

“The dirty little secret … is that every Republican in this country wants Obama to fail, but none of them have the guts to say so; I am willing to say it”

In nothing else, the revelations that Republicans formulated a strategy to cripple the newly-elected President undermines claims that Obama is to blame for the partisan deadlock in Washington.

From the guardian:

A detailed account of  January 20   and the plan Republicans worked out to bring down Obama (one hour after the inauguration) is provided by Robert Draper in ‘Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the US House of Representatives’…..

Attending the dinner were House members Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and Pete Sessions. From the Senate were Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign and Jon Kyl. Others present were Newt Gingrich and the Republican strategist Frank Luntz, .

Kevin McCarthy, was quoted as saying,

We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.” 

And that’s exactly what they did.  It is unconscionable that legislators elected to govern and move the country forward chose to allow the economy and Americans to suffer, other than work with the opposition party.  And just think, one of the saboteurs is slated to be Vice President of the United States.

Is it me?  Millions of Americans remained jobless, while those employed by voters not only refused to work, but lampooned government workers.  They work for the government.  They are the government!  They complain about the President’s failures as if they have no vested interest in or responsibility to the public at large…and the public continues to employ these high-paid, benefit-rich deadbeats.  Republicans, like Newt Gingrich, of course, insist that Democrats employ the same tactics, but I challenge anyone to point to a Republican administration that has been completely denied the right to govern for their entire tenure by the Democrats.  Every single one of them should be voted out of office.


In a blatant show of disconnect, many express disappointment that Guantanamo remains opened.  In January, 2009 President Obama signed an order to shut down Guantanamo. On May 20, 2009, the Senate passed an amendment (H.R. 2346) by a 90-6 vote to block funds needed for the transfer of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay.

Any disappointment should be with Congress, not to mention that in my own view, people ought to be more concerned about the 2 million Americans who languish in prisons in their own backyard.

The Stimulus

A group of Senators, Republicans and Democrats,  led by Republican Sen. Susan Collins who  cut billions from the original stimulus.  In the interest of bipartisanship (another promise) job-stimulating measures were traded for tax cuts.  Despite their public protestations, over a hundred Republicans happily handed out enormous checks.

People behaved as if President Obama was the first president to employ a bailout or a stimulus.  When in fact, bailouts and stimulus programs have been employed by one administration after another, Republicans and Democrats, to combat the effects of an economic downturn.  Governors across the nation cut public employment rolls when in the past the practice has always been to expand federal employment,  


About those Government employees, the debt and the deficit

We emerged from the Great Depression because of a series of public works projects; roads, bridges, tunnels, buildings that created employment.  Republicans love to tell how Reagan delivered the country from a depressed economy by implementing the largest tax-cuts in history. What they don’t tell is that the following year, Reagan enacted the largest single tax increase in history, followed by ten additional tax increases.   What they don’t tell is that Reagan expanded the federal workforce by nearly a million more employees than President Obama has today.

Under Reagan, the size of the federal government grew by 7% and the federal deficit ballooned to the largest peacetime deficit in history and for all that ballyhoo about the debt ceiling,under Reagan, the debt ceiling was raised 17 times!

According to David Stockman,  director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan:

“The plan was to have a strategic deficit that would give.. an argument for cutting back the programs that weren’t desired….one creates deficits so large that absolutely everyone becomes convinced that no more money can be spent….persuade Congress of the necessity of spending reductions by means of an immense deficit….”

The idea that the country will implode because the debt is 100% of GDP is sheer poppycock.  That isn’t to say the debt should be ignored, but to instill fear and anxiety in the public is a republican strategy.  The debt to GDP was 122% in 1946.  We’re still here.

The Tea Party staged its first rally just 38 days after President Obama took office;  ten days after he signed the Stimulus.  While they had remained completely silent when Bush signed the Wall Street Bailout, the prescription drug expansion, massive tax cuts and committed the country to two wars.

To me, the reaction to the Stimulus defied common sense.  TARP had been for the bailout of Wall Street, while the Stimulus was directed at Main Street.  Go figure.  And while economists, pundits, Republicans and some Democrats screeched that the Stimulus was too costly, in the end they would all concede that it was just too small. 


From Ben Smith of Politico:

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, the founder of Conservatives for Patients Rights told 104 participants on a conference call, which was organized to coincide with National Tea Party Patriot’s protests:

“….if we can hold it back (delay a vote) until we go home for a month’s break in August,” members of Congress will hear from “outraged” constituents….Senators and Congressmen will come back in September afraid to vote against the American people…If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him”.

The outbursts and demonstrations at town hall meetings across the country were clearly coordinated.


Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared,

“Our top priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.” 

If the President was in favor of it, they were against it…even when they were their ideas.  They refused to do anything to help heal the economy or unemployment for fear the President would get credit for any improvements, while they harped that the President promised the unemployment rate would not exceed 8%.  But the President never said that…economists did!   And it was an assessment made on the Stimulus as presented, not one sliced and diced with tax cuts.

The Senate had 60 sitting Democrats only from September 24, 2009 to February 4, 2010, the day on which Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts was sworn in.

Senate Calendar January 21, 2009 – December 31, 2009
17 days out of session from September 24 thru December 31

Senate Calendar January 1, 2010 – February 4, 2010
12 days out of session from January 1 thru February 4

From September 24, 2009 to February 4, 2010, the President had a filibuster-proof majority for 72 days.

Sitting Democratic Senators


Confronted with Republicans who plotted an hour after the inauguration to bring the nation to a standstill; a Republican party that employed the filibuster more times than ever in history and refused to compromise on any issue, there is legitimate reason some things simply couldn’t be accomplished.  Perhaps, my Latino friends will understand why he didn’t try for comprehensive immigration reform…he didn’t have the votes. Republican lies and anti-American slander have divided America.   Still, the President accomplished many, many things.

What did the GOP accomplish? 

The 2010 election filled the House and state legislatures with Republican/Tea Party Representatives who promised to create jobs.  Did they?  They passed legislation restricting and governing women’s reproductive rights, busted unions, fired teachers, firefighters and policemen, passed “stand your ground” laws, enacted voter suppressing ID laws and demonized immigration.   

Where are the jobs? 

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3 Responses to “Democrats Had a Filibuster-Proof Senate Majority for 72 Days During President Obama’s First Term”

  1. Fast_Ed Says:

    To define terms, a Filibuster-Proof Majority or Super Majority is the number of votes required to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. According to current Senate rules, 60 votes are required to overcome a filibuster.

    Here is a time-line of the events after the 2008 election:

    1. BALANCE BEFORE THE ELECTION. In 2007 – 2008 the balance in the Senate was 51-49 in favor of the Democrats. On top of that, there was a Republican president who would likely veto any legislation the Republicans didn’t like. Not exactly a super majority.

    2. BIG GAIN IN 2008, BUT STILL NO SUPER MAJORITY. Coming out the 2008 election, the Democrats made big gains, but they didn’t immediately get a Super Majority. The Minnesota Senate race required a recount and was not undecided for more than six months. During that time, Norm Coleman was still sitting in the Senate and the Balance 59-41, still not a Super Majority.

    3. KENNEDY GRAVELY ILL. Teddy Kennedy casts his last vote in April and leaves Washington for good around the first of May. Technically he could come back to Washington vote on a pressing issue, but in actual fact, he never returns, even to vote on the Sotomayor confirmation. That leaves the balance in the Senate 58-41, two votes away from a super majority.

    4. STILL NO SUPER MAJORITY. In July, Al Frankin was finally declared the winner and was sworn in on July 7th, 2009, so the Democrats finally had a Super Majority of 60-40 six and one-half months into the year. However, by this point, Kennedy was unable to return to Washington even to participate in the Health Care debate, so it was only a technical super majority because Kennedy could no longer vote and the Senate does not allow proxies. Now the actual actual balance of voting members is 59-40 not enough to overcome a Republican filibuster.

    5. SENATE IS IN RECESS. Even if Kennedy were able to vote, the Senate went into summer recess three weeks later, from August 7th to September 8th.

    6. KENNEDY DIES. Six weeks later, on Aug 26, 2009 Teddy Kennedy died, putting the balance at 59-40. Now the Democrats don’t even have technical super majority.

    7. FINALLY, A SUPER MAJORITY! Kennedy’s replacement was sworn in on September 25, 2009, finally making the majority 60-40, just enough for a super majority.

    8. SENATE ADJOURNS. However the Senate adjourned for the year on October 9th, only providing 11 working days of super majority, from September 25th to October 9th.

    8. SCOTT BROWN ELECTED. Scott Brown was elected in November of 2009. The Senate was not in session during November and December of 2009. The Senate was in session for 10 days in January, but Scott Brown was sworn into office on February 4th, so the Democrats only had 13 days of super majority in 2010.

    Summary: The Democrats only had 24 days of Super Majority between 2008 and 2010.

    Discussion: The Democrats had a super majority for a total of 24 days. On top of that, the period of Super Majority was split into one 11-day period and one 13-day period. Given the glacial pace that business takes place in the Senate, this was way too little time for the Democrats pass any meaningful legislation, let alone get bills through committees and past all the obstructionistic tactics the Republicans were using to block legislation.

    Further, these Super Majorities count Joe Lieberman as a Democrat even though he was by this time an Independent. Even though he was Liberal on some legislation, he was very conservative on other issues and opposed many of the key pieces of legislation the Democrats and Obama wanted to pass. For example, he was adamantly opposed to “Single Payer” health care and vowed to support a Republican Filibuster if it ever came to the floor.


    1. 1/07 – 12/08 – 51-49 – Ordinary Majority.
    2. 1/09 – 7/14/09 – 59-41 – Ordinary Majority. (Coleman/Franklin Recount.)
    3. 7/09 – 8/09 – 60-40 – Technical Super Majority, but since Kennedy is unable to vote, the Democrats can’t overcome a filibuster
    4. 8/09 – 9/09 – 59-40 – Ordinary Majority. (Kennedy dies)
    5. 9/09 – 10/09 – 60-40 – Super Majority for 11 working days.
    6. 1/10 – 2/10 – 60-40 – Super Majority for 13 working days

    Total Time of the Democratic Super Majority: 24 Working days.

  2. Was Bush the worst President ever? - Page 38 - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum Says:

    [...] [...]

  3. Shame On The Rich - Page 24 Says:

    [...] Originally Posted by Dutch Your "seamless obstruction" has only been the last three years of this administration as the democrats had a super majority in the senate and control of the house. In layman's terms they could pass any bill they wanted irrespective of opposition. What's more, they did. That, is also history. Shouldn't you already know that? Yes, this happened. For a few months. Not 2 years. [...]

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