The filibuster under debate

Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 4:50 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Only in the U.S. Senate can someone in the minority party hold up the progression of a bill by using what’s called a filibuster.

“It can only exist if there is no time limit on speaking. The United States Senate has no automatic time limit on speaking,” says Professor Fred Lokken with Truckee Meadows Community College Political Science Department. Lokken says it takes 60 votes in the senate to end a debate. And these days just the threat of a filibuster stops legislation in its tracks.

It didn’t used to be that way.

Nevada U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto says the filibuster should go back to its original form. “A talking filibuster in essence then allows legislation that is important to this country,” says Senator Cortez Masto.

“To still have a vote, that could move it. At the same time if somebody wants to block it, they have to stand on the floor of the senate and explain why they are blocking that legislation,” she says.

Senator Cortez Masto says there are currently negotiations underway in the senate to alter the filibuster in its current form. That may only require a simple majority, but support from the public would be crucial.

The senator says voters send representatives to Washington to get things done, and the filibuster has stopped worthwhile legislation from even being voted on. It’s happened many times particularly in the past four years.

“In a bi-partisan way we passed it out of committee,” she says of one bill concerning prescription drugs. “And it was good for the country to reduce prescription drug costs, But it never went anywhere because Mitch McConnell refused to move it on the floor of the senate,” says Cortez Masto.

Changes to the filibuster may be more critical in these times where big legislation is proposed down the road. Gun control, voters’ rights, immigration, and climate change are controversial and could essentially be legislatively vetoed with just the threat of a filibuster.

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