Check out who is stalling Senate action is, no doubt about it, a very good site that helps shed light on how the filibuster and cloture vote are playing out in the Senate. Except, this is a very complicated topic:

That’s the strict reading of what is going on. I don’t think that’s the fairest explanation. Rather, I would say that the cloture vote has become a part of the standing conventions

of the Senate to pass a bill. What I mean is, probably no one thinks of it as gaming the system anymore. Instead, the cloture vote has taken the place of the final vote as the meaningful vote when passing a bill. Bills actually require a 2/3rds majority to pass now, period. When someone votes against cloture, it’s not necessarily a sinister act of gaming the system nor is it that they are necessarily trying to obstruct progress. It’s just how things work- if you oppose the bill, you vote against it (at cloture), and that’s the end of the story.

Not everyone who opposes a bill votes against cloture, though, so to some it must still feel

like gaming the system. These folks allow an up-or-down vote knowing that they are going to lose and the bill will pass. They give up their opportunity to kill a bill, knowing that the intention of Senate rules was to use a simple majority. These folks are noble, but perhaps misguided about what a cloture vote means now.

I don’t think it’s such a big deal if the Senate actually requires a 2/3rds majority. Lots of people seem to think that a simple majority vote is always the most fair/ethical/moral way to decide something (one person one vote), but I think this view is greatly mistaken. But this is a fair question to ask: should the Senate vote on bills by simple majority or 2/3rds? Senators are likely to waver depending on whether they are in the majority or minority party at any given time, and this is unfortunate.

If the Senate thinks a 2/3rds majority is a fine way to decide on bills, then that’s fine. We should just be transparent and honest about the process. Let’s get rid of the cloture vote, which is highly confusing for the American public, and change the fiinal vote to require a 2/3rds majority. But if Senators think a simple majority is appropriate, then the filibustering and cloture process ought to be revised so that it can’t be gamed by a bill’s opponents so easily.

1 Comment

  1. A minor typo: cloture only requires 3/5ths of the Senators to pass. The sense of your argument is the same.

    But you miss something bigger: Senate procedure is rife with opportunities to stall a bill. All of these are considered “filibustering” — and not just standing on the floor blabbing away about a favorite cake recipe.

    Any single Senator can take advantage of procedure to stall a bill. But only if they are so determined. The price paid for stalling a bill is a political one. Sometimes it’s a small price if the bill is unpopular; sometimes it’s a huge price if the bill is popular. But either way, a determined, single Senator can stop just about anything. It’s been that way since the very beginning.

    The Senate generally operates on unanimous consent. If every Senator doesn’t agree, things can grind to a halt. It is very different from the House where majority rules.


Comments are closed.