Dewonkify – Cloture

The Word:  Cloture

Definition:  A Senate procedure used to end a filibuster. It has become, essentially, a vote to end debate on a certain piece of legislation.

Used in a Sentence:  “The NRF [National Retail Federation] side is pretty darn near certain to prevail in this round, since the Senate’s already cleared the procedural hurdle of invoking cloture on the measure with 63 votes, leaving only a simple-majority vote ahead.” From Roll Call, “Cruz Decries Forcing Texans to Support Bloomberg’s ‘Nanny Statism’” by Niels Lesniewski, May 6, 2013

How it Works:  Prior to 1917, Senate debate could only be ended through unanimous consent. In 1917, the Senate adopted the cloture rule (Rule 22) as a method of ending filibusters. A motion for cloture requires signatures from 16 Senators; once the motion has the signatures a vote is held. Three-fifths, or 60 votes, are needed for the cloture motion to pass; if passed, debate on the bill is limited to 30 hours. Once cloture has been filed, an individual Senators may speak for no more than one hour during the 30 hour period. Any amendments to the legislation filed after cloture must be germane, or relevant to the legislation at hand.

In addition to ending a filibuster, cloture motions are a way for a Majority Leader to prevent Senators from the minority party from introducing non-germane amendments. In a closely divided Senate, continued negotiations on a bill may be necessary, since 60 votes for cloture can be unlikely.

History:  The number of cloture votes has skyrocketed, beginning in the early 1970s and experiencing another marked increase in the early 1990s. Between its invocation in 1917 and the late 1960s, zero to seven cloture votes during a two-year session of Congress was typical. In the 1970s and 1980s, cloture was used more frequently, between 20 to 60 times. The number in a single Congress spiked in the 110th Congress (2007-2008), with 139 cloture motions. In the first five months of the 113th Congress, 12 cloture motions already have been filed.

For additional information, reference the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports, “Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate” and “Cloture: Its Effect on Senate Proceedings.”

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