What is Philibuster and why is everyone talking about it?

Picture Will Rust

As 2021 draws to a close, the Senate is in disagreement with the Memorandum of Understanding. Tensions among lawmakers have risen as the Democrat-led Social Expenditure Bill, the Build Back Better Plan, has stalled. A promise to pass a federal voting rights bill has yet to be fulfilled. The pressure on Americans is mounting at a time when inflation is rising and there is a global epidemic. With all the legal impasse, President Biden and major Democrat players are considering tougher measures to pass the bills.

The biggest blocker law in the Senate is Philipbuster. Philibuster is a strategy that minority parties use to prolong the debate on a bill and prevent it from being passed. A bill can be passed by a simple majority vote of 51-50, but if it is a filibuster, it must have 60 votes to end the debate and then the bill must be passed by that simple majority vote. Basically, with today’s use of Philibuster, any law requires a maximum majority of 60 votes because that is what it will take to get the bill to the final vote. Filebuster was never written in the constitution, which is why its rules and usage have changed over time. Although the previous Senate majority changed the rules for the sake of their cause, Democrats in this term are keeping a close eye on whether they are discussing new rule changes or even rumors to repeal Philibuster.

How will that work?

Democrats have the opportunity to establish a “nuclear alternative.” It is a parliamentary process where the Senate majority can bypass a rule by a simple majority vote. For the majority, it is a last resort for minorities like Philibuster to overcome any obstacle. However, since it is a tough measure to take, it is difficult to gain even a simple majority support. Two current Democrat senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kirsten Cinema of Arizona, have agreed to ignore the Philibuster rule.

This is not the first time the nuclear option has been used. Both parties took advantage of this at one time or another, first used by Senate Democrats in 2013. This allows the party to appoint federal judges with a simple majority instead of the original super majority (not including the Supreme Court).

What was the real purpose of Philibuster?

In the first few years of the country’s democracy, laws can be passed by a simple majority vote. If it is received, a bill can be voted on regardless of the call for debate. This rule was later repealed and made it possible for senators to hold the floor for debate. With this, Philibuster was born. However, it was not until the late 1900s that Philipbuster was widely deployed. In fact, the technique was used only twice in the 1800s.

The founding fathers called for the process to give the debate a chance and prevent the majority party from becoming too strong. It is argued that it was not their intention to use it as a common political weapon.

How did it evolve?

The use of filibuster has increased over time. The Slate study shows that between 1991 and 2008, in a span of nearly 20 years, the Democrat minority had filibuster 63 times and the Republicans filibuster 89 times. This number has grown rapidly in modern times. Senate reports show that in just one year, 2019-2020, Senate Democrats performed a record-breaking 328 Philibuster.

To put it bluntly, this is more than a 4,000% increase in Philibuster usage in 40 years.

The future of Philibuster

So what would change if Democrats could successfully change Philibuster’s rules? Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, has put forward an election bill to argue for a change in Philibuster. He published a letter to his colleagues explaining that if the states were able to pass an electoral law by a simple majority vote, the US Senate would be able to do the same. It avoids the planned vote to remove the 60-vote filibuster barrier to electoral legislation.

Overriding any legislation can be a slippery slope. This sets a precedent that both sides can use when they are in the majority position, potentially giving too much power to the majority. On the other hand, these rule changes could allow fewer gridlocks and more action among lawmakers.

With a united minority and a divided majority, Schumer’s attempt to change Philibuster’s rules is likely to fail. However he acknowledged that their numbers were not enough to defeat President Conte’s government. Counting set January 17 as the symbolic date for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as a deadline to strengthen the vote. However, citing the current epidemic situation and a possible winter storm in DC, the vote was postponed to Wednesday the 19th.


What is Philibuster and why is everyone talking about it? Originally published in Voterly on Medium, where people continue the conversation by highlighting the story and reacting.

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