The filibuster was made famous in the 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” The title character, portrayed by James Stewart, collapses from exhaustion after speaking on the Senate floor for almost 24 hours nonstop to delay a vote on a bill during a dispute over corruption.
These days, senators seeking to block a bill don’t take to the floor and speak for hours on end. Instead, Senate rules allow any member to object at multiple stages in the legislative process. A measure’s proponent then can start a multi-day process, known as invoking cloture, to seek the 60 votes to move forward.
A central change Reid has said he will seek is eliminating senators’ ability to filibuster a request to bring a bill to the floor. Senate Democrats discussed potential changes at closed- door lunch on Capitol Hill Tuesday, and lawmakers leaving it said no consensus was reached on a proposal.
Reid said that if Democrats and Republicans don’t reach agreement on revising the filibuster this week, he will seek to change Senate rules with a tactic that would require 51 votes rather than the usual 67 votes, foreclosing the need for Republican support.
Some Democratic senators, including Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico, propose requiring senators who want to filibuster a bill to hold the floor and speak until one side gives in. Durbin said Wednesday the “talking filibuster” idea doesn’t have 51 votes to pass.
President Barack Obama’s ability to carry out his second- term agenda could be in jeopardy without a rule change, Merkley told reporters.
“The president can’t act on legislation if the Senate can’t act on legislation,” Merkley said. “It’s so important that we end the secret, silent filibuster that has plagued this body and that we reduce the number of times that any bill is subject to it.”
Merkley suggested eliminating use of the filibuster to block a request that the Senate and House form a conference committee to resolve differences between different versions of a bill.