Filibuster Fight – What If Senators Actually Had To Hold The Floor? (VIDEO)

Author: November 28, 2012 11:38 am
From John Tenniel’s illustrations for Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

From John Tenniel’s illustrations for Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

Now that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is heck-bent on reforming filibuster rules to prevent his GOP colleagues from obstructing broadly supported — and desperately needed — legislation, someone was bound to ask the million dollar question: What would happen if senators had to talk? Ryan Teague from Digital First Media explores the possibilities, as Reid aggressively targets a loophole which has enabled GOP senators to ‘filibuster’ without physically taking the floor.

Bernie Sanders

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ 8-and-a-half hour filibuster against renewing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy went viral in 2010.

(1) More Media Coverage Of Filibusters

First, and most obviously, Teague notes that “talking filibusters” would get a lot more attention via the Internet as well as the mainstream media. As an example, he describes how Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) eight-and-a-half-hour speech went viral in 2010, when he took the floor to protest extending the Bush tax cuts for individuals making over $250K per year. The cycles would start with live and continuous coverage from C-SPAN; followed by memes, Tumblr pages, and twitter hash tags; updates from mainstream news outlets; and topped off with late show humor from the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

You can read the full transcript, or watch the beginning of Sanders’ filibuster in the video below:

(2) Fewer (But More Effective) Filibusters

Teague also speculates that reviving the ‘talking filibuster’ would reduce the number of filibusters, while increasing the effectiveness of the ones deployed. This makes sense, because the increased media attention would hold lawmakers accountable and force them to choose their issues wisely. For example, senators who force us closer to the brink of the ‘fisal cliff’ to preserve tax breaks for the rich in this reality show are likely to get ‘voted off the island.’


Jim DeMint reading the rape scene from "Atlas Shrugged"

Knowing he’s on C-SPAN may inspire Jim De Mint (R-SC) to read something OTHER than the (legitimate?) rape scene from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (in honor of his former colleague Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin, whose failed senate candidacy he endorsed).

Both Democrats and Republicans would also likely use filibusters to organize and energize their bases around key issues. This would put Republicans at a disadvantage, as the majority of their dwindling constituents are unlikely to rally in support of rape, war, global warming, cutting earned benefits, and helping rich people.

(3) Everyone Gets Bored And Moves On

Teague suspects that eventually, both lawmakers and voters/viewers will get tired of all the shenanigans and the filibuster will fade as senators adopt newer and more exciting strategies. After all, “The filibuster isn’t the only way to slow the Senate down. In fact, the rules of the Senate make it almost absurdly easy for the minority party to block action.”

Obstructive GOP senators — like the four who signed the notorious agreement with Republican strategist Frank Luntz and seven of their House colleagues in 2009 for the 111th Congress and filibustered a record 112 of 139 motions — have many weapons available in their arsenal, including: withholding consent for routine business requiring universal consent (also called “placing a hold”); demanding roll call votes for routine business items; introducing useless amendments to legislation in progress; getting persnickety about points of order; and putting off committee tasks and meetings indefinitely.

Mitch McConnell with Rachael Ray's kitchen in background, holding knife and spatula.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may try to soften the GOP’s image by launching a new cooking show for his next filibuster.

Senators can also introduce interminable delays by requesting that legislation, rules, and/or other related documents be read aloud. Teague provides an amusing example of how Senator Tom Coburn (R-MD) tried to delay a hearing on global warming using this method, only to be thwarted by a cleverly deployed speed reader.

Jonathan Cohn from The New Republic describes this pas de deux in greater detail, and you can see the video below:

A Little Background Information

For those of you who haven’t been following the Filibuster Wars, the filibuster tactic allows senators to delay votes on legislation they oppose — and which is likely to pass — by taking the floor and speaking continuously so the vote cannot take place. Historically, senators have used this ‘nuclear option’ to make a dramatic stand, and pressure the majority voting block to compromise. Pro-segregation Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957 read state statutes and other government texts aloud for a record 24 hours and 18 minutes. More recently, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) went viral in 2010 when he took the floor for over eight hours to protest extending the Bush tax cuts to individuals making over $250K per year — but ‘speaking filibusters’ have been rare lately.

Starting with a 2009 agreement between seven GOP representatives and five GOP senators to obstruct all Democratic legislation, senators have used filibusters to not only block legislation, but to block routine procedures and discussions about legislation. The GOP senators who signed include Jim DeMint (R-SC), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Tom Coburn (R-MD), John Ensign (former R-NV), and Bob Corker (R-TN). Through astute exploitation of technicalities, they’ve managed to do this anonymously and without actually taking the floor and speaking. This is the main abuse that Reid seeks to rectify, by requiring filibuster-ers to stand up and speak.

For other recent AI articles about filibuster reform (in chronological order from older to newer):

For a quick overview on how filibusters work, visit This Nation’s Filibuster page.

Elisabeth Parker is a writer, Web designer, mom, political junkie, and dilettante. Come visit her at ElisabethParker.Com, friend her on facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

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