Q: Can you please tell me when a vote is taken in the U.S. Senate, which items or votes require a simple majority of 51 votes and which ones need a super majority of 60 votes?
—Bob Strong, McDonough
A: Constitutionally speaking, there are few instances in which a super-majority vote is required to pass a measure in the U.S. Senate. Those include, according to usconstitution.net, requiring a two-thirds majority (67) to convict in an impeachment, expel a member of the Senate, override a presidential veto, ratify a treaty and pass a constitutional amendment.
However, most actions require only a simple majority vote (51) to pass — if the debate over the bill has ended and it can be brought to a vote. But the Senate is the legislative chamber that traditionally allows unlimited debate and unlimited opportunities to amend bills. Prior to 1917, that meant if a senator wanted to prevent a bill from being put to a vote, he could filibuster indefinitely.
In 1917, however, the Senate adopted its first cloture rule that created an opportunity to end debate and bring a filibustered bill to a final vote. According to the U.S. Senate, that cloture rule “required a two-thirds majority to end debate and permitted each member to speak for an additional hour after that before voting on final passage.”
A 67-vote majority to invoke cloture was incredibly difficult to obtain, however, and by 1975, the Senate changed the rule to allow cloture to be invoked with only a three-fifths majority — or 60 votes.
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