Expertise's Politics and Sports Blog

Thursday, March 03, 2005
The Senate filibuster.

Several Democrats continue to moan and groan about the Republicans' latest attempts to neutralize Senate filibusters.  One of the latest, done by Senator Robert "Sheets" Byrd from West Virginia, resulted in a rebuke by the Anti-Defamation League.

"We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not of men," Byrd said. "But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends."

Ignore Byrd's Nazi reference - and the irony of him discussing it - for a second.  Byrd's comments on how the Republicans "manipulate law" don't hold water once you look at the history of the filibuster.

You see, the process of how filibusters are used have changed over the decades.  It has evolved from a legislative stunt where a senator has to stand and continue speaking until the bill was taken off the floor or cloture (where 67% of the present Senators voted to take the floor from the speaker) was approved.  Even then, cloture wasn't approved until 1917, which meant that one Senator could hold up Senate progress as long as he was physically able to.

Robert Byrd understands the importance of the filibuster because he implemented one in order to block the Civil Rights Act of 1964; a filibuster that lasted 14 hours and thirteen minutes.  He would have continued if it wasn't for Democratic Whip Hubert Humphrey finally negotiating the necessary 67 votes to gain cloture, forcing Byrd off the floor.  It was only the second time in Senate history that a filibuster had been beaten through cloture.

But even filibusters those days are more reasonable than today. After all, speaking for over 14 hours isn't a walk in the park. Filibusters then required you to stand up and use physical exertion.

Today's filibusters don't. All you have to do is simply say "I'm filibustering", and the only way the blocked legislation can come to the floor is through cloture.

Why? Because only the "threat" of a filibuster is sufficient enough to keep legislation from coming onto the floor. After all, Senators have to constantly meet very important lobbyists, attend Washington dinners and fundraisers, and make their trips all over the world. Judicial nominees? Presidential appointments? Doing their jobs? That's not important enough.

Now the Republicans are trying to pass what they call the "nuclear option", which will reduce the cloture requirement from 60 to a simple majority of 51.  This pretty much kills the filibuster entirely, because a filibuster's power is to be used as a final option for legislation that will pass if placed on the Senate floor.

Personally, I don't like the nuclear option.  I think filibusters should be allowed to stay in the Senate.  However, place it back in the old school setting:  force Senators who use it to get their butts up in front of the chamber and talk until their hearts' - or healths' - content.  Republicans need to grow some backbone and force the Democrats to put up or shut up.

Posted at 09:02 pm by Expertise



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