Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: So What's the Point, Then?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

So What's the Point, Then?

Harry Reid has researched filibusters, and he's come to a very disappointing conclusion: They can't bring the "real" filibuster back. I've supported the idea of forcing anyone who wants to filibuster to get up and actually filibuster in the classic sense, just like Jimmy Stewart. If you're going to block legislation from getting a chance, you should have to pay some sort of price. It turns out, though, that no, you don't have to pay a price.

Reid's office has studied the history of the filibuster and analyzed what options are available. The resulting memo was provided to the Huffington Post and it concludes that a filibustering Senator "can be forced to sit on the [Senate] floor to keep us from voting on that legislation for a finite period of time according to existing rules but he/she can't be forced to keep talking for an indefinite period of time."

Bob Dove, who worked as a Senate parliamentarian from 1966 until 2001, knows Senate rules as well as anyone on the planet. The Reid analysis, he says, is "exactly correct."

To get an idea of what the scene would look like on the Senate floor if Democrats tried to force Republicans to talk out a filibuster, turn on C-SPAN on any given Saturday. Hear the classical music? See the blue carpet behind the "Quorum Call" logo? That would be the resulting scene if Democrats forced a filibuster and the GOP chose not to play along.

As both Reid's memo and Dove explain, only one Republican would need to monitor the Senate floor. If the majority party tried to move to a vote, he could simply say, "I suggest the absence of a quorum."

The presiding officer would then be required to call the roll. When that finished, the Senator could again notice the absence of a quorum and start the process all over. At no point would the obstructing Republican be required to defend his position, read from the phone book or any of the other things people associate with the Hollywood version of a filibuster.

So all this makes me wonder why we haven't reached this point of unceasing filibusters before? If the minority can make the majority cobble together sixty votes for every vote, why hasn't it always been this way? What stopped previous minorities before the Republicans in 2006 to threaten filibusters all the time? Has there somehow been a political price that the majority Democrats simply aren't collecting these days? And now that we've reached this point, now that the filibuster isn't an extraordinary measure but simply business as usual, what's the argument not to get rid of it altogether?


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