PIPA’s January 24th Vote and How a Filibuster Works
PIPA’s January 24th Vote and How a Filibuster Works
PIPA’s January 24th Vote and How a Filibuster Works

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    To start, there is no such thing as an infinite
    filibuster based on one person objecting to a bill passing.  Such a dynamic is the stuff of Hollywood movies
    (ironically) and has not existed in the United States Senate for decades.  Below I will summarize how the process will
    work and why
    citizen involvement
    over the next few weeks is critical.  For a very detailed explanation of how the
    Senate filibuster works you should read this Congressional
    Research Service report

    On January
    , the United States Senate will
    reconvene to begin legislative business for 2012.  After the first order of business is taken
    care of, Majority Leader Harry Reid will then continue the process he
    started on December 17th
    of moving PIPA towards a Senate
    floor vote.  This process is known as
    invoking “cloture,” which is a rule that allows any Senator to impose a 30 hour
    time limit on debate subject to three-fifths of the Senate agreeing to end
    debate.  Senator Ron Wyden has stated he will filibuster
    PIPA along with Senators
    Jerry Moran, Maria Cantwell, and Rand Paul
    and together
    they will use the full 30 hours available resulting in the cloture vote being
    held the next day.

    On January 24th, Majority Leader Reid’s
    cloture motion will have matured its 30 hours and he will then be allowed to
    call for an up-or-down vote on moving forward to consider PIPA.  If three-fifths of the U.S. Senate agree by
    voting yes on cloture (ending debate), then the bill can be taken up for
    consideration and the process where Senators can offer amendments will begin as
    well as another cloture motion (resulting in another 30 hours of debate).  The general rule of thumb is a bill that has
    60 Senators in support of its passage will take about three days to pass the
    U.S. Senate. 

    However, if 60 Senators do not vote yes on cloture,
    then Senators Wyden, Moran, Cantwell, and Paul will be allowed to continue to
    speak in opposition to PIPA forever. 
    That being said, what would likely happen in the aftermath if PIPA fails
    to gain 60 yes votes is the bill is withdrawn and a compromise is
    negotiated.  If no compromise is
    possible, then the bill officially dies. 
    It is important to note that three-fifths of the Senate must vote yes to
    move PIPA forward.  For example, if 59
    Senators voted yes on cloture and 41 Senators voted present or do not vote at
    all, it fails to pass.  The key factor in
    cloture is three-fifths of the Senate voting yes on cloture and not how many
    votes are against PIPA.

    It is also possible that PIPA never makes it to the
    January 24th vote, but that depends on the public weighing in with
    their U.S. Senators before they come back to Washington D.C.  To begin countering the $94
    million spent in lobbying
    in support of PIPA and SOPA, more than a
    million Americans
    have contacted Congress in opposition and
    citizen boycotts have forced corporations to withdraw their support
    of passage.
    Senators are home and away from the D.C. lobby, which is the perfect time for
    citizens to ask their Senators to voice their opposition to PIPA before they
    return to Washington D.C.  If enough
    Senators publicly object to PIPA, then it is likely that consideration would be delayed
    in order to begin negotiating a compromise. 
    So it is important that the public try to meet with their two Senators and
    their home state staff and inform them on where they stand and ask their Senators
    to represent the public interest by standing with them.