Howard Baker and the Conditional Use of Parliamentary Procedure in the U.S. Senate


The contemporary U.S. Senate is marked by procedural changes aimed at curtailing the power of individual senators. However, in this chapter we highlight the tenure of Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-TN) to show that the use of procedural maneuvers by majority leaders to contend with both partisanship and unruly same-party senators is not an entirely new phenomenon. Serving as majority leader from 1981 to 1984, Senator Baker utilized restrictive floor procedures to advance both his personal political goals and his party’s policy goals. Extending our analysis to the use of restrictive procedural motions employed by selected majority leaders from 1981 to 2017, including cloture motions and motions to table amendments, we try to identify which factors can explain why and how party leaders use restrictive procedures to advance a policy agenda. We argue that the likelihood of any majority leader resorting to restrictive floor procedures varies depending on partisan control of the Senate and the White House, the relative unity of the Senate’s majority party, and the perceived popularity of the president. Though these parliamentary restrictions have given each party leader short-term victories, it has come at the cost of undermining the Senate’s capacity to act as a deliberative body.

Leadership in the U.S. Senate: Herding Cats in the Modern Era