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What is a Filibuster?
ThisNation ^ | timely reports/current | Contributing Author, Shad Satterthwaite, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma

Posted on 01/31/2003 2:54:28 AM PST by .30Carbine

What is a filibuster?

Why are they permitted in the Senate but not the House? Can you do anything to stop one?
I have heard the practice of "talking a bill to death" in the Senate referred to as a filibuster. What exactly is a filibuster? Why do they happen only in the Senate? What is the purpose of allowing them? Can one Senator actually stop the entire Senate through a filibuster or is there something that can be done to bring one to an end?

The word filibuster comes from the Spanish word filibusteros; a term used to describe pirates that plundered in the seventeenth century. In the United States, the word eventually became synonymous with rebels and insurrectionists, a perfect term to describe a technique used by rebellious senators looking for ways to hold up legislation.

A classic anecdote has Thomas Jefferson asking George Washington about the purpose of the Senate. Washington responded with a question, "Why did you pour that coffee into your saucer?" "To cool it," Jefferson replied. To which Washington said; "Even so, we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it." The framers of the Constitution intended the Senate to cool legislation by being a more deliberative body than the House. It was smaller, members were older, Senators were elected for longer terms, and elections were staggered and decided by state legislatures [at that time; changed under the 17th Amendment].

The House of Representatives has a Rules Committee that places a limit on debate when a bill goes to the floor. The Senate has no such committee. As a result, a bill is informally scheduled to come up on the Senate floor where debate can be endless. A filibuster occurs when a Senator engaged in debate refuses to yield the floor and thus prevents a roll call vote from taking place. The image of a Senator standing his ground on the Senate floor is epitomized by Jimmy Stewart with his performance in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Filibusters provide a minority of Senators a way to make their voices heard.

Filibusters also give a tremendous amount of power to individual Senators. Senators have used the filibuster, or the threat to filibuster in order to maximize their leverage with the President or other Senators. In 1985, Oklahoma Senator David Boren held up Edwin Meese's confirmation vote as Reagan's Attorney General until Reagan agreed to sign an emergency farm relief bill.

South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest speech in the history of the Senate. During debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1957, he spoke for a total of twenty-four hours and eighteen minutes. His stamina has served him well, at the age of ninety-seven, he is currently the oldest serving member in the United States Senate [now retired at 100].

Filibustering has become much more common in recent years. Roughly two-thirds of all filibusters in the Senate's history have taken place in the last thirty years. Filibusters where frequently used to stop civil rights legislation from passing in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then however, filibusters have been employed to stall bills of all types. This has led some to argue that filibustering has been trivialized.

A filibuster can take place at several stages during the legislative process in the Senate. Before a bill is even introduced, a senator can place an anonymous hold on a bill through the majority or minority leaders. A hold is simply a threat to stage a filibuster if the bill comes up for a vote. A motion to bring up a bill can be filibustered. Amendments to a bill can be filibustered. Appointments to conference committees with House members to consider the bill can be filibustered. Conference committee reports on the bill can be filibustered.

How can a filibuster be stopped?

A filibuster can be stopped when the Senate invokes cloture. This can be an arduous task in and of itself. To invoke cloture, a Senator needs to do the following:

1. Wait two days after a filibuster begins.

2. Obtain sixteen signatures on a motion to invoke cloture.

3. Wait another two days before the Senate can vote on cloture.

4. Make sure that three-fifths of the Senate (sixty Senators) vote to end debate.

5. Endure an additional thirty hours of debate before the final roll call vote.

Obtaining cloture is not necessarily a guarantee that the filibuster will be over. Some Senators have discovered loopholes that can still impede the legislative process. In the spring of 1976, Senators James Allen (D, Alabama) and Roman Hruska (R, Nebraska) developed a way to "filibuster by amendment" on an antitrust bill. Under Senate rules, pending germane amendments can be considered after cloture has been invoked. Allen and Hruska simply ensured that numerous amendments were offered. Since each amendment requires a roll-call vote lasting fifteen minutes or more, the two senators were able to tie the Senate up. After seventy separate roll-call votes, it became clear that no end was in sight. The bill's sponsors finally agreed to support an amendment proposed by Allen and Hruska.

Many Senators have proposed changes to minimize the effect of a filibuster. The last significant reform was adopted in 1975 when the Senate voted to change the required number of votes needed to invoke cloture. Prior to this date, two-thirds of the Senate, or sixty-seven votes were needed. Under the 1975 rule, this number was changed to three-fifths, or sixty senators. Some recent proposals include limiting the filibuster to one time per bill, further reducing the number of votes to invoke cloture, and limiting the amount of time for debate once cloture has been invoked.

Opponents to reform efforts argue that they will damage the Senate's ability to be a more deliberative chamber. They also contend that reforms would come as a disadvantage to those in the minority who want to make their voices heard.

Whatever the outcome may be, it is clear that the filibuster has been a tradition in the Senate for many years. It is one of the most distinctive differences between the Senate and the House and will always have some place for better or for worse in the legislative process.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Extended News; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: bushsmandate; estrada; filibuster; infoispower; judicialnominees; lousydems; obstructionists; pickering; presidentbushlist; prolife
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To: All
Correction of bad link, s/b...

[Mid-19th century. Via Spanish filibustero  from, ultimately, Dutch vrijbuiter pirate (source of English freebooter).]

41 posted on 01/31/2003 8:43:06 AM PST by MeekOneGOP (9 out of 10 Republicans agree: Bush IS a Genius !!)
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To: PhiKapMom; EdReform; Mo1; glock rocks; RottiBiz; EBUCK; dixiechick2000; SAMWolf
I think that essays like your great paragraph should just appear in a random basis. If we got to a once a month thing, then it could become a mini freepathon.

We can use our tag lines to present the concept of monthly donations with each reply and post we make.

Ed Reform is a great indexer of the good essays/replies re why we need more monthly donors and is very creative in the use of these older messages.

Whenever we have a victory like the recent one in Oregon where the stealth tax increase was defeated, and the lunatic left blames Free Republic. Those Freepers involved need to post that as another success story and ping a list of pro monthly donors. If they need some help in editing or making a post, they can contact some of us for help.

Probably only a few Freepers know about that Oregon victory and the left wingers whining about Free Republic. We need more Freepers to know about it, right Ebuck?
42 posted on 01/31/2003 8:44:30 AM PST by Grampa Dave (Stamp out Freepathons! Stop being a Freep Loader! Become a monthly donor!)
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To: PhiKapMom
Put that paragraph on my profile page as well as the info on the Bush 2004 ping list!

Thanks for the idea!
43 posted on 01/31/2003 8:44:58 AM PST by PhiKapMom (Bush/Cheney 2004)
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To: Grampa Dave
Post #43 was meant for you!
44 posted on 01/31/2003 8:53:47 AM PST by PhiKapMom (Bush/Cheney 2004)
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To: PhiKapMom
Thanks, sometimes our fingers are faster than our brains! :)
45 posted on 01/31/2003 8:58:44 AM PST by Grampa Dave (Stamp out Freepathons! Stop being a Freep Loader! Become a monthly donor!)
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To: Grampa Dave
That's an understatement!

I was watching the postal truck on Fox being trailed by police -- guess it is a hostage situation in of all places Miami, FL!

Should have watched and not posted!
46 posted on 01/31/2003 9:02:40 AM PST by PhiKapMom (Bush/Cheney 2004)
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To: PhiKapMom
I was watching the postal truck on Fox being trailed by police

Has it run out of gas yet??

47 posted on 01/31/2003 9:21:05 AM PST by Mo1 (I Hate The Party of Bill Clinton)
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To: .30Carbine; PhiKapMom; MeeknMing
Thank you for the post and the pings!

PKM, if you get tired of the postal hijacking, VP Cheney's live on C-Span. (^;

48 posted on 01/31/2003 9:25:06 AM PST by Ragtime Cowgirl (289 Million Americans Avoid Peace Rallies. Press cover-up bigger than Watergate!)
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To: MeeknMing
Thanks for the heads up!
49 posted on 01/31/2003 9:27:43 AM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
VP Cheney's live on C-Span. (^;


50 posted on 01/31/2003 9:31:42 AM PST by Mo1 (I Hate The Party of Bill Clinton)
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To: PhiKapMom
Be Well - Be Armed - Be Safe - Molon Labe!
51 posted on 01/31/2003 9:44:30 AM PST by blackie
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To: Grampa Dave
Huh, whaddid I miss?

I should start another thread detailing the whinney libs in Oregon blaming FR for thier dismal outlook??
52 posted on 01/31/2003 10:03:35 AM PST by EBUCK (....reloading....praparing to FIRE!!!)
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To: Puppage
How will Teddy K get his drinks?

He's got an alchohol drip set up under his suit. If a phillyburster hits and he's in "need" he just ups his dosage, applied thru IV.

53 posted on 01/31/2003 10:28:46 AM PST by EBUCK (....reloading....praparing to FIRE!!!)
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To: .30Carbine; PhiKapMom
.30, Thank you for the post.

PKM, thanks for the flag, girlfriend.

54 posted on 01/31/2003 11:35:42 AM PST by Bigg Red (Let's roll!)
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To: .30Carbine
Tom Daschle institutionalized the "threat of a filibuster" when he declared that "controversial" bills would require 60 votes to be had before allowing the bill to come to the floor. His 60-vote rule was based on the assumption that a controversial bill would be filibustered, and that 60 votes would be required to invoke cloture, therefore, if you didn't have 60 votes going in then the bill wouldn't be considered at all. What this was, was really tyranny of the minority. Instead of having 51 Senators decide what happened, only 40 Senators controlled what happened.

This is kind of like that Star Trek episode where the two planets were in a centuries-old war where people didn't really fight, they "pretend-fought" over computers and then went to death chambers when they were hit. That was too clean a way to fight a war, and Daschle's 60-vote rule was too clean a way to block bills.

Make them actually filibuster.


55 posted on 01/31/2003 12:45:29 PM PST by Political Junkie Too
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To: .30Carbine
great educational thread.. unfortunately the average citizen does not understand this basic principle of the Senate... this is why it is so important that we get 60 GOP Senate Seats.. this is the only possible way to get our REAL agenda passed... another interesting fact is that FREEPERS have a LOT of power to counter filibusters... we can get the word out to the masses very quickly.. and could produce tremendous pressure on the democrats who seek to abuse the "filibuster" to prevent the Majority from passing the agenda that the American people voted for..



56 posted on 01/31/2003 12:54:20 PM PST by davidosborne (
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To: DonQ
Thank you for your contribution to my education. That's a very informative post. It was a teaser, though - it made me want more!
57 posted on 01/31/2003 1:44:15 PM PST by .30Carbine
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To: .30Carbine
Thanks, carbine! This is a term we were well familiar with in 7th grade, as we had to learn and memorize the workings of all 3 branches of the government in order to pass the very tough New York State Regents exams in 8th grade.

I wonder how many kids have to learn these things nowadays.
58 posted on 01/31/2003 1:46:12 PM PST by Palladin ("Barbershop" deserves an Academy Award.)
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To: Grampa Dave
This is exactly why we need at least 60 Republican Senators sworn in 2005 before President Bush is sworn in for his second term.

You make a wonderful point, and I thank you for making it. Do we *have* to wait 'till '05, though, before we get vacant seats on various benches filled?

59 posted on 01/31/2003 1:48:40 PM PST by .30Carbine
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To: nicmarlo
Will be very interested to read this later.

It is a very timely subject, as well as fascinating reading from both historical and political activism vantage points. I have enjoyed learning more about how things work or, in the case of the filibuster, don't work, in Washington.

60 posted on 01/31/2003 1:55:00 PM PST by .30Carbine
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