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Fix the Filibuster

Make Congress Work

The No Labels Action Plan to Change the Rules and Fix What's Broken


3 Fix the Filibuster

The Problem

Made famous by the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and infamous by senators who used it to block civil rights legislation, the filibuster was initially conceived as a way to prevent a Senate majority from steamrolling the minority. As long as a senator kept talking on the floor, a bill could not move forward unless a supermajority of senators voted to end debate. For much of the 20th century, the Senate required a two-thirds majority vote (a device known as cloture) to break a filibuster. In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture to three-fifths, or 60 of the current hundred senators.

The filibuster has been used for good and for ill, but for most of the Senate's history, it was rare, and it required members to stand up for hours on end to make their case. Neither is true anymore.

In the first 50 years of the filibuster, it was used only 35 times. In the last two years alone, it was used over 100. And senators don't even have to show up on the floor to explain themselves – just signaling their intent to filibuster effectively stalls legislation.

As a result, the Senate has become a place that one senator described as "non-functional," where even routine bills must now clear 60 votes. This means that 41 senators, representing as little as 11% of the U.S. population could theoretically obstruct passage of a bill supported by 59 senators representing as much as 89% of the population.

This is completely contrary to the intent of our Founders. They believed a supermajority should be required only in select circumstances including the passage of treaties, constitutional amendments and motions of impeachment.

Finally, constant filibustering gums up the Senate calendar. Every filibuster kicks off a complex set of Senate procedures that effectively brings the institution to a stop for as long as a week and prevents other critical issues from being addressed.

The No Labels Solution

Our filibuster fix is based on a simple idea: If senators want to filibuster legislation, they should actually have to explain why in public. We propose a two-part solution to reduce unwarranted use of the filibuster in the Senate:

  1. Require Real (Not Virtual) Filibusters: If senators want to halt action on a bill, they must take to the floor and hold it through sustained debate.
  2. End Filibusters on Motions to Proceed: Today, filibusters can be used both to prevent a bill from reaching the floor for debate (motion to proceed) and from ultimately being passed. If the Senate simply ended the practice of filibustering motions to proceed, it could cut the number of filibusters in half and allow more issues to be debated and voted on by the full Senate.

This proposal require a change of House and Senate rules, which can be made effective when the new Congress is seated in 2013.


Contributions or gifts to No Labels are not tax-deductible. We estimate that 100% of contributions will be used for nondeductible lobbying expenditures and political activity.

Problem Solvers

  • Andy Barr
  • John Barrow
  • Mark Begich
  • Ami  Bera
  • Sanford Bishop
  • Diane Black
  • Bruce Braley
  • Julia Brownley
  • Larry Bucshon
  • Cheri Bustos
  • Tony Cardenas
  • Robert P. Casey, Jr.
  • Joaquin Castro
  • David  Cicilline
  • Mike Coffman
  • Paul Cook
  • Jim Cooper
  • Jim Costa
  • Rodney Davis
  • John Delaney
  • Jeff Denham
  • Charlie Dent
  • Sean Duffy
  • Elizabeth Esty

From the Blog

  • March 24, 2015
    No Labels
    What could possibly cause the senators to stay up past their bedtime? The not-quite-yearly but still semi-frequent budget reconciliation.
  • March 23, 2015
    Nick Laughlin
    Much like your irresponsible sibling, the federal government can't resist spending even when the money isn't there. In order to maintain this habit, the government consistently borrows money from others, including countries like China. The result of this borrowing is an ever-growing mountain of debt.

No Labels National Strategic Agenda