To the editor:
Talking a bill to death, known as filibuster, is a procedure used by the minority party to block it in the U.S. Senate. Filibuster is effective because there is a rule that debate on a bill can only be ended by a cloture vote. The cloture requires at least 60 votes in favor to end the filibuster. If cloture is invoked and passed, the Senate may continue to debate it but after 30 hours, debate must end.
The minority party’s ability to filibuster makes it tough for a majority party to pass a bill without some support from the other side.
The cloture rule came into being during Wilson’s administration in 1917 when Republicans had blocked any legislation through filibustering for several weeks. It required a two-thirds majority of votes to pass then, but has since been modified to 60 votes.
Strangely, as a mere rule, not a law, it can be eliminated by a simple majority of 51 votes.
The requirement for 60 votes for cloture has been under attack since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid changed the rule in 2013 to reduce it to 51 votes for confirmation of federal judges and executive branch appointees. This was the so-called “nuclear option” which allowed him to place a lot of liberal judges into the federal judiciary system.
Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell extended the cloture exclusion again to confirm Supreme Court Judge Neal Gorsuch this spring. This allowed Gorsuch to be confirmed with only 54 votes after breaking the filibuster by Democrats.
I believe the 60-vote requirement for cloture should be reduced to 51 for all legislation. It seems inevitable that it will be – if the Republicans don’t do it, Democrats eventually will. Republicans can only repeal the Affordable Care Act if filibuster is eliminated. Even if it is, they may not be able to get 51 votes for that or anything else.
Some senators fear what the other party will do when they gain power without the 60-vote cloture rule. In my opinion, there are enough checks and balances to stop bad legislation. The House, the Senate, the president and the Supreme Court must all agree on any new law. Getting 51 senators of one party to agree on anything is enough of a check in itself.