Over the last few years there has been a lot of talk about reforming the current Filibuster rules in the United States Senate. Every time it comes up however nothing seems to come of it. Many who fight to reform the Filibuster feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football. There’s a belief that it will finally happen and everyone’s hopeful. Then all of a sudden we’re all flat on our backs, looking up at the sky trying to figure out where it all went wrong.
What many of those who want Filibuster reform want to see is a return to the Talking Filibuster. There are those who would like to see the number of votes needed to complete a cloture motion reduced, but a very strong argument can be made for the return of the Talking Filibuster.
Historically the Filibuster has consisted of a Senator, or group thereof, delaying the vote on a bill by standing up and refusing to yield the floor. They would give speeches; force the bill in its entirety to be read, amendments and all; read from cookbooks, magazines and even novels. That is until modern times. Currently the threat of a Filibuster is enough to stop progress on a bill in virtually any stage of the process.
It is important to note that the Filibuster appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. The idea of the Filibuster came into being in 1806 and was an entirely theoretical option until its first use in 1837. The cloture vote, which the Senate can take to end a filibuster, did not even exist until 1917. Originally it took two-thirds of all present Senators to successfully complete a cloture vote and end the filibuster, over time it was reduced to the three-fifths number we have today.
As it currently stands when a bill is stalled in the Senate there is usually no way to tell who did it or why it occurred. A Talking Filibuster would put an end to this. By forcing the Senator, or Senators, to stand up and talk for the time they wish to filibuster it would allow for a quick and easy way to know who is holding a bill up. It would also reduce the number of Filibusters being done, mostly due to the fact that whoever is up there filibustering a bill will be asked why they are doing so. Senators would put their careers on the line every time they filibustered a bill. If their constituents didn’t agree with it then that Senator’s career would be over.
I dare say cable news would love the return of the Talking Filibuster. Before the modern incarnation of the Filibuster, it was the height of political drama. A politician putting everything on the line to stop a bill they didn’t believe in. It would give the networks time to talk about the pros and cons of a bill because they have to cover something while the filibuster is going on. It would lead to a more informed electorate, cable news would get the ratings they so desire and get to do their jobs as journalists to the best of their abilities by informing the public as to what is going on and why it is happening.
All of this brings us back to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s current attempts to reform the Filibuster. According to reports from Politico, they do not include a return to the Talking Filibuster of old. We may see a return of Senators being forced to hold the floor in certain situations in order to filibuster. We also may see a requirement that the minority party get 41 votes together to invoke a filibuster. Nothing is currently set in stone though as all negotiations on Filibuster reforms are currently ongoing. Though the last time there was talk of filibuster reform it went nowhere.
Odds are we won’t see anything like Strom Thurmond’s 24 hour and 18 minute filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 anytime in the future. At this point there are currently under two weeks left for the Senate to reform the Filibuster. The question is are they finally going to do it, or are we all going to wind up flat on our backs, looking up at the sky wondering what went wrong this time?