September 29, 2023

Nuclear Option the filibuster


Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Nuclear Option the filibuster

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The time for the Nuclear Option has arrived. This is the term used to describe the ability of the Senate’s majority to change the rule that allows 41 senators to thwart the majority’s will through the filibuster. On April 17, senators voted 54-46 to end debate and pass background checks for gun purchases, yet the bill was defeated because 60 votes are required for cloture – a term employed in the Senate rules to describe a vote that stops prolonged debate (filibuster) and allows a bill to be decided by an up or down majority vote.

The following excerpt from the author’s “Congress, Cliffs & Common Sense: These Are the Times That Try Men’s Patience” describes the Nuclear Option:

“First proposed by Republican senators during one of the periods when they were in the majority, the Nuclear Option is rooted in complex procedural machinations . . . . Through a set of arcane procedures, the Majority Leader has the ability to call for a simple majority vote to change the rules at the beginning of a new Congress – assuming there is general acceptance that the Senate is in fact new and not perpetual. The threat of the Nuclear Option has successfully brought about changes such as the three-fifths cloture rule in 1975, but the Nuclear Option has never actually been employed because today’s majority party knows it is likely to become the minority party at some future date.”

America’s complex system of checks and balances is a primary and essential part of the Constitution . . . but the Senate, invoking James Madison’s fear of the tyranny of the majority, added its own extra-constitutional check, the filibuster. This uniquely senatorial check is coveted by many if not most senators, and this is what prevents the implementation of the Nuclear Option.”

In other words, the filibuster remains because, to date, a majority of senators want it to remain. Plagued by such powerful forces as the Gun Lobby, the Senate’s majority is continually thwarted by a 41-vote minority, begging the question for that majority: Is not the failure of gun-control legislation the final straw?”

Some polls indicate that 90 percent of Americans favor background checks for gun purchases, yet the Gun Lobby has managed to stop even this obvious bill, and the filibuster provided the means.

It is not that the majority is always right. As personified by Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, there are times when a steamrolling majority deserves to be stopped, but this is outweighed by the many more times that an obstructionist minority stands in the way of good and necessary legislation. It is difficult enough to consider and pass legislation in the House of Representatives, where a simple majority prevails, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to vote on bills in the Senate unless one party has a 60-vote majority, which is not currently the case.

In recent years the filibuster has become even more pervasive because senators agreed to substitute the threat for the real thing. Except for the March 6 filibuster that attempted to stop confirmation of John Brennan as the new CIA Director, the specter of Jimmy Stewart talking until he drops is history. So a bad idea has become an easy idea – an idea whose day is gone.

See Douglas Cohn’s new book, “Congress, Cliffs & Common Sense: These Are the Times That Try Men’s Patience – A Solution” (including a Gun Filibuster Update). Go to and enter “Congress Cliffs”

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.




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