Myths/Democrats had a supermajority for two years

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Myth: The Democrats had a supermajority in both houses of Congress for two years (2009-2011).

Myth

Examples

  • 2018-02-17 "why didn't the Democrats pass gun control legislation when they had both the House & Senate during the Obama Administration..." — Donald Trump, Tweet (via)
  • "But in fairness, the first two years, [Obama] had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a big majority in the House." — Chris Wallace, Fox News[1]
  • "For two years, [Obama] had complete, unadulterated control of the federal government, a 60 seat majority in the Senate, an 60 plus seat majority in the House. He got every – literally every – piece of legislation he wanted to try and quote turn around the economy..." — Representative Aaron Schock (R-IL)[1]

Reality

The Democrats had, at most, sixty days of technical supermajority – all hampered by short sessions and a terminally ill Senator (Robert Byrd) who missed most of his votes.

Timeline

When the 111th Congress convened, two Democratic seats were unfilled:

  • The victory of Al Franken (D) over Norm Coleman (R) was in dispute; Coleman continued to occupy the seat.
  • The seat formerly filled by Barack Obama was awaiting an appointed successor.

On top of that, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy was terminally ill, and his presence could not be counted on.

Date Event Senate
Headcount
2009-01-03 111th US Congress officially convenes, with one Dem seat unoccupied and one filled by a Republican D:57
2009-01-15 Roland Burris is sworn in to fill Obama's seat D:58
2009-04-?? Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy's illness prevents him from attending anymore D:58 -K
2009-04-28 Senator Arlen Specter switches from Republican to Democrat D:59 -K
2009-07-07 Franken is sworn in D:60 -K
2009-09-24 An interim successor to the recently-deceased Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy is appointed D:60
2009-10-09 Senate officially adjourns for 2009, but there are 38 more days of special sessions. D:60
2010-01-05 Senate reconvenes for 2010. D:60
2010-02-04 Republican Scott Brown joins the Senate after a special election, replacing Democrat Paul G. Kirk D:59

Because of these circumstances, the Democrats only had an official supermajority from June 30 through February 4 – but even that was marred by the fact that Ted Kennedy was terminally ill with a brain tumor, and had ceased attending two months earlier.[2] During his last month in the Senate, Kennedy only voted four times.[3]

The Dems only had an actual present supermajority of 60 from 9/24 to 2/4.

During that time, there were 11 regular work days and 36 days of special sessions in 2009, and 13 regular work days in 2010:[2]

  • 2009:
    • September 24 - October 9: 11 work days
    • Special sessions:
      • October: 13-15, 20-22, 27, 29 = 8 work days
      • November: 2, 4, 5, 9, 16, 17, 19, 21 = 8 work days
      • December: 1, 3-8, 10-13, 15-18, 19, 21-24 = 20 work days
  • 2010:
    • January 5 - February 4: 13 work days

To add to the Dems' troubles:

  • Democratic Senatory Robert Byrd was also terminally ill. During the 60 working days of 9/24/09 - 2/4/10, Byrd missed most of his votes as well, leaving the Dems with only 59 reliable votes even during these 60 days.[4] Although the Dems technically had a supermajority during that time, they arguably never had a functional supermajority. They certainly never had one that was dependable, which was effectively like not having one at all, since they had to spend the extra time trying fruitlessly to persuade at least one or two Republicans to join them before going to a vote.
  • The 60 days of supermajority were split into short sessions, none of which was longer than five days.
  • The special session time (28 of those 60 days) was entirely devoted to budget issues and Republican amendments to Obamacare.

Given the slow pace at which things are accomplished in the Senate, this was nowhere near enough to push through any major accomplishments – much less reverse six years of Republican "small government" mismanagement.

Nonetheless, the Democrats did not waste what little time they had. The ACA – a signature piece of Democratic legislation (albeit significantly compromised by Republican demands) – was the major item of business during this time, and was signed only one month after the Democrats lost their supermajority.

Links

Reference

Footnotes

Research Notes