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Legislative Research - Federal: Filibusters & Cloture

A guide to finding materials published by the U.S. Congress, through the Auraria Library and online.

Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate

filibuster is a term for any tactic used to delay a vote in the U.S. Senate.  The best-known filibustering method involves a senator (or group of senators) holding the floor for an indefinite period of time.  This extends the debate on a bill (or the motion to consider the bill) indefinitely, potentially obstructing Senate business and distrupting the personal lives of the senators themselves.  In order to bring a debate to a close, a process called cloture is used.  Cloture limits further consideration of a measure to 30 hours and prevents the introduction of new amendments to that measure (in other words, only amendments that were introduced prior to cloture may be put to a vote).  However, cloture requires a 3/5 majority (currently, 60 votes) to pass.

Recently, it has become a common practice in the senate to vote for cloture on many bills prior to the start of formal debate to head off the threat of a filibuster. While the Senate's rules of procedure do not explicitly require that a bill under cloture rules have a supermajority to pass, an agreement at the close of debate to require a 3/5 majority for passage of a measure is customary.  This custom allows for the possibility of senators who oppose a bill to vote for cloture so that public debate can be held, but also means that supermajorities are often neccesary for the passage of bills through the U.S. Senate.

Senate Resources on Filibusters and Cloture

An Example of the Modern Cloture Process: S.649 - The Safe Communities and Safe Schools Act of 2013


Major actions on the bill:

3/21/2013: Introduced in the Senate. Read the first time. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under Read the First Time. 

3/22/2013 :Read the second time. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 32. 

After being introduced and read, with the text recorded in the Congressional Record, the bill is placed on the legislative calendar.

4/8/2013: Motion to proceed to consideration of measure made in Senate.4/9/2013:Motion to proceed to consideration of measure made in Senate. [continuation]

4/9/2013 :Cloture motion on the motion to proceed to the bill presented in Senate. 

A petition signed by 16 senators proposing cloture on the measure is introduced. 

4/10/2013: Motion to proceed to measure considered in Senate. 

4/11/2013:Motion to proceed to measure considered in Senate. 

4/11/2013:Cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill invoked in Senate by Yea-Nay Vote. 68 - 31.

After some debate, cloture passes with the required 3/5 majority.

4/16/2013:Considered by Senate. 

At the end of this day's debate on the bill, the majority leader (Mr. Reid) proposes that the bill and related amendments be subject to a 60-vote threshold for passage, as well as limits on further debate. These are agreed to without objection.

4/17/2013:Considered by Senate. 

4/18/2013:Considered by Senate. 

Brief debate on the bill's component amendments and voting.  Most amendments are rejected, falling short of the required 3/5 majority.

This guide will be updated as the bill's progress continues.