Using Senate Rules to Block Debate and Votes

Check out this list to see just how the Senate rules block a majority of senators from taking up important measures and getting the people’s business done.

Unanimous consent. All 100 senators must agree that the business of the Senate will go forward. One senator can stop bills, nominations, appointments, even ordinary actions like naming a post office.

Preventing discussion of a bill. There are four ways a single senator can hold up discussion of a bill.

  1. On the motion to consider.
  2. On the actual motion or issue.
  3. On the nomination of a conference committee
  4. On the House-Senate conference report which must be approved by the full Senate.

To make matters worse, when a single senator sets out to hold up business, he or she can insist that the Senate conduct no other business for 30 hours, until another vote to move forward is held.

Requiring a supermajority on nearly everything. A supermajority of all senators, or 60 votes, is needed just to allow discussion or a vote on a bill. In a democracy, a majority is the standard for elections and referenda, not a supermajority.

Committee delays. All 100 senators must consent to holding a committee meeting on any day after the Senate has been in session for two hours, or after 2:00 p.m. when the Senate is in session. This enables just one senator to stop important committee business from happening, forcing work to a grinding halt.

How does anything ever get done? Lately, it doesn’t.