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FILIBUSTER 101

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THE SENATE’S CONTROVERSIAL DEBATE 

For the last several months, Democrats and Republicans have been debating the existence of one of the signature traits of the United States Senate: the filibuster. 

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The filibuster is made possible by the long-standing tradition of unlimited debate. The practice is used to prolong debate and delay or put a stop to voting on a proposed bill. As of 1917, it takes two-thirds of the Senate to end the filibuster. Since then it has been reduced to three-fifths of the vote to reach a “cloture.” 

Its roots are just as polarized as its use. In the past, the filibuster has been used to protect slavery and delay voting on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. America’s most progressive activists and leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., have cited the filibuster as an obstacle to implement necessary change in the nation. 

This practice has caused significant controversy and made politicians question the integrity of our democracy, as it is often responsible for a standstill Senate. Though Democrats are at the forefront of the battle to eliminate the filibuster, both parties have taken advantage of the practice when they have been in the minority. 

By instigating this loosely structured debate, the less powerful party can compete for more control on a bill-to-bill basis. 

Another reason this practice tends to cause chaos is because of its lack of structure. Though it may seem more efficient to only require 60 votes in order to end the debate, it is a major disadvantage to the minority party, which needs to consistently show up in order to truly impact the legislation. 

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The debate surrounding the filibuster has gained traction since Joe Biden has taken office. President Biden has experienced firsthand the changes made to the filibuster. He was in the Senate when the voting requirements were changed in 1975 and has remained a supporter of a modified version of the practice ever since. 

The president has emphasized the value of the filibuster when done correctly and has said that it is worth working for. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, often considered the most conservative of the chamber’s Democrats, agrees with President Biden. 

Though many Democrats are leading the charge to eliminate the filibuster, Sen. Manchin argues that the practice is necessary in order to have real partisanship in the Senate and said he will never vote to completely eliminate it. 

Once a mystery to the public, this Senate tradition is making headlines as more and more Americans realize the true power the flexible debate has over legislation and how it contributes to our democracy as a whole.