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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: PhiKapMom; .30Carbine
Thank you SO much for pinging me to this article.

Answered all of my questions.

And thanks to .30carbine for finding this succinct explanation and posting it!
61 posted on 01/31/2003 2:02:36 PM PST by justshe (Eliminate Freepathons! Become a monthly donor. Only YOU can prevent Freepathons!)
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To: nicmarlo
any other info on cloture?

Grampa Dave put up this great link at post #24 to another FR thread, with a link there as well.

Bonaparte has a great post here on cloture, too, in the post last night in which he introduced me to the article that frames this thread.

62 posted on 01/31/2003 2:03:02 PM PST by .30Carbine
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To: okie01
However, one critical aspect isn't covered. Appropriation bills are NOT subject to filibuster -- all votes require a majority only. The rationale is that appropriation bills are "the business of government" -- the day-to-day housekeeping, so to speak. Accordingly, Senate rules specifically exclude these bills from the filibuster tactic.

Here's an idea: if Appropriations are specifically excluded from the filibuster, because they are essential to the day-to-day operations of the government, why can't judicial nominations be excluded as well, as they are essential to the free exercise of our judicial system. Is it wise or Constitutional to keep vacancies on benches around the country while politicians parse ad nauseum?

63 posted on 01/31/2003 2:12:12 PM PST by .30Carbine
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To: nicmarlo
Just realized you found Grampa Dave's post. Sorry! I'm replying as I read down the thread.
64 posted on 01/31/2003 2:14:09 PM PST by .30Carbine
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To: .30Carbine
65 posted on 01/31/2003 2:16:08 PM PST by Fiddlstix (Tag Line Service Center: Get your Tag Lines Here! Wholesale! (Cheaper by the Dozen!) Inquire Within)
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To: MeeknMing
You made a Word of the Day post! Too cool. Thanks, MnM.
66 posted on 01/31/2003 2:19:36 PM PST by .30Carbine
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To: .30Carbine
Re: What is a filibuster?

Back in the early days in the Republic of Texas, it was a group of guys going off to kick Santa Anna's hinney again. Sad to say, most ended up trying not to pick a black bean out of a pot. It a Texas Thing!

67 posted on 01/31/2003 2:19:53 PM PST by sonofatpatcher2 (If God Hadn't Wanted Fully Automatic Weapons, He Wouldn't Have Made All Those Armadillos!)
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To: Grampa Dave
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.

I have been absolutely amazed at the number of recent mentions of FR in papers all over America!

68 posted on 01/31/2003 2:22:08 PM PST by .30Carbine (FReepers rock! Donate monthly!)
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To: .30Carbine
Thank you...
69 posted on 01/31/2003 2:30:16 PM PST by MeekOneGOP (9 out of 10 Republicans agree: Bush IS a Genius !!)
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To: Political Junkie Too
...tyranny of the minority. Instead of having 51 Senators decide what happened, only 40 Senators controlled what happened.

"Tyranny of the minority." Great phrase. I'm gonna quote that a lot in the coming months, I expect. I like this one, too:

Tom Daschle institutionalized the "threat of a filibuster"

70 posted on 01/31/2003 2:39:21 PM PST by .30Carbine
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To: davidosborne to abuse the "filibuster"
to prevent the Majority from passing the agenda
that the American people *voted* for.

(I only changed your quote a little, and just so it could stand on its own in repetition. I'm glad you said it.)

71 posted on 01/31/2003 2:47:51 PM PST by .30Carbine
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To: .30Carbine
What is amazing is how few Freepers it seems to turn over a left wing sham, trick, pony show or perv speaking at a community college.

Can you imagine the effect if we had 100,000 active participating and donating freepers, sharing their time, talent and a little treasure to spread the word.

Look at the impact just a few of our great Washington freepers have had on the Goron and his blubber mate. A few dozen have more impact that thousands of renta mobbers.

It takes the knowledge like you have shared with us, the ability to get the word out and then the action of a few dedicated Freepers.
72 posted on 01/31/2003 3:02:59 PM PST by Grampa Dave (Stamp out Freepathons! Stop being a Freep Loader! Become a monthly donor!)
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To: Palladin
I wonder how many kids have to learn these things nowadays.

I didn't have to. I'm still playing catch-up with my education, even after attending college. If I'd started with a broader and more stable base of knowledge (read: fundamentals in American history, the Constitution, and our Republican form of government) in my primary and secondary public school education, I like to think I'd be as smart as Thomas Sowell now. ( ;

They did at least teach me The Pledge of Allegiance.

73 posted on 01/31/2003 3:12:57 PM PST by .30Carbine (Fight ignorance! Support Free Republic monthly!)
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To: bigred; sonofatpatcher2; Fiddlstix; justshe; Jim Robinson
Thanks for stopping by the thread. FR is the greatest invention to come along since Algore dreamed up the internet.
74 posted on 01/31/2003 3:24:09 PM PST by .30Carbine (Thanks, Jim.)
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To: .30Carbine
"...why can't judicial nominations be excluded as well"

I suppose they could be. But it would take a change in the Senate rules (which is how the appropriations bills escape filibuster).

75 posted on 01/31/2003 4:11:31 PM PST by okie01 (The Mainstream Media: IGNORANCE ON PARADE.)
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To: .30Carbine
Thank you.. it looks much better the way you said it..



76 posted on 01/31/2003 4:46:20 PM PST by davidosborne (
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To: .30Carbine
Agree re: the internet being the greatest invention! However, it DOES have its' downside:
MOUSE POTATO: The on-line, wired generation's answer to the couch potato.

That's me.....yup!

77 posted on 01/31/2003 5:12:32 PM PST by justshe (Eliminate Freepathons! Become a monthly donor. Only YOU can prevent Freepathons!)
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To: EBUCK; PhiKapMom; .30Carbine
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.

As Chappaquiddick Felony DUI Homicide was passed out during the SOTUS, he won't be doin' no filibuster.

Daschle-Goebbels got away with phoning in his fake filibuster--something which will not fly with Frist at the wheel.

This thread has clearly defined the black shape in the corner of the child's bedroom--

Turn on the light and the Leahy's and Reid's in frilly drag will run not walk back into the closet.

Stop all this jive: Sixty by '05

78 posted on 01/31/2003 8:33:16 PM PST by PhilDragoo ((((Stop all this jive: Sixty by '05 ))))
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To: .30Carbine
I don't know if this is helpful at all, but in response to the original question, I used to know a guy named, no kidding, Philip U. Staer.
79 posted on 01/31/2003 8:38:07 PM PST by Revolting cat! (Someone left the cake out in the rain I dont think that I can take it coz it took so long to bake it)
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To: All
Filibuster discussed on RadioFR on Jan. 30th at CPAC.

Slide MediaPlayer cursor about 2 inches to the right, where Brad O'Leary introduces Senator Kyle, the Defender of Freedom Award recipient, who spoke on the filibuster as well as the War on Terror.

80 posted on 02/01/2003 3:39:42 AM PST by .30Carbine
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