By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 12/1/2009 12:38:46 PM ET 2009-12-01T17:38:46

Claim: To enact insurance reform, the Senate might need to abolish the filibuster.

Senate rules allow for unlimited debate in most cases. This unlimited debate, or filibuster, allows a minority of senators to block a presidential nomination, or to force changes to be made to a bill. It also allows a minority to kill a bill. Democratic senators used filibusters in 2002 and 2003 to defeat several judicial nominations made by President George W. Bush. A filibuster can be stopped if three-fifths of the senators (60 senators) vote for a cloture motion. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut, and Sen. Ben Nelson, D- Neb., have said they might vote against a cloture motion on the insurance reform bill if provisions to which they object are not removed or modified.

Fact or fiction?
Fact. Those who support the insurance overhaul are infuriated that Senate rules allow a minority, perhaps 41 or 42 senators, to block passage of the legislation. "What we have in the Senate right now… is a deeply dysfunctional, anti-democratic system called the filibuster," Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine, said recently in an interview with MSNBC’s Ed Schultz. She said the filibuster is "not constitutionally-mandated," which is true. But only the Senate itself can abolish or modify the filibuster. That would require a change in the Standing Rules of the Senate, which can be done only by a two-thirds vote, or 67 senators, if all senators are present and voting. There are now 60 Democratic senators (including Lieberman and Nelson), so it seems highly unlikely there could be any change soon in the filibuster rule.

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