Last month, Senator Harry Reid decided that the massive and growing public outcry against SOPA shouldn't be of any concern at all to the Democratic Party in the Senate, and announced plans
to bring the Senate's companion bill, PROTECT IP (or PIPA) to the floor, in an attempt to get around Senator Ron Wyden's hold on the bill (Wyden has been joined
by Senators Rand Paul, Jerry Moran and Maria Cantwell, in objecting to the bill and promising to fight against it). As has been noted, Senator Wyden has promised
to read aloud the names of those who have signed a petition against the bill.
There has been some confusion over the whole process of the filibuster, as well as the process of the "cloture" vote to both get around the "hold" on the bill, as well as end the filibuster. Some have insisted that Wyden simply won't get to speak on the floor at all if there are the necessary 60 votes for cloture. So, thankfully, Ernesto Falcon at Public Knowledge has put together a fantastic post that explains the hold/cloture/filibuster process
and more or less explains what will happen at the end of January if Reid can get the votes
to get cloture:
On January 23rd, 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 Reidís 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.
In other words, as we noted at the time, the race is now on for an additional 20 Senators to sign on with the existing 40 supporters of the bill. If supporters can't find 20 more Senators willing to put their name on the record as supporting PIPA, then the bill likely won't move forward. They already have 40 Senators signed on -- putting their names on a bill that sets up the fundamental legal and technological framework to censor the internet in the US. But, over the last few weeks, this bill has certainly become more toxic as people have spoken out. Unfortunately, it's not toxic enough, and there are plenty of out-of-touch Senators, who don't even realize what's in the bill and what its likely impact will be. That's why there's basically three more weeks in which to make it clear to both supporters of PIPA, as well as those who haven't yet taken a side, that supporting this bill is a huge mistake with serious consequences. If you do have a chance to go to a Town Hall meeting, or otherwise meet your Senator, Public Knowledge has also put together a handy information packet
(pdf) with some quick points about the bill, and some sample questions you might want to ask your Senator.