What is a Filibuster?

The Senate's rules say that a Senator has a right to speak on the floor for as long as he or she wishes. In the House, where we have 435 members competing for time, all debate is limited. But, in the Senate, there are only 100 people vying for floor time and they all believe their opinions deserve to be thoroughly aired for the people and their colleagues.

Senators threaten a "filibuster," taking the floor indefinitely, to defeat a bill by delaying or even preventing its ever being considered or voted on. In the face of a threatened filibuster, the majority leader may decide not to bring a bill to the floor at all or delay calling it up if there are other noncontroversial bills ready to be voted on.

Usually, a threatened filibuster is used to strong arm proponents of a bill to accept changes in the bill they don't support, but are necessary to avoid a filibuster and the horrible PR that accompanies it.

The only way to defeat a filibuster is 1) the Senator relinquishes the floor voluntarily or 2) the Senate invokes "cloture." Cloture just means ending the debate so the Senate can move to a vote on the bill. However, it takes 16 Senators to present a cloture motion and the Senate cannot vote on the cloture motion until the second day after the motion is offered. Then, it requires at least 60 votes to invoke cloture.

People don't really filibuster anymore. Interesting tidbit: The longest filibuster speech in Senate history was in 1957 by South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond opposing a fair housing bill. It lasted 24 hours, 18 minutes.

Many many thanks to my friend Kelly for writing this. -TK

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