Pirates of the Congribbean: The Filibuster Lives On

A member of Congress holds forth in this 19th-century scene.

To filibuster or not to filibuster? That is the thorny question that has kept many a senator awake into the night. The rules of the U.S. Senate allow for “unlimited debate,” and the filibuster has long been a means for delaying or defeating legislation through endless debate, or at least endless talking. The word filibuster (both a noun and a verb) formerly was applied to a freelance military adventurer (think: pirate). As it has been used by the minority party in the Senate, the tactic is a sort of wrench-throwing guerrilla politics. In essence, the minority opposition’s goal is to wear down the majority through continuous talking—the subject of the speechifying need not be relevant to the issue at hand. And with the now more common “silent filibuster,” delays can be achieved without even the expenditure of words! In theory, the majority will eventually feel the pressure to amend the legislation, or withdraw it altogether.

The majority party can end a filibuster only by invoking cloture, a call for a vote to end debate that requires a three-fifths’ majority to pass—that is, 60 votes when all 100 senators are present. For most of the Senate’s recent history, majorities have not been large enough to win a cloture vote on a strict party-line basis. So long as the minority party has at least 41 votes, it can prevail.

The majority party has frequently made noise about reforming or doing away with the filibuster, arguing that, by limiting majority rule, the filibuster obstructs democracy in action. But the members of the majority tend to “hedge their bets,” knowing they are potentially only one election cycle away from becoming the minority themselves. In the 113th Congress, the Senate acted to reform the filibuster “around the edges,” leaving it mostly unchanged. This led some observers to say that filibuster reform was “killed.”

Image credit: © Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

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One Comment

  1. Moti says:

    Multiculturalists like to appeal to our deirse for novelty when discussing immigration. Here are these wonderful people with fascinating languages, cuisines, clothing & music that we will have the good fortune to be exposed to if we welcome them to settle within our borders. Not so often mentioned is that immigrants from other cultures have customs and marriage practices that may give them an advantage over citizens of Western societies. Family size is perhaps the most salient issue since in a democracy a subculture can have influence directly proportional to the numbers of people identifying with that subculture. Leftists like to make accusations of neo-nazi-darwinianism anytime someone raises the issue of IQ and ability when discussing immigration but remain silent on the consequences of subcultures who are biologically more successful gaining political advantage simply from having more children than the rest of us. I think it’s not only important that we discuss the characteristics of the immigrants we allow into the US but the obvious conflict between Minority vs minority rights. Is it really fair that our way of life, our freedoms and ideals undergo constant revision from newcomers who belong to ethnic/religious groups sizeable enough to become a voting block? Do we revert to earlier forms of our own culture, marrying & starting families in our teens in order to compete? Or do we abandon the dictates of multiculturalism by insisting that newcomers adapt to our cultural hegemony simply because we established the country?All indications are that we won’t pursue either of the above courses which means that we will simply be revised into obscurity. Are the multiculturalist-socialist elite really content to let this happen?(I’m constantly amazed that the articles on iSteve don’t cause so much controversy that he is banned from the internet. Though I’m glad there is at least one forum for discussing potential problems created by diversity that the politically correct ignore or deny, I worry that iSteve is under constant attack by the minions of diversity. How do you evade them? I’ve been stalked by left-wing fanatics for much less… )