Oct 4, 2021 - Politics & Policy

First look: States can break filibusters easier than feds

Percent of state senators required to break a filibuster
Data: RepresentUs analysis; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios. Note: Some states have multiple ways to break filibusters. For states with rules on filibuster-breaking votes, some require a certain share of senators to be present and others require a certain share to vote.

The vast majority of state Senates have rules making it harder to filibuster legislation than in the U.S. Senate, according to new research from the nonpartisan advocacy group RepresentUs.

Why it matters: This comes as Senate Republicans threaten to filibuster raising the debt ceiling, calling on Democrats to do it alone. Requiring 60 votes to close debate on a particular legislative topic has been a major factor of partisan gridlock in Congress — especially in the current 50-50 Senate.

  • "Not only are Republicans refusing to do their job, but they're threatening to use their power to prevent us from doing our job — saving the economy from a catastrophic event," President Biden said Monday. "I think, quite frankly, it's hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful."

By the numbers: Lawmakers in 43 states have an easier time breaking a filibuster than members of the U.S. Senate, according to the analysis of state laws and rules.

  • Four states that have high vote requirements to end a filibuster also have pre-set time limits on speaking time, which the U.S. Senate lacks. Many states require only a majority to end debate.
  • Seven state Senates have rules similar to the U.S. Senate’s cloture rule. They don't have time limits and require a high share of senators to set limits or end debate. Four of those do not have any specified rules for ending debate at all.

"Rules matter, but they're not the only thing that determines the filibuster," Caroline Joseph, RepresentUs research analyst, told Axios.

  • States with the most similar rules to the U.S. Senate do not have significant problems with the lawmakers filibustering.
  • On the other hand, Missouri only requires a majority to end debate — but has some of the most frequent filibusters of any state.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect that four states with high vote requirements to end a filibuster have pre-set time limits on speaking time — not four states overall.

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