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Filibuster Fix on the Other End

August 12th, 2005 by dk

The last time the United States Senate tampered with the filibuster, they lowered the number of votes required to end the endless debate from 67 to 60. Ending a filibuster became eleven percent easier.

But at the same time, in the same rule change, the Senate also made it easier to stage a filibuster. As a result, since 1975 we’ve never had an actual filibuster on the Senate floor. Forty-one senators threatening to filibuster has become the same thing as doing it.

If the Senate wants to change the rules for debate, they should not remove the cloture rule that has protected the minority and served the institution well for 150 years. They should remove the 30-year-old innovation that intent and action are considered as one.

Bring back actual filibusters. For the first time in over a generation, leadership and physical exertion won’t be so clearly separated. People with power will be once again shown doing hard work. Pushing through the mob of press people on the perp walk from the courthouse steps to the waiting limo is about the only time we get to see powerful people breaking stride.

Principled talkathons might become the next reality TV show.

Senator Strom Thurmond went over 24 hours, talking nonstop against civil rights. It’s one thing to speak on the record; it’s another to set a record for speaking on the record. Senator Wayne Morse spoke against the Vietnam engagement for nearly as long. They were American idols for their stamina at the time, profiles in courage. It’s difficult to measure every word, to equivocate, to be political when you’re talking as long as you’re physically able.

Think about the societal problems this might solve. Young people will see powerful elders unafraid to do heavy lifting; childhood obesity will wane. World records will surely be set for gabfests; attention spans will lengthen. Government machinations will drag on like a slow-speed highway chase; cable TV would no longer control the pace. Senators might even retire before they die or know they will lose.

But most importantly, the Horatio Alger work ethic will return. No longer will Americans confuse intent with action. Poor people who buy lottery tickets will stop wondering why there’s not enough food on the table. Indicted bosses will no longer be able to claim they didn’t understand the corruption they allowed on their watch. Impropriety and “the appearance of impropriety” will once again be restored to their rightful places. Good will and good deeds will no longer be interchangeable.

Republicans want to have these judges voted on as proof that President Bush’s mandate is recognized. Democrats want extended debate to expose what they believe to be extremist views out of step with most Americans. Nobody wants to begin dismantling the United States Senate’s proud traditions of endless debate and minority rights.

If we let Senators talk until they can’t talk any longer, every side gets what they want.

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