How to solve the filibuster problem

Kelly Scaletta
4 min readFeb 4, 2021

There is one thing that the majority has always agreed on: The filibuster is awful. But it doesn’t have to be.

It is an unintended and misunderstood aspect of our current state of political affairs which has also obstructed significant process, and it’s only been getting worse.

When the nation was initially formed, there was a rule in the Senate that ended debate with a majority vote. As a result, the minority felt that they never even had a chance to debate the issues.

In 1806, Aaron Burr suggested the getting rid of the rule entirely, and thus the filibuster was born. Any Senator could speak as long as they wanted, and they didn’t even have to be speaking about the bill at hand. A “filibuster” (which comes from a Dutch word for pirate) is basically one person or party extending the debate indefinitely, and thus delaying the vote.

In 1917 a device known as “cloture” was created to limit debate to 30 hours with a two-thirds vote. That threshold was later lowered to 60 percent. Once invoked, all debate is limited to germane issues.

If you pay attention, there’s not that much actual filibustering going on. There’s a reason for that.

There is something called a two-track system that was put in place in 1970 that allows the Senate to have more than one order of business on the floor at a time. This way a “filibuster” can happen while other business runs concurrently.

This also takes the pressure of the minority party from actually having to do the unpleasantness of actually talking.

This has had a major effect on the efficiency of the US Senate. Back in 40s and 50s, about a quarter of all legislation became laws. By comparison, the 116th Congress passed 343 laws out of 20,253 bills that were introduced — just under 1.7 percent.

Furthermore, 1162 of the 2287 cloture motions filed in American history have come since Obama’s first term. That’s more since Obama than before Obama. The ubiquity of the cloture vote is making it almost impossible for legislation to get passed.

What’s happens now is that cloture is filed when the bill is submitted. There is no actual filibuster in place. It’s a kind of “preemptive cloture.”

Kelly Scaletta

I write for several outlets as an NBA analyst, including Bleacher Report, FanRag, Dime, BBallBreadown and RealBallInsiders. My political views are my own.