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.