Filibusters, Real And Imagined: Real Is Better

Dave Johnson

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz did a great thing this week. Cruz stood before the Senate and talked for 21-plus hours. Texas State Senator Wendy Davis did a great thing in June. Davis took to the Texas Senate floor and talked for more than 11 hours. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul did a great thing last March and talked for almost 13 hours.

People know a filibuster when they see one. (Even though one of these wasn’t.)

People KNOW

People know that Sen. Cruz talked in opposition to the government helping uninsured people get health care. People know that Sen. Davis talked in opposition to a bill that would close most of Texas’ abortion providers. People know that Sen. Paul talked to demand answers on the policies surrounding the use of drones to kill Americans.

People DON’T Know

Almost no one knows Republicans filibustered a bill to stop giving tax breaks to companies to move jobs out of the country. Almost no one knows Republicans filibustered a bill to stop giving tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies. Almost no one knows Republicans filibustered healthcare for 9/11 first-responders.

Almost no one knows that Senate Republicans are filibustering the confirmation of judges and other badly needed nominees.

People would be mad as hell if they knew this.

Almost no one knows that Republicans filibustered the:

  • DREAM Act
  • DISCLOSE Act (to let people know who is paying for campaigns)
  • Wounded Veteran Job Security Act
  • American Jobs Act
  • Vision Care for Kids Act
  • Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act
  • Alien Smuggling and Terrorism Prevention Act
  • Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization

This is a small fraction of the list of things Republicans filibustered in recent years.

People DON’T know about these because they don’t see them. Almost no one knows that the number of filibusters in recent years approaches 400. People do not like obstruction and if they did know that obstruction is occurring, they would not like it one bit.

What Is A Filibuster?

Wikipedia: “A filibuster is a type of parliamentary procedure where debate is extended, allowing one or more members to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal.”

People think that a filibuster requires a senator to talk and talk and talk. Possibly because that would make sense. It is occasionally necessary for someone holding a minority position to take action that brings attention to something that a majority is trying to do.

A talking filibuster is dramatic. By delaying and making the public aware of what is going on people are given the opportunity to weigh in and rally and maybe – just maybe – make enough noise that the majority reconsiders what it is doing. Or possibly the public will go the other way and tell the talker to sit down and shut up. Either way, it is a tactic that lets democracy work. A talking filibuster lets the public hold their elected officials accountable.

Senators Cruz, Davis and Paul did a service to democracy by talking as long as they did. While Senator Paul and Texas State Senator Davis were engaging in an actual filibuster, Senator Cruz was engaging in a pretend filibuster. But it doesn’t matter. People believe Cruz was doing a filibuster because talking all night is what people think a filibuster is.

But the current form of filibuster in the U.S. Senate actually keeps people from knowing what is going on. It is silent, invisible, unaccountable. It doesn’t make sense. It shows utter contempt for democracy. People have no idea whatsoever that there have been almost 400 filibusters in recent years, and if they did know they’d be a lot angrier at Republicans than they already are.

What Now?

Republicans have been filibustering nominees to the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. This is the second-highest court, under the Supreme Court. The three judges under consideration have been passed out of committee, and Republicans are not disputing their qualifications. It’s just that there is a far-right majority on the court now and Republicans like that.

This obstruction is forcing senators to again consider changing the rules for the filibuster. But some Democrats in the Senate argue that they need to “preserve” the filibuster as it is in case Republicans take over the Senate.

These senators don’t get it that Republicans are interested in power and its use for the billionaires and corporations they represent, and the filibuster would be dead within hours should Republicans take over.

Democrats don’t have to kill the filibuster to restore democracy. But they should change the rules to require a talking filibuster. This would serve democracy, while current filibuster rules subvert democracy. Talking filibusters work, are dramatic, and are what the public currently believes is the requirement anyway.

Green Eggs And Ham

While talking Sen. Cruz read Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.” But he didn’t do it as well as this classic:

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