Majority Cloture for the Senate

March 19, 1947

Report Outline
Filibusters and the Senate Rules
Development of the Senate Filibuster
Present Limits on Legislative Debates
Proposed Remedies for Senate Filibusters
Special Focus

Filibusters and the Senate Rules

Minority Obstruction to Republican Program

For the first time in more than 20 years the Senate is giving serious consideration to possible changes in the rules governing its debates. The Senate is the only important legislative body in the world where the filibuster may still be used by a determined minority to block action desired by a majority of its members. The present rule on closing debate, adopted in 1917, has proved ineffective because it requires a two-thirds vote to bring it into operation. Proposals for majority cloture have got nowhere in the past because of the strong tradition of freedom of Senate debate.

The present Republican majority in the Senate is not committed to a change in the cloture rule, but leaders of the party have freely used the threat of majority cloture to forestall obstructive tactics by the minority. Four separate resolutions for majority cloture are now pending before the Committee on Rules and Administration. In a showdown, enough votes might be mustered at the present session to impose majority cloture in the Senate. Republicans have indicated that they will seek such a showdown if their program is jeopardized by minority obstruction.

The issue was raised at the 1947 session even before the Senate was organized. An attempt by the Republican leadership to bar Sen. Bilbo (D., Miss.) at the door encountered filibustering tactics by southern senators, which threatened indefinitely to delay the seating of other newly-elected or reelected members. An acceptable compromise was finally arranged but only after Sen. Taft (R., O.) had warned Bilbo's supporters of swift retaliation if they persisted in their course. “Use of the filibuster for such a wholly inconsequential purpose,” he said, “is so unjustified that those conducting it will face a complete change in the rules of the Senate, They will be faced by closure [of debate] by majority rule.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Oct. 15, 2021  The Senate Filibuster
Mar. 19, 1947  Majority Cloture for the Senate
Apr. 04, 1935  Control of Obstruction in Congress
Mar. 13, 1925  Filibusters and the Senate Rules