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  • Writer's pictureSylvia from Tono Latino

The Filibuster Explained. What it is and why it needs to go

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

What’s The Filibuster?

In the Senate, the filibuster is an attempt to delay or block a vote on a piece of legislation or a confirmation

Let’s back up a minute first and explain HOW the Senate passes a bill.

When a Senator or a group of Senators introduce a new bill, it goes to the appropriate committee for discussion, there are hearings, amendments, etc. If the majority of the committee votes in favor, the bill moves to the Senate floor for debate.

To PASS once a bill gets to a vote, it needs a simple majority of 51 votes.

But there’s a catch.

There needs to be a debate first and it takes 60 votes, not 51, to cut off the debate. That means that you need 60 people to AGREE to hold a vote on a bill, even if you only need 51 people to pass the same bill.

So, basically, that’s why you need a 60-vote supermajority to really pass these bills in the Senate.

If there’s a proposal and 59 people are in favor, it won’t pass because it doesn’t have the 60 vote requirement to agree to VOTE on it.

There have been more than 2,000 filibusters since 1917; about half have been in just the last 12 years. If you’re frustrated because the government doesn’t pass enough bills, this is one of the reasons why.

In the old days, filibusters involved long speeches. Imagine a senator trying to block a vote from moving forward by refusing to yield the floor. The longest filibuster in history was by South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond when he held the floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

But nowadays, they can just send a text or an email! If a group of 41 or more senators simply threatens a filibuster, then that’s it. The bill is not moving forward.

There are exceptions to the filibuster rule.

The annual budget reconciliation process requires a simple majority and CAN NOT be filibustered.

Also, in 2013 Democrats changed the Senate rules to allow confirmation of executive branch positions (including the cabinet) and non–Supreme Court judicial nominees with a simple majority.

Four years later, Senate Republicans decided to add Supreme Court appointments to that list.

Those changes are what’s called the nuclear option: overriding a rule to overcome obstruction by the minority party.

The filibuster is something that makes my blood boil because the Senate itself is not a fair representation of the people.

A tiny little state like Wyoming, which doesn’t even have 600,000 people, gets 2 Senators. The SAME number of Senators as California, a State with 39.5 MILLION people.

California has over 68 times as many residents as Wyoming. SIXTY-EIGHT TIMES! But both states get 2 Senators each.

So something like the filibuster just makes the problems of representation even worse.

Today, the 26 states with the least amount of people are home to only 17% of the US population.

BUT THEY GET 52 Senators. (26 states x 2 Senators per state)

YES. I am saying that over HALF of the Senate represents only 17% of the US POPULATION.

That means that a group of senators that represent not the minority… a SMALL minority, less than TWENTY PERCENT OF THE COUNTRY, can block bills that have huge public support.

Democrats in the Senate represent over 43 million more people than Republicans in the Senate. FORTY-THREE MILLION MORE PEOPLE.

Is that F’d up or WHAT? That’s why we see MORE and MORE people talking about getting rid of the filibuster. Even people who used to defend it, like Delaware Democratic Senator Tom Carper, are changing their minds.

In a recent op-ed, he said he had enough.

“It has become clear to me that if the filibuster is standing in the way of protecting our democracy then the filibuster isn’t working for our democracy.”

Senate Republicans have used the filibuster multiple times already this year to block voting rights legislation. Even though the 2020 general election gave us the highest voter turnout in over a century, many states are proposing and passing legislation to make it harder for people to vote.

We could address that at the federal level with voting rights legislation in the United States Congress, but that doesn’t work well for Republicans.

The system is designed to favor Republicans.

Why? Because Republicans mainly care about two things: financial bills, and judiciary appointments. The TWO things that only need a simple majority to pass in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Democrats want to protect civil rights, create a basic social safety net, invest in infrastructure or use the federal government to regulate businesses… ALL things that require 60 votes to pass. IT IS MESSED UP!!!!

If you agree with me and think this tactic is messed up and needs to go, click the link below to demand that the Senate eliminate the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation ASAP.

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