The Senate Filibuster - Everything You Need to Know

Updated: Mar 20

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

  2. Overview

  3. Filibuster Exceptions

  4. A Deep Dive

  5. A Deep Dive - Cloture

  6. A Deep Dive - SNAP

  7. A Deep Dive - Medicaid vs. Medicare

  8. Sources


Introduction

Our federal government has a clear purpose: to write and pass legislation. For years though, it seems to be failing at completing that objective. The Senate filibuster, which gives the minority party the ability to block a piece of legislation, likely plays a considerable role in this. We'll explore the Senate filibuster more in this article.

Overview

The filibuster is a function of government that's unique to the Senate. Whenever the Senate wants to vote on a bill, they first need to vote on whether or not they want to end debate. This process, which is now known as "cloture," requires sixty senators to agree, which is where the ability to filibuster arises. If thirty-one senators decide that they don't want to end debate, then debate is required to continue. This allows senators from the minority party to force debate to continue infinitely, which leads to the inefficiency we see in the Senate today. The House of Representatives allowed for filibusters up until 1842 when a rule limiting the duration of debate was enacted. Not only is removing the filibuster a legal possibility, but it's also a reasonable one given the current Democratic control of the Senate. Senate rules can be changed with a simple majority in both branches of Congress and approval from the president, meaning Democrats could (theoretically) abolish the filibuster entirely and then pass any legislation they'd like.


Filibuster Exceptions

There are certain types of legislation that aren't able to be filibustered. For example, budget reconciliation legislation and Supreme Court nominees are unable to be filibustered. Budget reconciliation is a special type of legislation that changes government spending, revenue, or the federal debt limit. This includes programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and Medicare, but not Social Security. Tax laws can also be changed with reconciliation bills, which makes this exception a very powerful loophole.


A Deep Dive

This section of the article will take a deeper look at some of the concepts we discussed in this article. For more articles about American politics, view the "U.S. Politics" category of our news page.


Cloture

Cloture hasn't always been a procedure in the U.S. Senate. At one point in time, the Senate actually had as long as they wanted to debate on bills. During World War One, president Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for broad military action to be taken. A group of senators didn't want to give Wilson the ability to enter the war, so they simply continued discussing until the session was over. Woodrow Wilson was incredibly upset by this and he demanded that the Senate change their rules so debate could be stopped with a simple majority. As a compromise, the Senate oagreed to allow for debate to end with approval from two-thirds of senators. This number later got changed to approval from three-fifths of senators, which is what we see today.


SNAP

SNAP, also known as "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program," is a program that provides food for low-income Americans to ensure they receive the basic nutritional items they need to survive. Formerly known as "food stamps," this program operates by adding funds to an electronic debit card every month. Recipients may then use these funds to purchase products such as fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, bread, and a number of other food items. Money provided through the SNAP program can not be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco, or prepared food.


Medicaid vs. Medicare

Medicaid and Medicare are two government programs that are often confused, likely due to their similar names. Despite these names, both programs have different eligibility requirements and objectives. Medicaid is a state-run program designed to provide low-cost (or free) health care to citizens. Eligibility requirements for Medicaid varies on a state-by-state basis, but most states cover the needs of children, pregnant women, disabled adults, and low-income individuals with their Medicaid programs. Medicare, however, is a federal program that provides medical care to those sixty-five and older, as well as some Americans with disabilities depending on the scenario.

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