Under traditional U.S. Senate rules, unless every senator agrees otherwise it can take 60 votes to invoke “cloture” and limit further debate. However, the Senate has established several exceptions. In 2021, the Senate conducted 528 roll call votes. More than 80% of Senate votes (434) were in categories that are considered “exceptions” to the traditional Senate filibuster rules. Out of 154 total cloture votes cast, 87% of these roll call votes (134) required a simple majority; only 20 required the 60-vote supermajority. Several other roll call votes were cast under rules where debate is limited by statute and no cloture vote is required at all.
Here is a breakdown of those votes:
Nominations (295 votes). By Senate precedent, only a simple majority is required to invoke cloture on a nominee. If cloture is invoked Senate floor debate is limited to two hours (except for Supreme Court nominees). There were 42 cloture votes on judicial nominees and 40 votes to confirm judges (two votes were carried over to 2022). There were 107 roll call votes to confirm Executive Branch nominees, 92 of which also required a separate cloture vote. There were also 14 related procedural roll call votes on nominees.
Budget Act legislation (123 votes). By statute, there is a limit of 50 hours of debate on a budget resolution to set fiscal priorities, and up to 20 hours of debate on a budget reconciliation bill to make changes in revenues or spending programs to achieve these priorities. Both are passed with a simple majority vote. In February the Senate passed the budget resolution (for fiscal year 2021), conducting 42 roll call votes. This set up the American Rescue Plan Act, which passed as a budget reconciliation bill in March and required 38 roll call votes. In August a second budget resolution (for fiscal year 2022) was enacted, requiring 43 roll call votes. This was intended to set up large portions of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda as a second reconciliation bill. Negotiations on that bill have not been completed.
Impeachment (6 votes). The Senate has a separate set of rules regarding the conduct of an impeachment trial. Individual senators do not have general rights to debate, and resolutions providing specific procedures cannot be filibustered. In January during the second impeachment trial of President Trump, the Senate adopted two such resolutions by roll call votes, considered three procedural votes, and conducted a roll call vote on a single Article of Impeachment, which failed to obtain a two-thirds majority.
Congressional Review Act (5 votes). By statute, Congress can pass a resolution of disapproval to nullify regulations, which is usually used against “midnight rules” enacted by a prior Administration. Senate floor debate is limited to 10 hours. In 2021, three Trump Administration regulations were nullified by Senate roll call votes (in April, rescinding methane emission rules; in May, reversing the “true lender rule”; and also in May, a procedural vote and a final roll call vote to reverse the EEOC “conciliation rule”). All three resolutions of disapproval were subsequently passed by the House and signed into law. The Senate also passed a resolution of disapproval in December initiated by Republican Senators to reverse a COVID-19 vaccine and testing rule. This resolution is not expected to be signed into law.
Electoral Count Act (2 votes). By statute, objections to the counting of electoral votes must be considered separately by the House and Senate, and Senate debate on an objection is limited to two hours with each Senator limited to five minutes. On Jan. 6, 2021, the Senate held two roll call votes on objections to the electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, and neither objection was sustained.
Debt Limit (2 votes). On Dec. 10 President Biden signed legislation that created a unique procedure for considering legislation to increase the public debt limit, with Senate floor debate being limited to 10 hours and no amendments in order. This procedure only applied to resolutions introduced by Dec. 31, 2021. On Dec. 14 the Senate passed a resolution increasing the public debt limit by $2.5 trillion. There were two roll call votes: on a motion to proceed and on the resolution itself. It subsequently passed the House and was signed into law.
Arms Exports (1 vote). By statute, the Senate can pass a resolution, limited to 10 hours of floor debate, to disapprove major arms sales. A motion to discharge a committee and bring the resolution to the floor is limited to one hour by statute. On Dec. 7 an attempt was made to discharge from committee a resolution disapproving of the sale of air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia. A roll call vote on the motion to discharge failed.