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What is Cloture?

Cloture is a legislative procedure used to end a debate and force a vote on a bill in the U.S. Senate. It's a crucial tool for overcoming filibusters, requiring a supermajority of 60 votes to pass. By limiting prolonged discussion, cloture ensures the Senate can progress on its agenda. Curious about its strategic use and implications? Let's delve deeper.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Cloture or closure is a concept in parliamentary procedure, which is the backbone of government in many nations of the world. If a motion for cloture passes, debate on the topic at hand must end, and a vote is taken immediately. The concept can be used to defeat filibusters, and it is also used to move voting along, or to avoid the introduction of amendments which are not relevant to the bill at hand. The process of cloture in most parliamentary bodies is closely outlined in their rules of conduct.

Consideration of a bill is an important part of the lawmaking process, and it can get quite lengthy. When a bill becomes a law, there are a number of steps involved. All of these steps are designed to solicit input so that the bill is as fair as possible, and so that everyone feels that their questions have been addressed. In some cases, people who are opposed to a law will start a filibuster, a delaying tactic which is designed to prevent the passage of a law, or to dramatically change it.

The House and Senate convene in the U.S. Capital building.
The House and Senate convene in the U.S. Capital building.

While filibusters certainly do have their place in lawmaking, they can also bring the operations of government to a halt. In some cases, the right to filibuster has also been severely abused, as was seen in the United States during the Civil Rights era. Without the option of cloture, a filibuster could potentially stretch on for weeks, if a team of dedicated lawmakers was willing to tag-team to create a solid filibuster.

If a motion for cloture passes, a vote must be taken immediately.
If a motion for cloture passes, a vote must be taken immediately.

The French National Assembly was the birthplace of cloture, which is also sometimes called a “guillotine,” since it cuts off debate. In 1887, the concept crossed the English Channel, and it was adopted by the British Parliament. In either House, a motion for cloture passes with a majority vote. In the House of Commons, however, the speaker can deny the motion if he or she feels that the concerns of the minority have not been addressed.

In the United States, which has a long history of filibuster in the Senate, cloture was not adopted until 1917, with Rule 22. If a motion for cloture is put forward in the Senate, it requires a three fifths vote to pass, and there can be no more than 30 hours of debate on the topic after the motion for cloture passes. In this sense, cloture is used to limit debate and to hasten a vote, rather than to cut off debate entirely.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is cloture in the context of legislative procedures?

Cloture is a legislative procedure used to end a debate and proceed to vote on a matter before a legislative body. In the United States Senate, for instance, cloture is a motion that requires a supermajority—typically 60 out of 100 senators—to pass. Once invoked, it limits further debate on a bill or nomination, effectively overcoming a filibuster and allowing the legislative body to move towards a final vote. This rule ensures that pending matters can be brought to a resolution, preventing indefinite debate.

How does cloture differ from a filibuster?

A filibuster is a tactic employed by legislators to delay or block legislative action by extending debate on the matter at hand. It is often characterized by long speeches and can continue indefinitely unless stopped by a cloture vote. Cloture, on the other hand, is the mechanism used to terminate the filibuster and bring the legislative body to a decision point. While a filibuster is about delay, cloture is about closure and moving forward with the legislative process.

What is the historical significance of the cloture rule?

The cloture rule has played a critical role in shaping legislative outcomes throughout history. It was first introduced in the U.S. Senate in 1917 in response to a group of senators who filibustered a bill to arm merchant ships during World War I. Since then, the use of cloture has evolved, reflecting changes in political strategy and the balance of power within the Senate. The rule has been pivotal in breaking deadlocks on significant legislation, including civil rights laws and judicial appointments.

How often is cloture successfully invoked?

The frequency of successful cloture motions varies over time, often reflecting the level of partisanship and division within the Senate. According to the U.S. Senate's statistics, the 115th Congress (2017-2018) set a record with 168 cloture motions filed. However, not all cloture motions result in ending debate; the success of a cloture motion depends on the ability to garner the necessary supermajority vote. The increasing use of cloture motions indicates a trend towards more contentious legislative processes.

Can cloture be applied to all types of legislation?

Cloture can be applied to most types of legislation and nominations in the U.S. Senate, but there are exceptions. For example, budget reconciliation bills, which are used to expedite the passage of certain budgetary legislation, are not subject to filibuster and therefore do not require cloture. Additionally, certain fast-track procedures and executive business, like trade agreements, may have different rules regarding debate and closure. The specific application of cloture can vary based on the rules governing different types of legislative actions.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HistoricalIndex researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HistoricalIndex researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

cupcake15

Comfyshoes - I could not agree more. This health care bill should allow as much debate as possible and I feel that all bills should be available for the American public to see for at least a week.

If you are doing something that is legitimately for the good of the American people then you should be an open book and allow debate especially on something as important as healthcare.

Well, Harry Reid did not care because he along with the rest of congress and the President are exempt from this health care bill which is why they did not care if we did not want it since it was not going to affect them.

I will tell you that there was another Harry Reid cloture vote that was not successful. It was on the Dream Act.

The Dream Act was an amnesty bill that allowed children of illegal immigrants to gain citizenship if they went to college or agreed to serve in the military for two years.

This bill passed the House but was defeated in the Senate when it was called for a vote.

comfyshoes

Anon135387- I understand your frustration about the health care bill. Unfortunately Harry Reid held a cloture vote to end the Republican filibuster in order to end the debate and vote on the bill.

What amazes me is that something that has such lasting effects on the American people can be rammed down our throats like that.

I mean 70% of Americans oppose this socialist bill yet it is passed and most of the members of congress that passed the bill did not even read it in its entirety. So what was the rush?

I don’t understand how you can end debate on a bill that has the potential to not only destroy our economy but end the quality of our healthcare system as we see it. The Reid cloture on his debate is an abuse of power.

anon135387

I am not going to encourage him to pass this stupid legislation. He darn well better not if he wants to serve longer than one term. Actually, he's already shown himself to be an opportunistic ego driven lowlife.

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    • The House and Senate convene in the U.S. Capital building.
      By: Al Teich
      The House and Senate convene in the U.S. Capital building.
    • If a motion for cloture passes, a vote must be taken immediately.
      By: sborisov
      If a motion for cloture passes, a vote must be taken immediately.