Under Rule 22 of the Senate, debate may be limited to thirty hours. This is the “cloture vote” that is used to overcome a lack of unanimous consent to move to the next order of Senate business. I’ve come to the conclusion that almost no one, not even political journalists, really understands what a filibuster is, but it’s really quite simple. A filibuster is the lack of unanimous consent. While it is well known that it takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, it is much less understood that this is mechanically the exact same thing as overcoming the objection of even a single senator. If even one senator objects to a motion, cloture must be invoked and 30 hours of debate must ensue.

What people commonly call a “filibuster” is really just an example of a situation where at least 41 senators object to a motion to proceed. But filibusters can fail, too. A failed filibuster occurs when cloture is successfully invoked, meaning that at least 60 senators vote to end debate. But, even when cloture is successfully invoked, it still takes a day from the filing of cloture for the vote to occur, and another 30 hours of debating time.

As a result, it is possible to slow down everything in the Senate simply by having at least one senator object to virtually every motion to proceed. And that’s what the Republicans have been doing for years now.

Harry Reid is fed up with this practice and has already changed the rules to make it possible to achieve cloture with a simple majority for administrative appointments and non-Supreme Court judges. Now he is contemplating curtailing the 30 hours of post-cloture debate time.

I can’t see any reason not to make this rules change since the Republicans are exploiting the existing rule for purely dilatory and obnoxious purposes.

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