Fillibusters and Cloture -- The Basic Facts

In the interest of having a helpful conversation about the political system, it's important to have an understanding of Senate Rules.  Under current rules, it takes 60 votes for cloture -- or a vote to end debate.  That number was set, according to a Senate web site, in 1975 -- after fillibusters were used in the 1960s and 1970s to prevent passage of civil rights legislation.  Before 1975, the number of votes required to end debate was a 2/3rds majority -- or 66 votes.  Under that system, you can see that a small minority had a lot of power, which meant that you had to do a lot of wheeling and dealing to get legislation passed.  And, that number was set in 1917, and it was first put to the test in 1918 in order to end debate over the Treaty of Versailles.  Before 1917, debate was unlimited.  Now, in the last decade or so, we have seen even this 60 vote limit as a political tactic.

With this information about Senate rules, I have two questions to ask my readers.  The first is this -- do you believe it is appropriate for a state such as Wyoming with fewer residents than the city of Detroit to have the same representation in the Senate as the state of California?  The question concerns the closing of debate.  Do you feel that the current Senate rules serve us well?  Would you rather the Senate do its work in the same way as the House, votes being brought to the floor with a simple majority of Senate votes?   As you answer the second question, remember that the current situation in the Senate could at some point switch.    


Anonymous said…
They should vote periodically whether continued debate is in the public interest. Put on the public record who is, and who is not disgusted by the delaying tactics. David Mc
Anonymous said…
I think you answer the question with your scenario. Would it really be fair if a small population state like Wyoming and several other
"small states" combined to push through legislation that was self serving? What about the northeast.. where you have several small land states vs the large land states in the west? The over 60 rule controls the "mob" if you will. The House and President are elected with simple majority, this one precedent keeps it all in check. Remember ethanol? oil windfall taxes? A majority supported these items for a small window, but now they seem almost laughable. The farm states would have loved to make ethanol the standard. There are many items in history where this case could be repeated. Think of 9/11 and the "emotion" back then.. now its the economy.. who knows what it will be even next year.

Frankly, I love grid lock, because government has shown it can easily over reach itself very very quickly.

The system is designed to slow things down. But, it also means that there will be some horse trading for votes. Had Olympia Snowe have been willing to break ranks -- and from everything I can see her decision to stay in the fold likely had to do with fear of a right wing challenge in primaries -- then Harry Reid could have avoided dealing with Ben Nelson, a Democrat who is likely more conservative on a number of issues than Sen. Snowe.

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