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What is a Filibuster?

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Few people have claimed that Congress moves too fast. But there’s a difference between being fast and being thoughtful. Remember the tortoise and the hare? The House of Representatives is much more like the hare, and new bills are often passed quickly there because you just need a simple majority of the 435 Members to pass a bill. If you are the political party that controls the House, you can pass bills without a single vote coming from members of the other party.

But bills don’t become laws unless they also pass the Senate. The Senate is much more like the tortoise—slow and steady. Because of a rule called the “filibuster,” bills in the Senate need 60 votes out of the 100 to become law. Because neither party usually controls 60 seats, it means the majority party needs to convince a few members of the other side to vote for the law. The result is that laws passing the Senate need more cooperation and bi-partisan support. Leading to better laws.

But there have been threats by the controlling party to do away with the filibuster, making it easier for the controlling party to pass laws without the support of the minority party or any efforts at bipartisanship. This is dangerous because if one party gets rid of the filibuster, all efforts at cooperation will evaporate. And the next time the controlling party switches after an election, they will now be the ones with zero power.

The filibuster is good because it guarantees that the minority party, and the Americans they represent, get a voice in Congress.