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How a 1939 political comedy models a possible fix for the modern-day U.S. Senate

Could the filibuster, the infamous legislative gambit that has long frustrated lawmakers by making it easy to block legislation in the U.S. Senate, have a back-to-the-future moment?

The challenge: Most bills can’t pass with 51 votes in the 100-seat chamber. Minority party senators can prolong a debate indefinitely, and then deny permission to move forward on a bill. It then takes 60 votes to invoke “cloture,” as this process is known, to end debate and proceed to a vote. Inertia usually ensues. 

A possible solution? Doing away with the 60-vote rule and resurrecting a rule that senators physically take to the floor and speak without breaks to oppose a bill, made famous in 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where an idealistic senator talks for 25 hours straight before collapsing from fatigue. The talking filibuster ended in the 1970s, but there’s talk of bringing it back.

Senate Democrats who passed one of the largest economic relief bills in history could replicate its success with other measures focused on the economy, which are exempt from the filibuster through a process known as “budget reconciliation.” But without changing a key procedural roadblock, they may have a harder time advancing voting rights, police reform and other social justice priorities, Northeastern faculty experts say.

Continue reading at News@Northeastern.

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