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Jan. 24th: Our Best Chance to Kill SOPA

January 12, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

The internet censorship bills that have been winding their ways through Congress are about to reach a key, make-or-break moment. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] has scheduled a vote on a motion to begin debate of the Senate version, PIPA, for January 24th, the day after they return from recess, and defeating that motion is our best chance for stopping web censorship from becoming law. Let me explain why.

Under Senate rules, any one senator can object to beginning debate on a measure, thereby placing a “hold” on it and preventing it from being called up under unanimous consent. In order for the Majority Leader to bypass the a “hold” and bring a bill to the floor, they have to win a vote “cloture” motion, which takes a 3/5ths majority (60 votes) to pass and basically declares that the Senate overwhelmingly disagrees with the senator with the hold and wants to move forward with voting on the bill.

In the case of PIPA, Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] has placed a hold on the bill, and the vote that is scheduled for Jan. 24th is a vote on Reid’s cloture motion to bypass Wyden’s hold. Because cloture motions require 3/5ths majorities, they can be blocked by a group of opposed senators even if they don’t have a majority. All it takes is 2/5ths +1 of the Senate (i.e. 41 senators) to vote against cloture to win, and, in this case, block the Majority Leader from bypassing Wyden’s hold.

If Reid wins the cloture vote on Jan. 24th the bill will almost certainly win final passage, which only requires a simple majority of 51 senators. Wyden and his allies may be able to slow down the process for a few days, but ultimately they will be powerless to stop it.

If PIPA passes the Senate, it can be pinged to the GOP-led House of Representatives and brought to an up-or-down vote straight away — with no amendments, no further committee action, virtually no debate, and, most importantly, no ability for an opposed minority to stop the bill or even slow it down. Unlike the Senate, the House does not operate by unanimous consent, and that means there is very little opportunity for individual members to influence the proceedings. Their is no choke point for a willful minority to stop things from moving forward in the House.

Basically it comes down to this: on Jan. 24th, web censorship opponents have a chance to stop the bill with the support of just 41% of those voting. After that every opportunity for opponents to stop the bill will take more than 50%. For PIPA and SOPA opponents, it’s all hands on deck right now. The best opportunity for stopping internet censorship from becoming law in the U.S. will happen just 12 days from now …the clock is ticking.

In case you’re confused, PIPA is the Senate version of the more often discussed House bill, SOPA. They have some minor differences, but they are largely the same bill. Experts agree that both versions of the bill violate the First Amendment, compromise internet security, and threaten U.S. tech innovation. For a refresher on what’s in PIPA, watch this video.

UPDATE: Something you can do: Whip SOPA!

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