General Question

Snarp's avatar

How does a U.S. Senate filibuster actually work?

Asked by Snarp (11239points) January 20th, 2010

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about filibusters in the U.S. Senate, but we never hear about any marathon speeches anymore. A filibuster, as I understand it, means you simply continue debate until your opponents tire of it and table the bill and move on to something else. Now it seems that if you don’t have 60 votes, then a filibuster automatically results and your bill fails.

I’ve heard some people say that the Senate leaders should force a real filibuster, make their opponents actually speak for hours on end if they want to stop a bill. Is there a mechanism by which they can do this? Can the Democrats actually make the Republicans (and Lieberman) stand up and read Shakespeare? If they took this approach, what would be required of the filibusterers? Does one person have to do all the talking, or can they pass the torch to others?

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7 Answers

Ghost_in_the_system's avatar

filibuster – Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actionshttp://www.senate.gov/reference/glossary_term/filibuster.htm Sounds like, as you said, they talk and argue until the other side gives in.

Harp's avatar

The rules currently allow for a “procedural filibuster”, in which the senators simply make it known that they are filibustering; they are then not required to actually hold the floor, but process is effectively stalled. The Senate majority leader does still have the right to force a traditional filibuster if he desires.

The rules of the Senate are subject to change at any time, but this is how they stand at the moment.

Jeruba's avatar

It’s also that they don’t hand over the mike. They keep control of the right to speak by recognizing another colleague—one on the same side—when they run out of breath. So the opposition literally can’t get a word in edgewise. I remember a time when I was a kid that the Senate actually did this—held the floor for days on end. My parents talked about it every night at dinner for days; newspaper headlines read “Filibuster Continues.” They would go on and on about any old topic just to keep talking. I remember it because I thought the word was hysterical.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

I definitely think our Congresspeople should be made to really filibuster. If they were really inconvenienced by it (talking for 24 hours straight without a break), they might be more willing to actually work together. Instead of banning the filibuster, as some are talking about, I would definitely ban the procedural filibuster that @Harp mentioned.

I would love to see some of these guys talk until they’re blue in the face.

BoBo1946's avatar

Watch, one of my favorite movies, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” starring Jimmy Stewart! He uses the filibuster to bring down corruption in Congress!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWyEc7FAMTg

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I don’t think that having less than 60 yea votes in the Senate will “trigger” a filibuster, only that with less than 60 a filibuster is possible—and likely, in the case of expensive and controversial legislation and presidential appointments.

Strauss's avatar

The only thing a filibuster does these days is to trigger a “reconciliation” or a “deem and pass”.

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