Posts tagged ‘cloture’

Understanding Filibusters in Congress

Filibusters are made possible in part due to Senate rules providing that when a senator is recognized to speak regarding a pending measure there are few limitations. Debate is typically unlimited regarding pending measures. Once a senator is recognized, she can yield to another senator for the purpose of a question, but the senator that has been recognized still controls the floor. When a senator continues to speak for an extended period of time it is known as a filibuster.

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Throughout the history of America, there have been some notable instances in which extended filibusters occurred in the Senate. The longest filibuster to date is credited to Strom Thurmond, who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes on the civil rights bill in 1957. Wayne Morse spoke for 22 hours and 26 minutes on the Tidelands oil bill in 1953. William Proxmire actually held the floor for more than 25 hours in 1961; however, he yielded the floor to other senators for several hours during that time period.

The modern approach to filibusters is often referred to as the tag-team approach. In this approach a senator will speak for a period of time and then yield to another senator. In a situation in which several senators participate in an extended period of debate it can actually take some time for the Senate to recognize that a filibuster isCongressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider being conducted. As a result, the mere threat of a filibuster carries significant weight in the Senate.

Debate within the Senate is limited only under certain situations. These situations include when:

  • Cloture is invoked
  • Debate is limited by unanimous consent
  • The Senate operates under a unanimous consent time agreement
  • The Senate considers a motion to table
  • The Senate considers a measure governed by a rule-making statute

Each senator is prohibited from speaking more than twice on the same subject on the same legislative day under Senate rules. Due to the fact that each amendment is considered to be a different subject, the two-speech rule is actually not a practical limit on debate.

To learn more about how Congress works, consider these courses held in DC: Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, Advanced Legislative Strategies, or our Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 8.210 Consideration and Debate on the Senate Floor-Filibusters

For detailed information about the legislative process, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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Understanding Cloture in Senate Floor Proceedings

Filibusters may be ended by one of two ways: either through negotiation among senators or through a process known as invoking cloture. Cloture is the only procedure by which the Senate can end debate without rejecting the measure under consideration at the same time.

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Several stages for invoking cloture are described under Senate Rule XXII, Precedence of Motions. For the process to begin, a minimum of sixteen senators must sign a cloture motion–this motion is also sometimes referred to as a cloture petition. When the required number of signatures is received, the motion is then presented on the Senate floor. The clerk then reads the motion.

Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy SchneiderBefore the motion can be considered, the motion must be allowed to “mature” or “ripen.” This means that it must lie over until the second calendar day on which the Senate is in session. For instance, if the petition is filed on a Monday, then it will not ripen until Wednesday.

On the day the motion is ready for consideration, a vote on cloture is required under Senate rules one hour after the Senate has convened and after a quorum call establishes the presence of a quorum. The quorum call can be waived and the time requirement can be changed by unanimous consent, which is not uncommon.

When the vote takes place, it typically requires three-fifths of the senators chosen and sworn. This amounts to 60 votes, provided there are no vacancies. In order to invoke cloture on a motion for the purpose of amending Senate rules, a 2/3 vote or 67 senators is required.

No limits apply to the number of cloture petitions that can be filed on any single measure or amendment. In many cases, petitions are filed on a daily basis by senators in order that a vote can occur daily.

There are limitations following cloture, the most important being the limit of 30 hours of time for the Senate to continue consideration of the measure. The time for recorded votes, all debate time, points of order and quorum calls count within that 30 hour limit. Each senator is guaranteed a minimum of ten minutes to speak within the 30 hour limit, however, no senator may speak for more than one hour. Time can be yielded to other senators.

To learn more about how Congress works, consider these courses held in DC: Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, Advanced Legislative Strategies, or our Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider, Section 8.230 Cloture in Senate Floor Proceedings

For detailed information about the legislative process, see

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Differences between the House and the Senate

In preparing to work with members of Congress, it is important to understand the differences between the House and the Senate. The more you understand about each chamber of Congress, the better prepared you will be to gain support for your issue.

Difference, Acton, W3
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At 435 members, the House is the larger chamber. The Senate has 100 members with two senators from each state. Representatives serve shorter terms, two years, while Senators serve longer terms of six years. There are four calendars for the House: Union, House, Private and Discharge. The Senate has two calendars: Legislative and Executive.

In terms of procedure, the House has less procedural flexibility and more rule restraints than the Senate. In the House, power is more concentrated in the leadership and less evenly distributed among Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelakmembers. Leadership in the House is much stronger than in the Senate, where power is usually more evenly distributed.

Debate within the House is always restricted, while debate within the Senate is rarely restricted. Debate ending motions within the House occur by majority vote of 218 members. In the Senate, cloture is invoked by a vote of 60 Senators.

In the House, constituency is much narrower than in the Senate. In the House, the constituency is limited to each House District. In the Senate, the constituency is larger and involves an entire state.

In communicating with members of Congress, keep in mind that representatives are less reliant on staff. On the other hand, Senators are often more reliant on staff.

Finally, the House adjourns at the end of the day while the Senate recesses at the end of most days.

To learn more about the differences between the House and the Senate, see CongressByTheNumbers.com and Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process.

Reference: Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelak, Section 4.9 Differences between the House and the Senate at a Glance, and the Congressional Deskbook, §§ 8.150-8.151.

For more information about congressional operations and effective advocacy in Washington, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net

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