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Q&A: How does a filibuster work?

Filibuster: a talking tactic

On Election Night, the TV announcers kept talking about a "filibuster-proof" Senate? What does that mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary, filibuster means "the use of extreme dilatory tactics (as speaking merely to consume time) by an individual or group in an attempt to delay or prevent action by the majority in a legislative or deliberative assembly."

There's a long history of members of Congress using filibusters to block or delay legislative action. Once the House of Representatives grew in numbers, it adopted rules to limit debate. But the Senate continued to allow unlimited time for a senator to speak.

In 1917, the Senate adopted a rule called cloture. With a two-thirds vote, the Senate could now cut off filibusters.

In 1975, the Senate amended the rules to allow cloture with three-fifths support — or 60 of the 100 senators. Democrats had hoped to reach the 60-vote mark on Election Night to remove the possibility of Republican filibustering. They didn't quite get there, though several races remain undecided.

Tasks left before inauguration

What are the next steps to be taken in the election process until Barack Obama is sworn in as president?

According to the Associated Press:

Dec. 9: Deadline for states to resolve issues regarding election recounts, controversies or contests.

Dec. 15: Electors meet in their states to cast votes for president and vice president. They are not required by federal law to follow the will of the popular vote in their state.

Dec. 24: Deadline for designated officials, such as the president of the Senate and others, to have the electoral votes in hand, though states do not face any legal penalty if they don't comply.

Jan. 6: Congress meets to count the electoral votes. The president and vice president must win a majority of electoral votes, or 270, to be elected. If there is no majority, the House selects the president, and the Senate selects the vice president.

Jan. 20: The president-elect is sworn into office.

Unemployment rate history

What was the unemployment rate during the Great Depression?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the unemployment rate peaked at about 25 percent in 1933 during the Great Depression, up from an annual rate of 3.3 percent in 1929. Economic recovery was slow, and unemployment was still nearly 15 percent in 1940. With American industry gearing up for World War II, the jobless rate fell to 9.9 percent in 1941 and 4.7 percent in 1942. The most current national unemployment rate reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was 6.5 percent in October.

Q&A: How does a filibuster work? 11/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 9:55am]

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