In American politics, what is the filibuster and why does it need to change?

Historically, activity in the Senate has tended to be less partisan and more individualistic than in the House of Representatives with a degree of cross-party co-operation called working “across the aisle”. But this situation has changed dramatically in recent decades with most voting now strictly on party lines.

Senate rules permit what is called a filibuster when a Senator, or a series of Senators, can speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless a supermajority of three-fifths of the Senate (60 Senators, if all 100 seats are filled) brings debate to a close by invoking what is called cloture (taken from the French term for closure).

From 1917 to 1970 (53 years), there were only 58 cloture motions. From 1971 to 2006 (35 years), there were 928. From 2007 to 2021 (14 years), there have been 1,419. Currently abolition or at least restriction of the filibuster is a major issue of political debate.

President Joe Biden has reluctantly come to the conclusion that the filibuster should be abolished for voting rights legislation, but cannot persuade two Democratic senators to agree. So we still have stalemate.

You can learn more about the American political system here.


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