The Weight Of The U.S. Senate’s Filibuster Rule

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The clock is ticking for congress to address the debt ceiling, but if the democrats are in control of the House, Senate and executive, some question why members are slow to pass this legislation as well as other bills? A big part of that comes down to one rule in the Senate.  

The U.S. Senate is essentially split down the center. There’s 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats and the two independents lean more towards the Dems. And with Vice President Kamala Harris making up the 51st tie-breaking decision, it gives the Dems a one vote advantage in this chamber but it’s not enough to quickly pass legislation.

Let’s go all the way back to when the legislative branch was created. The Senate’s tradition of unlimited debate has allowed the use of the filibuster, which by design, prolongs debate by delaying or preventing a vote on legislation. It wasn’t until 1917 when that changed. The Senate adopted a rule to allow a two-thirds majority, or 66 senators, to end debate; also known as a cloture, which then allows them to move to a vote.

Fast forward to the 1970s, the Senate reduced that number for cloture to three-fifths, or 60 of the 100-member senate. And with the Senate split essentially 50-50, getting that super majority of 60 votes is tough. But there are rare exemptions.

Just last week, the Senate broke a logjam over the debt ceiling, essentially sending a bill to the president to grant a one-time exemption to the Senate rules so that the debt ceiling increase can go straight to final passage on a simple majority vote rather than having to get that 60-vote threshold.

Critics of the filibuster rule say it prevents legislation from passing. Senator Bob Casey (D- PA) said there should be a 51-vote threshold to pass legislation.

“Reform the rules of the Senate to restore the senate to what it used to be,” said Casey.

Casey’s fellow Senator from Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey (R- PA) wants to keep the rule in place.

Members for this rule argue it creates compromise and bipartisanship.

But with the Senate narrowly divided, changing this filibuster rule looks dim.


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