Senate tricks – the filibuster

10 Dec

Congress 101 continues. Part I is the next article.

Last week, the Republican Minority Leader and 40 of his Republican colleagues sent a letter promising to block every bill until the Senate passes bonus tax cuts for wealthy people. (That not us.)

Tool of choice – the filibuster.

The Senate, which was once referred to as the “world’s most deliberative body,” has since become a dysfunctional institution where blocked bills are more common than bills enacted into law.

At the heart of this lies the filibuster – a tool that was once used rarely and is now regularly used to effectively grind all three branches of government to a halt.

When many Americans think of the filibuster, they recall the scene from the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where Senator Smith attempts to prove his innocence by holding the Senate floor until he eventually collapses from exhaustion.

Not like that at all.

In today’s Senate, a member can block the Senate from voting on a bill or even bringing it to the floor with a 20 second phone call to a clerk. They don’t have to stay on the floor and defend their actions in front of the American people, or even reveal their identities – they can pack up their things and go on vacation if they want to.

In the modern filibuster, the senators trying to block a vote do not have to hold the floor and continue to speak as long as there is a quorum, although the Senate Majority Leader may require an actual traditional filibuster if he or she so chooses. Rarely happens.

The filibuster only ends when the Senator gives in or 60 out of 100 senators stops it by invoking what’s called cloture.

This means that as few as 41 senators, which could represent as little as 12.3% of the U.S. population, can make a filibuster happen.

Your government at work.

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